Gandhi Jayanti: Drama returns to Delhi’s stage with Bapu’s footsteps
Like a drop of water on parched earth, theatre has returned in its original format to where its heart lies. The recent commotion within the premises of National School of Drama (NSD) isn’t for no reason. The stage is being set for its first live performance since the pandemic brought the life in Mandi House to a standstill, just like in most other parts of the country. On Gandhi Jayanti, October 2, the return of theatre to its most prominent genesis will be marked with the staging of the play, Pehla Satyagrahi. Though this play was introduced to audience last year, the stage on which it will be presented now is newly built, in the lawns of NSD. “When MHA guidelines for Unlock 4 allowed us to restart operations, we called our actors back, asked them to submit their Covid-19 report, and then made a roster to ensure that only about 9-10 people are present at a time for rehearsals. This stage on which we will perform now is bigger, but is in open space so we will be well within the guidelines of social distancing. Also, no visitor without a mask will be allowed entry plus the stage and audience gallery will be sanitised before and after the show, which will be for only 100 people,” informs Suresh Sharma, director of this play and director-in-charge at NSD.
“A new play takes about 45 days to be conceived and well executed on the stage. Since we had limited time after our repertory actors joined back on September 7, there wasn’t much time to start work on a new play. And for that we would have had to work with 40 people in one go, which would be a risky affair in these times! But, we knew that our audience has been waiting. Aur jab tak ek artiste perform na kare, toh depress ho jata hai... ab toh cheh mahine se zyada ho gaye perform kiye...,” adds Sharma.
The play an apt choice for Covid-19 times, this play certainly talks about Bapu’s journey of becoming a Mahatma from Gandhi, and unravels many lesser-known aspects of his life. But, the director feels that it’s Gandhi who taught us the relevance of “swachchta and self-discipline”, and in the Covid era “Hume apne aap ko anushasit karna hoga, sarkar kitna karegi (We will have to discipline ourselves, how much will the government do)?” says Sharma opining that the comeback to stage was much needed and he isn’t in favour of theatre going online. “Theatre’s definition, around the world, is a performance that is live. It has to be an interaction between the actors and with the audience. Theatre can’t be online... And if there arises a situation that the actors have to wear masks and perform, then in that case there shouldn’t be any performance because a mask hides 70% of the face; in theatre we convey a lot through our body language. Aise hi karna hai toh phir toh hum puppet ke through kar lenge.”
If this format turns out to be a success then the performances will resume fortnightly, over weekends, according to the plan so far. And actors, who were out of work are in a way welcoming this decision. “During the rehearsals we wore masks,” says Raju Roy, who plays the protagonist Gandhi, in the play. A guest artiste with NSD Repertory, Roy says it wasn’t easy for him to leave his ailing mother back home in Guwahati, Assam, to return to Delhi for work. His words, “Natak ki bhookh hai,” echo as he shares how he had to quarantine himself for 10 days to meet his mother in his hometown before he returned to the Capital. “Almost all of my friends who are artistes called me up during the lockdown saying they are going back home because they were unable to pay their house rent in absence of a livelihood. Some said they were feeling depressed; and now I’ve been calling them up saying that work has resumed.... Lekin, is baar jab Delhi aaya to ek ajeeb sa mahaul dikha... ab dimag ke ek hisse me corona hai aur dusre me natak. Savdhan hoke manch pe chalna padega.”
Author tweets @HennaRakheja