A Return to Theatre

Interview: K Madavane/  Tartuffe / At Correspondent

Director K Madavane obtained his doctorate from JNU on the representation of death in Theatre of the Absurd. His areas of interest and specialisation are Theatre and Cinema. Madavane has extensively worked on popular forms of Hinduism and the walk on fire in Pondicherry. Having trained with stalwarts in Paris, Madavane returned to New Delhi to form Chingari, (1983) a theatre group with a difference. At the Shree Ram Centre, New Delhi, he directs ‘Tartuffe’ written by Moliere. He talks about this performance in an interview with Art Tehelka.

Tartuffe -  Directoed by K Madavane

Tartuffe – Directoed by K Madavane

AT Correspondent:  Having trained in Paris, what prompted you to form your group Chingari and what was the intention of this group?

K Madavane : I spent three and half years in Paris as an Assistant to many directors considered as masters : Antoine Vitez, Guy Retoré, Patrice Chereau, etc. After three years of intense training in theatre and more specifically a unique student life in this culturally rich city,  I was wondering if I should try to stay back in Paris or return to Delhi. The theatre milieu in Paris was tough and highly competitive. At this time, I was lucky to witness one of the first big strike by theatre artists in 76. Many of my friends were participating in that movement. I appreciated their demands and witnessed their situation, but soon realised that it was difficult to find a place in that milieu. Somewhere I felt that I could bring in my training to Delhi. In Delhi I found many youngsters keen on pursuing theatre and that is how Chingari was formed. The intention of the group was to find a new language on stage. At that time, voice was the preferred means of communication on stage. We developed what later came to be known as « Chingari style ». This is based on a composite style which aimed at a synthesis of body and voice, and a close relation with a functional minimalist set. In 1983 we launched Chingari’s very first production: Tughlaq. As noted by many critics, it was a great adventure to challenge NSD, with Alkazi’s direction. We played Tughlaq to a packed house for five days in SRC. The response was very positive.

ATC: The French play Tartuffe by Moliere was written as a theatrical comedy.  Have you made any modifications to it to suit the Indian milieu?

KM. As a rule, I never Indianise foreign plays. We either use available translations or commission them, but make sure that names of the characters are not changed, nor is the setting of the play. I believe in preserving that element of ‘foreignness’ and acknowledging the origin of the play.

ATC:  We live in a time where cinema dominates over theatre, however, theatre produces the best of the acting oeuvres and excellence in performances, do you suppose some time in the near future, theatre would reclaim its past glory like before?

KM:. Theatre has its relevance and will continue to exist in spite of cinema. In India we have very few professional theatre companies where actors and directors can make a living out of this profession. Securing funding to cover costs such as hall rent that is increasingly prohibitive, set, lights, and costumes is no easy task. In spite of these challenges, amateur theatre is very active especially in a city like Delhi.

ATC:  What have been the other plays which you have directed and which playwright would you deem to be the Shakespeare of today’s India (if I could call a person that) ?

KM :. I directed mainly European plays in the 80s with a mix of absurd drama, comedies by Molière, plays by Sartre, Cocteau etc. As far as Indian playwrights are concerned, I have directed plays by Girish Karnad. I also directed two plays scripted by me: The Mahabharata of Women  and The Veritree. There are some very good Indian playwrights but I shy away from naturalistic theatre as it does not suit my style of direction. It is difficult to imagine ‘the Shakespeare of today’s India’ as we have theatre in various regions in different languages.

ATC:  Plays often have a social / public message which could be read between the lines and cleverly expressed. What kind of subliminal messages does the play Tartuffe express especially with respect to today’s India?

KM: Tartuffe was originally a satire on fraudulent pious men. However today’s reading is as much a critique of Tartuffe as it is of his followers. For a Tartuffe to exist and thrive, he must have a blind following. Resistance is crucial to society’s growth and well-being.

ATC: What would be the next play your audiences could look forward to?

KM:  I have always been fascinated by Faust, and dreamt of directing a play on Partition. But I do not know if it will be the next production.

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