Sunday, December 11, 2005

Brecht helped me to understand Indian theatre

SHE has directed over 55 plays with husband Nissar Allana designing the lights and stage. She lectures on theatre and stagecraft in American universities and runs the Dramatic Art and Design Academy, New Delhi, with him. But then, with theatre legend Ebrahim Alkazi for father and Alyque Padamsee for maternal uncle, did Amal Allana have any other choice? Theatre as a tactile experience GOWRI RAMNARAYAN The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Dec 11, 2005
When I decided to skip college and join the National School of Drama (of which he was then the director) my father said, "Rubbish!" and flounced out of the room. In the class he used to single me out for harsh criticism. But his corrections were extremely detailed, precise and dispassionate. He has a gift for that. Till today he never talks about my work except to offer bits of useful criticism.
Staging "Mother Courage" meant a catalogue on Brecht in India. So everything becomes a multi-level learning experience. My father is an Arab, my mother a Gujarati Khoja with a memsahib upbringing. I was another Salman Rushdie, a midnight's child, rootless, not knowing what to do with my Western education. I'm glad NSD took me away from English. My father too said work in Hindi, not English, but I thought do these plays have the depth of Shakespeare? I'd seen Indian theatre as a foreigner, regional theatre as an outsider. Doing a course in East Germany helped me to put things together. Brecht helped me to understand Indian theatre objectively, analytically. I spent time looking at Kabuki and Noh in Japan. I've done them all — "Adhe Adhure", "Himmat Mai", "Char Chaughi", "Begum Barve"... but my orientation is different. My current interest is the theatre of the cities, the culture of the metropolis.

Theatre is a tactile experience for me, rustle of the skirts, dupatta flying... My work is Indian through the sensuality of the physical experience. I read the text and throw it away. I approach the people, not the story. In (Mahesh Elkunchwar's) "Sonata", I linked the three women to the larger history of paintings where women artists like Nalini Malani and Arpana Caur were talking about the same fragmentation. As I got disenchanted with words my plays became more physical. And music — or soundscapes — took over what words do.
I'm older now and feel I owe it to the theatre world for whatever it's worth to do my best. Like everything else I do I took it on more to learn than to teach. I don't want people saying, "O God, Alkazi's daughter's here. He was a tyrant, now comes dragon Number Two". In the theatre, you can't build anything if it's draconian. Everyone is an artiste, has creative ability, ego! They can't give their best without encouragement, appreciation. I've been talking to the faculty, administration and repertory, to identify the problems. A lot of confusions are due to lack of management schedules. I'd like to take up things area by area, but also with a lot of love and affection.
I want to have discussions with training institutes across the country, with people who have their own teaching modules. We've had many meetings already. I want to develop a syllabus relevant to our times, and a powerful training programme. We have the software in talented people. We must create the right hardware — strategies of teaching and learning, start courses in theatre management, criticism, playwrighting.

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