Interview
 
Rashi Bunny
Rashi Bunny, Artistic Director of Banjara has set up home in Mumbai after being in Delhi, the US and in West Bengal. The multi-faceted artist who is well-known in Delhi has yet to make a dent in theatre in Mumbai. Her several years of experience in theatre, comprising numerous shows in India and abroad, plus her ebullience and her optimism, however imply that Rashi and her theatre company Banjara are determined to do their best. Read about PHIR AAO NA, their latest production. To find out more about Rashi Bunny and Banjara visit www.rashibunny.com


 Deepa Punjani

Rashi BunnyDeepa Punjani (DP): You started your theatre company Banjara in West Bengal with students of IIT Kharagpur and you are now establishing yourself in Mumbai. Why the shift?

Rashi Bunny (RB): Banjara symbolises the wanderer that I am. I had nothing planned. I go with the flow. That's how I am. My husband was invited to join IIT Mumbai and we had experienced enough of West Bengal after having moved there from the US. So we moved again! There was the choice of moving to Jaipur or to Pondicherry, and people kept saying to me- "Why would you want to be a small fish in a big sea, when you can be a big fish in the small sea?" But I guess I never thought of the fish as I love the ocean more. Besides I had spent my childhood in Mumbai. My dad was a sailor and I was naturally drawn to the city. Since I had already done enough of campus theatre, I ventured out in this big city to pitch the Banjara tent.

DP: You are a Science graduate but a meeting with Ebrahim Alkazi led you to doing theatre. You even worked with him at his Living Theatre Academy in the mid-nineties. What were your earliest experiences like?

RB: My mother Kiron Bhatnagar was one of Alkazi's most loved students at the National School of Drama (NSD) in 1971. Some of her later performances won her huge accolades when she was pregnant with me. Summer workshops at the NSD were a regular feature during my childhood. But I was a 'topper' and in India 'bright students' study Science. Leaving aside chemistry labs, dissecting animals, fixing circuits, and my evening projects, I would run to Mandi house for theatre. I was too young and unbelievably naive to fully understand what was going on there. To be a big actress was not my dream. I didn't even know what I wanted then. I read Krishnamurthy and wondered about life. I saw my first play EINSTEIN and had that enlightened feeling. The same day I met Mr Alkazi and he asked me to join the last semester of The Living Theatre Academy. Every evening I would just be there in front of him, taking in his words, his wit, his work and his wisdom. I think I was only a wide-eyed little girl then, drinking what felt to be a magic potion. Perfection in the tiniest detail with humility of the heart and the utterly gracious way of being and making theatre far superior than our mundane existence- that was my foundation.

DP: You have worked in Delhi with people like Arvind Gaur, in West Bengal with Shymanand Jalal's Padatik and you are now in Mumbai. What has it been like working in theatre in Mumbai vis-a-vis your experiences in Delhi and in Kolkata?

RB: Ha ha! At that time SJ's Padatik consisted of rich people doing theatre as a hobby. They had every possible resource. Then Arvind Gaur worked under a tree on a muddy field and had no money whatsoever. From studying theatre in the US and coming back to these two contrasting experiences in India, my plate was full of surprises and many lessons.

Kolkata has some of the oldest, almost done-for infrastructure, and some of the slowest people but who are avid lovers of the arts. Sometimes there is hollow intellectualization that a performing artist can do without, but there is a compassionate and a dedicated audience, nevertheless.

Delhi can turn you into a star overnight. Or at least that is what happened to me. Our kind of solo performances were new in India then. When I performed an 18 character play called MADHAVI as its solo artist, it just took the city by storm. Delhi print media believes in its theatre. We had trained theatre critics who came and watched plays and who wrote about them passionately.

Mumbai...ha ha. I ask my husband if there is a probability of him turning from an un-influential scientist into a super strong politician or a super- rich underworld don!! But I guess things will work out. Every challenge strengthens my belief that everything works out when our intentions are pure, our vision is beyond the 'self' and our aspiration is for a beautiful harmonious world driven by the creative process.

I was warned about the paucity of actors by senior theatre directors in the city and I am equally aware that no actor comes to Mumbai to do theatre, but today when 15 actors in my team come from as far as Colaba, Dahisar, Madhh island, Lokhandwala and Goregaon to Powai for a rehearsal of 6 -9 hours with just a 10 minute tea break for which they shell out 10 bucks, I know that this life has been kind to me.

Rashi BunnyDP: What are the particular challenges that you have faced while doing theatre in Mumbai?

RB: Everything has been a challenge. Rehearsal space, costs, travel, overheads and the networking gimmicks demanded by the industry here. Also people in Mumbai don't say a direct 'No'. Trusting people like me are left in a lurch therefore. I am learning. I will pick up the tricks of the trade but I will stand up for the purity and purpose of the form. I promised Mr Alkazi when I moved back to India and then Mr Ratan Thiyam when I moved to Mumbai, "When the Asuras are there to beguile us, hear only the Devatas!" They told me to ignore the loud roars of negative voices and to hear only the soft whispers of the angels. I follow what I am taught. The location is only incidental.

DP: Banjara has a youth wing as well as a children's wing. What kinds of activities happen there?

RB: As of now, our series, 'I have a Dream': theatre workshops for self-exploration and creative expression are very popular all over the country. In Mumbai, from colleges like St Xavier's, schools like JB Petit and Bombay Scottish to the cultural wing of the Nehru Centre, we have worked with many children and youth of the city. From this December onwards, we are re-starting our production oriented workshops. Like KITNE TAARE, KITNE BULB and UJLA TOTA SABZ PARI, our professional plays are derived from the thoughts, ideas, fears, doubts, dreams and dilemmas of children and young adults. Plays become the means for an exploration of younger generations and their sensibilities. Also our process of play making is just like it is for the adults. It is professional and small children can also learn to take on responsibilities like that of a stage manage, production manager or a choreographer.

DP: You have spent a lot of time in India doing theatre and have travelled abroad too on numerous occasions. What has been your best moment so far?

RB: Three moments actually. These have been the most amazing experiences of my life in the theatre so far. The first of these was humbling. A frail, old woman brought me a crumpled, tiny plastic packet full of pomegranate the day after my performance at the International Solo Theatre festival in Yerevan. She told me that pomegranate was the national symbol of Armenia, standing for life, abundance and soul. She got me the fruit to eat after watching me perform because she felt I too symbolised those qualities. I cannot forget those withered old hands, those deep narrow eyes, that blissful smile.

I had an embarrassing moment after I refused to go off stage because I had already done the curtain call 7 times and the full pack house was still standing, clapping and cheering me at an International festival in Russia. The Director of the festival came up the stage and announced that this was not a solo performance. He told the audience that he had secretly recorded me talking to my set, my canvas frames, wet colours and flowers on stage before the show and hence they were all my co-actors! I was stupefied by his wonderful explanation.

There was a shocking moment after a show at Balaghat, a small town near Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. A young woman came up to me and softly asked, "Can I touch you?" I don't know what traumas she carried within, but even today I pray for her happiness and peace.

Deepa Punjani Is Editor of this website.








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