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