Interview
 
Purva Naresh Interview
Purva Naresh is a film graduate from FTII (Film and Television Institute of India). She is also a dancer and a musician, skilled at playing a North Indian percussion instrument called the Pakhawaj. Purva's artistically inclined parents encouraged her. She recalls being in and out of classical music concerts and poetry sessions before most children her age got acquainted with nursery rhymes. Over a cup of coffee and other press commitments for her upcoming play BANDISH, Purva Naresh speaks of her creative journey and the various ''journeys'' that Mumbai led her to.


 By Gaurangi Dang

Gaurangi Dang (GD): What was home like in Lucknow?

Purva Naresh (PN): Home was full of people and stories. There was always some rehearsal or the other; a shoot or a poetry session, or a film screening. The house was always bustling with people and activity. I am a storyteller because I am a storyteller's daughter. My father is an engineer by profession, but he's really a poet.

GD: And after Lucknow, you went to college in Delhi?

PN: First I went to Suriname, which is a country in South America. My mother was posted as the director of the Indian Cultural Centre there. I spent my formative years in Suriname. It was much the same life, with music concerts and film screenings, only that we had transported ourselves to a different country. My mother was also a singer, so she pushed us towards music and guided us in that direction.

GD: Do you have a sibling?

PN: I have a younger brother and he plays the Sitar not professionally, but he plays it pretty well.

GD: There's enough artistry just amongst the four of you to start a band.

PN: Yeah...my father and him often jam together. My father plays the Mouth organ, my brother plays the Sitar, mom used to sing and I play the Pakhawaj. However, my instrument was too traditional to fit into the jam sessions, but I could dance. So I would dance and they'd all jam.

GD: And who would dominate these sessions?

PN: My father- hands down, just because of the person he is. He is a storyteller with musical abilities and mirth. His sense of humor is crazy.

GD: What music tradition appeals to you?

PN: I like classical music that has been fused with other forms. I think I'd say I like any kind of music that makes me feel something.

GD: Why do you think more people don't listen to classical music?

PN: I think it's a little difficult to access and it requires a lot of patience and a certain mindset.

GD: Do you have a favorite Raga?

PN: Yaman.

GD: So after Suriname you went to Delhi?

PN: Yeah, I went to Delhi to study Economics at IP College. Then I went to FTII and after that it just made sense to come to Bombay because I wanted to be a filmmaker. I got an internship with Star, which culminated in a job with Star Plus and after that I kind of just stuck around.

GD: How did you know that you wanted to do film?

PN: I knew because my mother was from FTII and I always wanted to follow her footsteps. She was a documentary filmmaker. I knew while I was growing up, that I had to go to school there.

GD: But you studied Economics before FTII.

PN: Yeah... you had to do your graduation in something and I wanted to study Political Science and History, but Economics was the coolest course and I could get admission in it, so I thought why not. If someone asked, ''What are you doing?'' it felt pretty cool to say, ''Economics.''

GD: And were you also writing by the side?

PN: Not officially, but I'd begun to write my own dance productions. I was sick and tired of doing the routine solo performances, so I began creating new themes and arcs.

GD: Do you remember the first story you wrote?

PN: Does a poem count? I was in class two, and it was a poem based on the colour blue. It was called Blue. I remember it because it got published in the Northern India Patrika and I got some money for it. I still have that ten-rupee note in a scrapbook marked as 'my first pay'. I can't remember my first story but when I came to Bombay, I used to write for Screen. I used to interview actors and review film festivals, so I have a lot of those.

GD: And then what happened?

PN: Then one thing led to another. I was assisting Sudhir Mishra on a production, and then I went back to finish my Master's degree in Music. I wanted to spend some time at home with my parents. My mother had begun to lose her eyesight by then. I wanted to be with her and I also wanted to dance. So, I started performing again and finished my degree. Then, I did a documentary with an American filmmaker on caste-based prostitution in Madhya Pradesh which many years later led to a play called OKAY, TATA BYE-BYE! for Writers' Block.

Then I did a bunch of non-fiction work, some fiction work, switched around multiple jobs- worked for Reliance, while simultaneously doing theatre. In Mumbai, I started with Akvarious Productions, and then eventually went on to open my own production house.

GD: How did the relationship with Akvarious begin?

PN: Akarsh (Khurana) and I were working on the same film called Krissh and we just hit it off. He was an AD and I was doing production. Once the film got over, he wanted to create new work and he asked me to adapt a few scripts for him. It just began from there. I adapted Enid Blyton's THE MYSTERY OF THE PANTOMIME CAT, and ALL ABOUT WOMEN. Then I wrote AFSAANEH, adapted SPECIAL BOND 1 and AFSAANEH 2 came out of a conversation Akarsh and I were having. He said, ''Why don't you write a dramatised piece on dance for Kala Ghoda?'' That took me back to my grandmother and her story became the central point for my piece. So, I wrote a piece, which turned into a full-fledged play, and then that play eventually made it to META (Mahindra Excellence In Theatre Awards) and ended up doing quite a few shows.

Then we began work on a script that later became AAJ RANG HAI.

