She has been a part of comedy plays like Trivial Disasters and experimental theatre like Hair, and actor Kalki Koechlin will next be seen on stage for a unique performance where all the actors play every character. “We are rehearsing for a play which is going to open in Serendipity Arts festival in Goa this month. It’s based on Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya: Scenes from Country Life in Four Acts, and we’ve renamed it Sounding Vanya, because we are using a lot of music, and also, it’s an interpretation (of the original) with many actors swapping roles,” she says. Excerpts from an interview:
Could you tell us more about your role in your upcoming play?
All of us are playing all the characters at some point in the play. There are nine characters and seven actors. It’s an all-woman cast and we are playing men and women at different points.
Do you feel that strong female characters are a rarity in today’s theatre?
There are a lot of strong female characters today in theatre as compared to films. Obviously, if you look at the Shakespearean plays, that’s not the case. But, in modern contemporary drama, there’s a lot out there that focuses on women.
Do you see a differentiation between TV actors and stage actors today?
Is this a trick question (laughs)? There’s always this danger that the theatre scene will be a sort of stepping stone to Bollywood. So, you have a lot of people who are doing something that I call “drawing room theatre”, which is done better on film than in theatre. But there has to be some interpretation which makes it different from what you do in films. Just because you’re talented in one doesn’t mean you’ll be talented in the other.
When you speak of contemporary theatre, do you see scripts which are ahead of their time?
We don’t have good local writers when it comes to theatre. People are still picking up plays from 50 years ago from abroad. We don’t use our local writers very much. The devised work is stronger in India. You have companies like Adishakti, who work from a devise point of view and not from a script point of view. Abhishek Majumdar and Neil Chowdhury are fantastic contemporary writers, but they’re few and far between.
And lastly, can an artiste survive by doing theatre alone? If not, what can be done to change this?
I don’t see myself surviving on just theatre alone (laughs). But if we need to change this, it all depends on the audience. If you charge more than ₹500, people will not come to watch a play. One of the biggest issues is that there are not enough good, well-equipped theatres all over India.
In the West, there’s a tradition of doing a play for six months to a year at the same venue. Then it becomes feasible for actors to sustain on a regular salary. We don’t have that format, which makes it expensive. It means you do a play, you put it up for a week and spend so much money on costumes, production and the set, and then you move it and fly to another city to perform. That tradition of having a play running for a long time in a city is something that is much more sustainable.