Although having directed more than twenty plays and having acted in several others, Rajendra Gupta today is better known as a film and television actor. For IPTA’s annual festival this year he directed a Hindi adaptation of Albert Camus’ French play, LES JUSTES. The play which premiered at the festival proved to be interesting enough to watch despite the dramatic license taken to omit an entire act. The following conversation with Rajendra Gupta largely revolves around his direction of SARPHIRE. He also talks to us about being an NSD alumnus, about the institution and about theory v/s practice.
While going through your CV, I noticed that IPTA’s production of SARPHIRE is not your first attempt at directing Albert Camus’ Les Justes. You seem to have directed the same play in 1985 too although it was then titled JAHEEZ HATYARE. In fact I have directed the play not only in 1985 but also in 2003 and 04’ and now in 2006. Last year my local group in Mumbai did a show for a festival in Bhopal. If I am not mistaken I have directed this text at least six times, beginning first with my group in Delhi.
I must say that is a long time to be hooked on to one play… In all frankness I am very fascinated with the play and I therefore keep returning to it. Each time I have directed the play it has thrown up new possibilities and new ways of interpreting the text. I find the theme of justice in the play absorbing. If you have seen the play you will realize that each of its characters are living for an ideal. The characters are extreme and are living in an extreme situation. Even now I feel the actors in this current production can do better.
I too feel the same. In my opinion there is a lot of internal drama that the characters are experiencing but the actors have not been able to do full justice to that. So would you say that performances from your actors have been one of the reasons that you keep returning to the text? Partly yes. Actors in former productions of the same play have been better. For me the process of staying connected to the text as an actor has always been important. It is easy to depict a character than become one with it. I don’t see that happening with the IPTA actors although this time I was very happy to have M.S. Sathyu design the set for the production.
I am curious to find out why did you title this production SARPHIRE when the English equivalents of the original are THE JUST or THE JUST ASSASINS? It is not that I have not used the original title in former productions. But this time there were two reasons why we titled the play SARPHIRE. Consider people whose world is black and white and also those who are caught up in their own worlds. To them, a group of people like the Naxalites can only be sarphire. The other reason is more practical. There was a consensus within the group that this title would be better received than its original- JAHEEZ HATYARE.
Which would you say has been your most memorable production as a director? That’s difficult to answer. Productions of this play for instance are all memorable. As an actor-director, I did SURAJ KI ANTIM KIRAN SE SURAJ KI PEHLI KIRAN TAK with Neena Gupta. I have fond memories of that production. I also recall a historical play called ZILL-E-SUBANI which I enjoyed directing. Then of course different people have told me which of my directed plays they have most enjoyed. Some remember my production of KHAMOSH ADALAT ZARI HAI. Habib Tanvir told me that he had found my production of ANDHA YUG better than Alkazi’s.
How much of your success as an actor and a director would you owe to the NSD? 60 to 65%
You seem to have your figures at hand! This is just loud thinking. Yes but I do feel that is what I really owe to the NSD as far as my training as an actor and a director goes.
For quite some time now the NSD has been courting a backlash concerning its functioning and its policies. The time you graduated from it in the seventies was probably its golden period. As an alumnus of what was once considered to be a premier institution for drama and theatre in the country what do you feel about its status today? To date I maintain that the NSD is still the best place for interested young people to train in theatre. For all its problems and shortcomings it has managed to evolve a solid system through which students are trained. I still look forward to conducting a refresher course there even today. The problems that you are hinting at emerge from individuals who think that they are larger than the institution itself. Every NSD director comes with his or her own vision which if not complementary to the larger good is bound to create trouble. Once the government machinery is involved, bureaucracy is bound to reign. Alkazi’s times were different for Alkazi himself was a very charismatic personality who motivated everyone. He genuinely loved the theatre and brought in new ideas. It is not that there haven’t been people after him. Even Ratan Thiyyam and B.V. Karanth have done good work.
But that is exactly my point. Apart from a few exceptional figures, the NSD legacy has not produced any notable work in the last few years. And that is a sorry state of affairs given that we are talking about the National School of Drama, which in a sense is supposed to be representative of theatre in our country. I agree with you on that.
You yourself have taught drama and trained students at different institutions, including the NSD. In your opinion, how useful is a structured course or a workshop as against gaining hands-on experience in theatre productions directed by different people? Well-defined study programs are of course good. But ultimately it is up to the student to make the best of it. Personally I believe in practice more than theory so much so that these days I am a little wary of taking teaching assignments in theatre. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. Even at the NSD I had suggested that theory should not be separate from practice. If the students are working on a certain production, theory classes should also be geared towards that. For instance there is no point talking about Stanislwasky’s method and answering questions on it in an examination when you have not applied it. I myself remember gaining much more from my practical classes than my theory ones. The NSD could think of making such changes in order to initiate better ways of teaching and training.
*The above interview has been conducted by Deepa Punjani, Editor of this site, a theatre critic and an academic keenly interested in theatre and performance studies.