Monday, October 24, 2011

"When art meets activism" article on director Arvind Gaur by Nonika Singh (The Sunday Tribune)

An ordinary mortal might see and draw a firm dividing line between art and activism. However, Delhi-based prolific theatre person Arvind Gaur crosses that line easily and fluidly. So, for him Anna’s cause is "our cause" and Mahesh Bhatt, one of Anna’s detractors, just the right "creative and intelligent" person to work with. He senses no contradiction between supporting Anna and directing Mahesh Bhatt’s play The Last Salut In Chandigarh recently to stage his latest directorial venture produced by Bhatt, Gaur shares how theatre is a potent tool to address issues and connect with audiences. But when theatre becomes a slogan isn’t there a danger of it losing its aesthetic and artistic value? He shoots back, "Mine is not a theatre of slogans. Those who give slogans wither away fast. They just come and go."

And Gaur has been around steadfast in his belief and passion for over two decades --- his group Asmita itself came into being in 1993. In his long tryst with theatre, he has over 90 proscenium and over 100 street plays to his credit. Alongside he has been promoting platform theatre that straddles the middle ground, that is it includes elements of proscenium like use of a wall, costumes, etc yet is staged at places chosen impromptu like an outside theatre auditorium or, say, a street corner. Whatever may be the genre of his theatre, it’s content that remains the driving force.

Social and political issues concern him --- not any one problem in particular. Be it domestic violence, communal hatred, education deprivation, divisive society all reflect in his dramatic narratives. Even when he directs a classic like Tughlaq, which he calls an all- time political drama, he probes into its political and social overtones. Anton Chekov, Dario Fo, Girish Karnad, Bhisham Sahni, Dharam Vir Bharti, Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett `85 the list of eminent playwrights and writers whose writings he has directed is rather long. "A classic", he avers "is universal and timeless. What matters is how you interpret it." Theatre’s primary purpose, he observes, is to communicate. And to drive home the message often accouterments, lights, make-up, he notes can take a backseat.

So, what explains the use of multimedia technology in The Last Salute`85? Was it his degree of electronics communication that led to the intervention of technology in theatre? He quips: "All of my previous training; be it as an engineer or journalist comes in handy. My experience, that also includes working with PTI TV, has helped my editing skills, ability to say more in lesser words and in my political understanding of the world. But it is very rarely that I use other mediums in my plays. Only the subject in The Last Salute dealt with the Iraq war and the clippings conveyed as forcefully as the histrionics ability of actors."

Since the play also includes Mahesh Bhatt in a brief appearance, did he direct the maverick director? He laughs, "Tauba, tauba, who can direct Mahesh Bhatt?" Is he open to similar offers of direction from other Bollywood personalities? He doubts that is likely to happen, for he counter questions, "How many people in the film industry are as socially committed as Bhatt?" No, he bears no angst against the filmi duniya. Or, for that matter, against his students like Kangana Ranaut joining mainstream cinema. He quips, "Why not? Where is the space for actors in theatre which remains by and large a director-centric medium?"

Of course, the going is not gung ho for directors either. In the absence of a cultural policy, in the face of the NSD, India’s premier institution, inviting "those it feels like" for its festivals, survival is an issue. But he moves on spurred by the support of his audiences, people to whom alone he is accountable and answerable. Dreaming and envisaging a "behtar duniya", he firmly believes, "Theatre can change mindsets." And skeptics be damned, he thinks the world, the youth in particular, are changing for the better. His contribution to make the world a better place continues unhindered. On the anvil is a play on corruption`85 you bet inspired by the Anna movement. Art imitates life or vice-versa `85. for Gaur the end purpose of both is the same.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Manu Rishi Chadha with Arvind Gaur

Manu Rishi Chadha with Arvind Gaur

Friday, May 07, 2010

"LIVEWIRE UNITERRUPTED" - Article on Eminent theatre director Arvind Gaur By Vatsala Shrivastava / The Asian Age

"Director Arvind Gaur, an un-insulated livewire drawing thousands to its magnetic field..."

