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.


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