Ila Arun Interview
Ila Arun brings the Ibsen Festival to Mumbai in collaboration with the Royal Norwegian Embassy. It is the first time that the festival is taking place in Mumbai and it is a momentous event for her. The festival which takes place from 31st October to 3rd November 2014 will feature three productions of Ibsen's plays, a special Jazz show and a seminar. An excited Ila Arun talks about the festival.

 By Deepa Punjani

Deepa Punjani (DP): The first Ibsen Festival in Mumbai. You must be proud.

Ila Arun (IA): I am very happy and very busy. For the last two years, awake or dreaming, I have had only one thing on my mind-Ibsen, and now it is happening.

DP: How did it all begin?

IA: In 2010, I was invited to adapt and direct a play by Ibsen for the DADA Festival in New Delhi. Somehow, I was fascinated by the possibilities that Ibsen's play THE LADY FROM THE SEA offered, especially in the folk tradition. And that was the beginning of my 'obsession' with Ibsen. As I worked on the script, placing the story in the arid areas of Rajasthan, it seemed to me as if Ibsen in the 19th century in faraway Norway was addressing issues in Indian society! I could almost feel the relevance of Ibsen in our society. Ibsen had managed to encapsulate our concerns too-women's issues, relationships, family ties in a changing society-with such skill and understanding, that each of his readers could empathise and connect with his characters. My adaptation, titled MAREECHIKA (Mirage) was a great success and I rode high on the waves that hit the shores of India and Norway, literally, since subsequently, thanks to the Norwegian Embassy in India, we actually crossed the seas to Norway as invitees to the Ibsen Festival in Oslo in 2012. I saw various performances of his plays by the Norwegians. I was converted to all that Ibsen wrote and stood for. I took a vow in front of Ibsen's grave in Oslo that if I get the opportunity and the support I will do this festival regularly in Mumbai. As they say, Literature is the mirror of society. Ibsen provides that mirror.

DP: Tell us a little about your production of PIR GHANI, which you have adapted from Ibsen's PEER GYNT.

IA: When I came back after attending the international Ibsen theatre festival in 2012, I began to read Ibsen's plays again and discussed them at length with our director KK Raina. The adaptation emerged from our discussions. Our technical director Salim Akhtar has done the stage and the light design for PIR GHANI. The play is in Hindustani and I consulted the Urdu language expert and researcher Kamal Ahmed for my script. We also had the famous poet Agni Shekhar on board and my brother Prasoon Pandey helped me with creative ideas. I designed the costumes with the research provided by Rama Pandey and Sheeba Lateef from Kashmir.

DP: You have used traditional music in your adaptation. Tell us about it.

IA: The music in the play is one of the highlights. While I have conceived it and based it on the traditional and folk music forms found in the Kashmir valley, it has been specially designed and programmed by Sanjoy Dazz and Ambar Dazz. Nirja Pandit has sung one of the songs. It is recorded music but it has been specially created for this play. It is original and if there is a Kashmiri in the audience he is bound to appreciate it.

DP: There is an opening night jazz show followed by Kåre Conradi's solo performance, also inspired by PEER GYNT. You have been raving about both these shows. Why will they be special?

IA: I got an opportunity to see a concert in Ibsen's house in Oslo where Ruth Meyer and Helge Lien were doing their concert of Sound Portraits of Ibsen's characters. It was an amazing experience. Since I had already done LADY FROM THE SEA, the scores brought Elida alive and I felt her agony and pain and suddenly I realised that the experience goes beyond words. Ruth communicated it so well with her voice and Helge supported her wonderfully. I can't describe the feeling in words.

Kåre Conradi's performance was the most amazing performance I saw at the National theatre in Norway. His storytelling was so interesting which he was doing in English, Spanish, a little bit of Norwegian, singing, and dancing that he simplified PEER GYNT for me. The play is a long dramatic poem and in earlier days the performance could run up to 7 hours and more. Kare completes it within 45 minutes without hurting Ibsen's original play. I made the decision there itself that if ever I do an Ibsen festival in Mumbai, he has to be in it. I asked him to promise me that he would come and he has honoured it. All theatre lovers must watch him.

DP: What made you think of Manoj Shah who is going to present his Gujarati version of THE MASTER BUILDER at the festival?

IA: I like the madness that Manoj Shah brings to theatre. He is very passionate, he is not scared, and he is ready to experiment. I am looking forward to his production.

DP: The festival was an annual event in Delhi overseen by Nissar Allana. It used to be a longer festival. Are you being careful because it's the first time in Mumbai?

IA: Yes. I have taken a risk. But without the support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy this festival would not have been possible. Next time I hope to make it bigger. I want to encourage the generation today to come and enjoy good literature and good theatre.

Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

Click here to read Kåre Conradi talk about his solo performance of PEER GYNT

Click here to read KK Raina talk of his direction and performance in PIR GHANI

Click here to read what Manoj Shah has to say about his version of THE MASTER BUILDER, which is also part of the festival.

Click here for the Preview of the Gujarati MASTER BUILDER

Click here to read about the seminar

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