ON BEING prevented from reading aloud, the stammerer of the class protests, walks out, clashes with the school administration and snatches back his right to equal opportunity. Within three years, he treats himself by continuously hearing and correcting his own speech and attains enough fluency to become a debater.
He loses his college in the first year of engineering after being wrongfully pushed into jail for a political agitation he was never a part of. He fights back and goes to the same college after refinishing his schooling to win his battle of justice and pride. These incidents set the foundation for director Arvind Gaur’s socially and politically relevant theatre. His productions speak out for the rights and dignity of marginal groups and take up polemical issues hidden under cover.
The founder of the Asmita theatre group believes that his work is not just sheer entertainment, but a medium to address concerns which are rooted in every individual’s time and space. “To me, theatre is a tool to sensitise people towards their own existence. I feel responsible for inciting the concerns of my audience, especially youth, towards the needs of our society.’’
Gaur believes that stage training acts like a catalyst to create better human beings. “My face-to-face with theatre questioned my arrogance and feudal temperament; I feel I am a better person after entering the world of theatre. We must work on the most basic unit of society i.e. the individual, for developing sensibility on a broader scale. It’s the medium of change for me.”
His productions, such as Final Solutions and Hidden Fires, have often paved the way for further debate on burning topics. “The role of theatre is to induce the attitude of questioning and delve deep into the subject. For instance, immediately after Godhra, shows of Hidden Fires (solo by Rashi Bunny) were Asmita’s attempt to break the culture of silence. We have been witnessing riots since Independence because we forget our victims; we ignore the root of such heinous act by coining slogans such as Hindu-Muslim-bhai-bhai. Theatre acts as a watchdog for these moments,’’ says Gaur.
Gaur breathes multiple lives with his characters. Be it the angst of Final Solutions’ Javed, the fury of Operation Three Star’s crazy protester as he clashes with the police or the consistence of Ambedkar aur Gandhi’s Ambedkar, Gaur’s revolutionary self reflects as the curtains rise.
Gaur, who has created a new language for solos, displays unusual sensitivity as he carves the suffering and pangs of his female characters such as Madhvi, Gandhari, Gopa (Tat Niranjana), and subjects such as those of 4.48 Psychosis and Woman in Black. The spectrum of his characters highlights his personal life and inner journey. His clash with authoritative systems, loss of his loving sister to atrocities of the pompous Indian society, and his dream of egalitarian society, peek out from his performances.
Gaur says his group is still blacklisted with many government organisations since the screening of the controversial play Mr Jinnah, but his audience always keep him going. He has also survived a time when he was labelled anti-national, and had neither place for rehearsals and performances, nor friends. He credits his father for being the motivational force behind his no-compromise policy.
Gaur believes in maintaining the standard of his work without wasting time and energy in seeking grants and aides. His only expectation from the government is the introduction of a cultural policy which provides symbiotic existence for art and artistes with the contradictions of our system. “In the name of vision for theatre, the government can show off only the National School of Drama which runs on its own whims and fancies. The ambience of the institute has deteriorated since legendary director Ebrahim Alkazi’s exit. Today, it exists as an event organising committee. There is no security for students’ lives. It’s an educational body, and whatever it does, it must stick to its basic role.’’
“Why don’t we have multiple drama schools for all regions on the patterns of the IITs and the IIMs?’’ asks Gaur, following immediately with an answer, “because the so called culture gurus don’t want to lose their nucleus of power in the form of NSD. It has become an adda for the sycophants.’’
His take on migration of drama artistes to “greener pastures of Bollywood and TV” is quite practical. He feels that if artistes move on after contributing four to five years of their talent to the stage, their contributions should be appreciated rather than complained about. Gaur, who trains hundreds of students every year, feels the talent and work of the younger generation must be recognised.
He admits to his process of enrichment after working with actresses such as Mallika Sarabhai, Lushin Dubey, Bubbles Sabharwal, Rashi Bunny, Ruth Sheard, Aishveryaa Nidhi and Jaimini Kumar Srivastava.
He stresses on the need to break away from illusionary jargon comprising meaningless terms such as national theatre and amateur theatre. He establishes that there can be no single representative theatre institute or school of the diversity called “India”, and it is foolish to put the groups performing hundreds of shows annually, under the label of “amateur theatre”.
Opinions and intellectual clashes are signs of developing societies, and debate its tool. The kingdom requires its Davids and its Goliaths. Struggles, contradictions, juxtapositions, arguments, and confrontations cause development as long as they are allowed to exist out there in the open.
With the Indian theatrescape being watched by the likes of director Arvind Gaur, an un-insulated livewire drawing thousands to its magnetic field, we can rest assured that it is yet to see its best days.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The good man of Delhi stage

Friday, September 26, 2008, Mail-Today, by Archana

FOR anyone taking even a passing interest in the city’s theatre scene, Arvind Gaur is FOR anyone taking even a passing interest in the city’s theatre scene, Arvind Gaur is one of the most familiar names. And for the regulars at Shri Ram Centre, he is also one of the most amiable faces – every step of the way, someone or the other greets him, shakes his hand or touches his feet.
As you settle down for a chat with Delhi’s most prolific theatre director at the cafeteria- under- an- arbour at Shri Ram Centre, you get a glimpse of the directors immaculate attention to detail – coffee and sandwiches have to be ordered before he slips into the role of an interviewee.
Just last weekend, he staged Final Solutions and will be staging Art & Paradox and Unsuni this time, at Epicentre, Gurgaon.