GD: That's quite a journey.

PN: Yeah, but Bombay is like that... it leads one to journeys...

GD: And everyone back home was supportive?

PN: I've never had that kind of trouble. They were just worried for me. My mum always used to feel that one should have a steady income coming through, but other than that it was all good. She was very critical in terms of the kind of work I was doing, like rooting the characters that I was working with. For instance, the amount of research and the time one was devoting to them. At that point of time, when one is young you know it's hard to go and research for months in Kanpur. She was skeptical of the amount of justice I'd be able to do to the characters.

GD: You're the second writer I've had a conversation with this week. Coming from a family like yours that is rooted in a certain ideology, there is a certain kind of writing that makes sense to them. How do you deal with that baggage when you're just starting out? When you haven't even found your voice yet.

PN: Yeah, I had a lot of that. The constant questions: Are you being true to your subjects? Are you being truthful? What are you writing? Are you just writing for fun? What's your ideology? What's your politics? Parents always find it a little hard to let go. My father not so much, but my mother was a little more particular about things. If there's music, then you should be in sur. If you're writing, then it should be thoroughly researched.

GD: Was it hard to live up to that?

PN: Well, a little bit of pressure is always good. I like a good challenge and it felt good to be able to rise up to the occasion.

GD: So how do you find a balance in your text between anecdotes and what you have to say?

PN: That's a tough one, because there needs to be a balance but you're also constantly shifting and renegotiating the material. So, it's a new equation each time. For me it comes down to two things- what do I want the story to say? And how do I get the story to say it? Each time it's the story that decides how much goes into it. For instance if the facts are astounding and I feel they are of utmost importance then the story will have more facts than fiction and vice-versa.

GD: How do you pick which stories to tell?

PN: The stories come to you. You go with the story that you respond to in that moment. As a writer there are at least ten stories that are going on in your head at a time. You have to make a choice. I go with the one I respond to emotionally in that moment.

GD: So how did BANDISH happen?

PN: BANDISH happened because Aadyam asked me to do something yet again this year. I was sitting and thinking about what that would be, and these two characters that appear in most of my plays beckoned to me and walked on to my page. They're my thinking room and I love spending time with them.

GD: Who are these characters?

PN: My grandmother and her cousin brother, Munnu. They're there in AFSAANEY, AAJ RANG HAI and now they're also there in BANDISH. So these characters kind of keep walking into my plays and staking their claims. I knew that I wanted to do a musical and Aadyam seemed excited about it. It kind of flowed from there onwards.

GD: No writer's block or anything?

PN: Not much. Well, we ran into a bit of trouble in the second half, once the story was over and so I had to hit a bigger dramatic arc. The only way to cure writer's block is to keep on writing.

GD: So first you wrote the script, and then you went on the floor with it?

PN: Once I had a draft, I sat down with Shubha Mudgal, because it was going to be a musical. We discussed characters, ideas and music.

GD: And how much of difference does that make, collaborating with a music director?

PN: Well, the name of the play is BANDISH, which in itself, means a musical composition. Music is the backbone of the play. So I'd say a lot. The music in the piece is beautiful, and I'm so happy that I got to collaborate with Shubha on it.

GD: So after all this work, you went on floor with the actors. How did that work out? Did it work out like you had hoped?

PN: It worked out better in fact. I had a very mixed room of actors, with a lot of them never having worked with each other before. I had an actor from Kolkata and then another that had just moved to Mumbai from Delhi, but from the moment they walked into the rehearsal room, they owned these characters.

GD: How different is BANDISH from your previous works? Do you find repeating yourself?

PN: Well, the characters as I mentioned earlier reoccur, but the stories that they are telling are different. They first appeared in AFSAANEY as two storytellers, in AAJ RANG HAI you see them in a riot-struck neighborhood, and in BANDISH they are performers in a green room. However, I don't think that I am repeating myself. You have to watch BANDISH to know that I am not. I'd say I am rather working on my strengths and developing the characters further and making sure that each time I push the envelope a little bit more. All the three projects that I currently have are worlds apart from each other, in terms of the ethos, the subject, the dramatic treatment, and the characters as well.

GD: So what's next for you?

PN: Next is JATINGA, which opens in Sydney on 15th June. JATINGA actually is a place in Assam that is infamous for bird suicides, but here it's a metaphor for a state of mind. It's an abstract piece that talks about girls and them navigating the boundaries of what has been defined as freedom for them. There are six girls. One of them is city-bred, and the other five come rooted in different cultures. The play deals with various myths and polarisation of the Indian economy. Then there's PINK SAREE REVOLUTION, which opens in Leicester in October. It's about Sampat Pal, the founder of the ''Gulabi Gang'' while BANDISH is about musical performers. So now tell me, am I repeating myself?

*BANDISH opens in Mumbai at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA on 17th and 18th June 2017. The play is part of the third edition of Aadyam, a theatre initiative undertaken by the Aditya Birla Group.

*Gaurangi Dang is an English Literature graduate from the University of Delhi and a student of The Drama School (DSM), Mumbai. She likes to tell stories :)







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