Monday, June 2, 2014

Exploring Theatre with Deepak Dhamija: “I Don’t See a Reason to Complain Till the Time People are Putting Their Lives into Theatre”

Deepak Dhamija is one of the most promising theatre practitioners from Delhi who made a stunning mark with Shoelace Productions. In a very short span of Three and a half years, his theatre group, Shoelace Productions, has produced few original plays which certainly contributed in the rich theatre heritage of Delhi. Deepak is a Writer, who loves to Direct or vice-versa. He has a degree in Engineering and one in MBA from IIM Calcutta. But he chose to spend most interesting years of his life in and around a theatre auditorium.

I have personally worked very closely with Deepak, and always felt a journalistic conversation will make me understand the creative person in him a bit better. This conversation took place at a time when Deepak is preparing for his next production ‘Animal Song’, which is scheduled to be staged at Kamani Auditorium on May 24, 2014.

I am sharing an excerpt from a long conversation.

Deepak Dhamija
Nihal: A journey from corporate to theatre- it sounds interesting, but how does it feel like?

Deepak: Well, to be honest, it’s like having two relationships. With theatre it started more as a passionate love affair- nothing to be gained. I could never fathom why I started doing theatre except that I enjoy doing it. And I remember the day when I was totally bankrupt because of this affair. When my batch mates from IIM were in the race to be the first CEO from the batch, I had reached the other spectrum and became the first bankrupt guy from the batch. The real world is quite a bit different than silver screen. For me it was little difficult to borrow from friends or family and continue following my passion. So then I decided to get back to my ex-corporate world. And since then I am kinda maintaining a balance between both the relationships. Corporate world is quite dry, devoid of emotion, humor and crazy about numbers. I don’t approve of it and not really fond of spending time with her but then I am indebted to her as I am able to live with integrity because of her. When my passionate affair almost forced me to go hungry, corporate world ensured that I survived. Now let’s see how long I will be able to manage both the affairs.

Nihal: Your plays have interesting elements of absurdity. Where do you draw your inspiration from- any writer or incident?

Deepak: (Laughs) I have not written too many plays. Only 2 full lengths and 4 short plays. And none ever mentioned that my plays are absurd except my actors (smiles); and that too because they don’t look at the whole picture. So far, I try to showcase the life which I have come across so far. May be I lived an absurd life and never realised it.

I remember once I saw several people eating chole-kulche in a candle march against rape. And one guy was holding candle and kulche in one hand and was raising slogans while eating. It’s very real situation- the desire to have chole-kulche in middle of an intense struggle. Now when I tried to recreate in one of the workshops, someone mentioned it’s a very absurd thought. Same is the case with our play Majh- How do you decide which is more intense- Love for one’s Buffalo or love for one’s country? I am still not sure about most of things including the meaning of my existence. May be it reflects in the stories I have written.

Nihal: What is your take on the way theatre functions in Delhi- from quality of plays to the conditions of performing spaces?

Deepak: I am a young kid on the block (at least I would like to think so) and it would not be proper for me to comment about quality of production. There are different groups with different styles. I don’t see a reason to complain till the time people are putting their lives into it.

Though I wish there was a little more theatre friendly environment in the city. It’s almost like fighting a war to stage a play in any good auditorium. You need not only be creative enough to narrate a wonderful story but you also need to have deep pockets to book a decent auditorium. If you are able to do that, then comes the most difficult task of filling the auditorium! I think it’s more absurd than our plays that I have to pay 50-60k to book an auditorium for a night. The economics of theatre has pushed most of the full time theatre practitioner to workshops or teaching theatre in schools.

Nihal: Can you share a bit about the latest play you are working on?
Poster of Deepak’s latest offering: Animal Song
Deepak: In 2011, I experimented with a short play ‘Kutte’ (Dogs) in short and sweet Delhi, (10-minute theatre festival). The idea was to narrate a story with help of an actor and a musician. I was deviating from the standard path of actors also donning the hat of singers. It worked well and the play was nominated for 6 awards and finally bagged the best script award. Continuing on the same format, last year we staged 30 minute production ‘Majh’ (Buffalo), where love for country clashes with the love for buffalo. The play bagged good reviews but we staged it only once as I left on a personal journey. Now, I have added the 3rd story ‘Donkey’, which has 2 original compositions and 3 stories at the same time. We are exploring the concept of nation, religion along with concept of a Donkey.

The play has 5 original songs composed by quite a talented bunch of musicians. It is another interesting set of stories with a different style of narration. I find it difficult to write synopsis of the play compared to writing a play. I am not sure how to make it sound interesting. All that I can say is it is an experiment.

Nihal: What are the future plans of Shoelace Productions and Deepak Dhamija?

Deepak: Well, I was asked in a job interview way back, “What’s your long term plan?” And all that I could mutter was “In the long run, we are all dead”- still not sure if it was appropriate answer but it was definitely an honest reply at that moment. Can’t say about me but Shoelace was definitely born without a plan. And even today I don’t have any plan for Shoelace. If someone else has, I am not aware of it.

As of now it’s simple, when I meet a story which I feel like sharing with world, I just do it, provided I have money in the pocket to bear the expense. I think it brings immense joy to any storyteller when they share the story they want to share with the world. The day I will find a substitute activity for this joy, I will move on with or without shoelace (smiles).

This interview was first published in My Theatre Cafe on May 14, 2014

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