Art & Paradox deals with a mother- daughter relationship in the changing social milieu and Unsuni is based on Harsh Mandars book, Unheard Voices, on the misery of those who never find a voice. About a fortnight ago, the city was talking about Gaur directed grand production, Ram Kali – The Good Woman of Delhi. That’s a lot of work packed into the itinerary of this diminutive play factory.

We wonder what’s the secret and he disappoints with his answer. “ Its the passion for theatre and the creative satisfaction that I get out of doing it that makes me glued to the stage, forever thinking of new stories to tell and enact,” he says. When we tell him it’s a hackneyed answer, he defends his response and adds, “Every five- six months, I experience frustration and want to give it all up and do something that would help me take care of my family better. But, after mulling and brooding for sometime, I’m back to theatre — because that is the only thing that gives me satisfaction.” It, indeed, is passion that has driven Gaurs theatre group Asmita to be in the forefront of keeping Delhi’s theatre scene alive at all times.

Nothing else can explain how Asmita has ploughed on without any concrete funding ever since its inception in 1993, why Gaurs retired father asks him every morning if he has enough money for the day and why Gaur earnestly tells his friends that he is looking for a permanent job — theatre gives him money and his shows are a sell out but he himself hardly makes enough.

Gaurs passion, in the meanwhile, has also propelled Asmita to become the platform for stage hopefuls from all strata of Delhi’s society to learn acting, hone their skills and move on to greener pastures of Bollywood. Deepak Dobriyal, Kangana Ranaut, Shilpa Shukla ( Bindia Naik of Chak De India ), Piyush Mishra ( actor/ lyricist/ script- dialogue writer in movies like Maqbool and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom among others), Seema Hazmi ( Saas, Bahu Aur Sensex ) have all been Asmita regulars.
“ Another important reason for our ceaseless output is the fact that we have our base in the citys colleges. So the talent in circulation is forever young and energized. Shilpi Marwaha, who played the lead in Ram Kali , for instance, is a student of Kamla Nehru College,” explains Gaur.

Young blood gets introduced to the stage through the groups long- running plays like Court Martial and Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions, to name a few. “ These are the training grounds for newcomers. So, we ve already staged 450 shows of Court Martial in the past 12 years and Final Solutions has been on since 1997, even before Dattani won the Sahitya Akademi award for it in 1998. In fact, our plays are performed by almost every school and college of the country that promotes theatre — from North East to North and from West to South India,” informs Gaur. No wonder then, youngsters streaming in and out of the cafeteria at Shri Ram Centre keep bowing to him or touching his feet.

Wasim Khan — who had the role of a press reporter in Chak De India , who is sitting on the next table, actually excuses to speak to Gaur for a minute.“ He is our family and let me tell you, if today I’ve succeeded in completing my M. A., it’s due to him. I had come to him as a student who had failed in his High School,” says Khan.

Besides the larger family of theatre enthusiasts in the city, Gaur says he has been able to devote time to theatre relentlessly for the past 15 years due to the unflinching support of his family — parents as well as wife, classical vocalist Sangeeta Gaur. “I’ve been very unkind to them,” he says with a smile and a shrug. “But they have always supported me, that’s why Im doing what I like to do.” After school he set out to do a diploma in Electronic Communications from PUSA Institute, dropped out in the sixth semester, pursued journalism for five years before moving on to electronic media. “ That’s where I realized that I was pretty weak in visualization of fiction and decided to do theatre to learn that. I never went back,” he sums up.

Gaur has, since then, immersed himself so completely in theatre that he is now one of the most visible directors on the circuit.
“I’m a man with a mission. There have been temptations from Bollywood, but Ive never given it a thought. I want to bring a change within myself and within the society. That is why there are social messages in my plays.
I hope to remain true to it.” Only somebody highly passionate about his oeuvre can talk like that.
— Art & Paradox and Unsuni, both directed by Gaur, will be staged at Epicenter, Gurgaon, on September 27 and 28 respectively, at 7.30 pm