Artistic Director of Pune-based Theatre Company Aasakta, Mohit Takalkar has directed over 20 experimental plays in Marathi, Hindi and English. An accomplished actor and film editor, Takalkar has won several accolades and awards, and is currently pursuing his Masters in Theatre Direction from the University of Exeter, UK. In this conversation with Sudhir Raikar, he unfolds the highs and lows of his creative journey to date as also the purpose behind his academic quest
What motivated you to pursue a Masters at this juncture? What's the course about? I always longed for a formal education in the Arts. During my younger days, I had this keen desire to join the National School of Drama (NSD) or the Film and Television Institute in India (FTII). Every time I passed the sprawling gate of the FTII, I felt a strong craving to step inside. Perhaps I thought these were safe havens for rightfully pursuing my passion for three years without eyebrows being raised. No one ever bothers a student with the sore question "What do you do for a living?"
But over time, these mute aspirations took a backseat as I got immersed in diverse activities. Theatre work, film editing, and of course the household responsibilities of a dutiful son, all kept me alive and kicking. But after directing a handful of plays in the given time, the initial euphoria made way for a growing realization that I was going nowhere. Yes, I was indeed relishing the experience of working with a bunch of whiz kids but I sensed that I may dry up soon. It happens to everyone, I presume at some juncture...All my plays looked similar to me; the thought was scary. I knew it was time to learn new things, observe life, meet people...
As the Buddhist proverb goes: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear", I found something to look forward to. The course I am doing is a Post Graduate course in Theatre Practice at the University of Exeter under the guidance of Phillip Zarrilli. It's about psychophysical acting where the psychological and the physical aspects merge. Training methods also involve Kalaripayattu, Yoga, Tai Chi among other forms. I am happy to be a student again, unlearning a lot before I learn afresh. And I am happy I am doing this after having built a small body of work for myself.
Have you ever felt marginalized, especially during Aasakta's initial years? How do you foresee the future strides? We will always be marginalized! That's a fact but we have invited the wrath ourselves. We've clung to experimental plays in a world that swears by material pursuits...who has the time for experimental theatre - Marathi at that - the kind that gasps for survival in dim-lit, cubby holes.
Initially, I used to wonder "Is there a space for this indulgence? Who really cares? To make matters worse, lack of opportunities, stiff opposition from veterans of the mainstream, contempt and criticism of the new wave ...But thankfully, we kept working without a thought as to the consequence. Eventually, we reaped the benefits of being consistent, innovative and fresh. Visibility through festivals, recognition, accolades and awards followed. Soon, we outgrew the celebration too... and the journey began all over again. Yes, the problems are plentiful but action is not an option. Doing theatre - even mainstream commercial, has never been easy in India. So let's face it... and stay put. Else, the end is always round the corner.
Nothing's planned as yet. How I wish I was good at it. I still do plays that touch me for some reason... rather for any reason. But going forward, I would be prudent in the choice of scripts. I look forward to collaborations... with dancers, musicians, designers... Let's see... Bachenge toh aur bhi ladenge...
How do you zero in on the themes for your productions? Is the search for contemporary content and aesthetics a conscious effort? Yes, I would say so. I have to be drawn towards the text. The magnet could be anything... style, characters, language or even the actors involved. The theme has to be cerebrally challenging and emotionally engaging. Once I am convinced, I begin work on the script. Here, we try and explore our strengths.. Yes, it could be multi-disciplinary involving technology, multimedia, dance, music, research... Provided the text demands it. Thankfully, each exercise is fresh, sans any set formulas and equations.
Have you consciously stayed away from film projects? Yes and No. I work as a film editor. But I edit not more than 2 films a year. During the early years, I have also worked as an assistant director for a few projects. At that time, the film world seemed captivating with its bigger dreams, larger canvas and good money. Theatre seemed like an evening pastime. I was deeply inspired by the world cinema I saw at the national archives. I was simply mesmerized by the collage of images, colours and sound... Inspired and charged, I penned three scripts, did the customary rounds of producers, and met financers... Few liked the script but found the "sellable" missing, many suggested changes with "appeal" in mind, others slept through the readings.
Simultaneously I was doing plays. Then TU happened. This play opened the magic doors of theatre for me. Suddenly, I felt so many corners unexplored. I took the challenge to create the "space" to work with actors, words and images. The gush of excitement has seen me through. I don't know what to do with the film scripts. I still believe they are good but I don't have the energy to run after people and convince them of the prospects. If someone walks in with an offer one fine day, I would surely say yes. Else, theatre has always kept me happy. The day it doesn't, I will stop. Should that happen, I would not mind opening a restaurant as I am a good cook.
What's your take on the experimental theatre scene in Maharashtra? Especially with sustainability in mind... To be true, there is no such thing as Marathi experimental theatre today. No one's experimenting including me. We just don't play with the form and the space. We call it "alternative" because it happens away from the mainstream. We don't take risks. If there is no risk, how would you experiment? It's a big humbug. We close our eyes to the world outside. Forget Europe. We Marathi theatrewallahs are unaware of what's happening in the rest of India. We are busy with our living room dramas. Now experimental simply means the plays that are staged on a dark backdrop without sets, flats and chairs. And we are compulsive puritans. We don't want dance, music, multimedia to enter our sacred space of theatre. It's disgusting. And this is true of the English and Hindi theatre as well. "Play it safe" seems the policy - how else would we fill up NCPA, Prithvi, Shivaji Mandir and Balgandharwa? Yes, sustainability is central to us but I often wonder, is there a need for this theatre to sustain?
Have you cherished any role models by choice - when it comes to choice of genre & theatrical styles? I am thankful to many people for the splendid work they have done ahead of me, enabling me to do what I am doing today. But I have no role models. I haven't seen any of their works. I am aware of sanctified myths of Vijayabai (Vijaya Mehta) and Arvind Deshpande and Dubey and I have made some friends among them. Their influence cannot be negated. I loved Tendulkar as a person; Elkunchwar is adorable for everything he does, Ramu Ramanathan's wit and brilliance is superlative, Makrand Sathe's intelligence and humour stand out, Alekar's writing and sensitivity is exemplary, Chetan Datar and Atul Pethe have contagious vigour and Dubey's charm and warmth is inimitable. I have not known Vijayabai but I love her for her voice.
Would you ever contemplate making plays for a non-Marathi audience who may be as receptive to your ideas.. Of course. I did BED KE NEECHE REHENEWALI, a children's play in Hindi. LETTER TO TENDULKAR, and KASHMIR KASHMIR were in English. I would like to do work in Kannada, Bengali, Gujarati... any language for that matter. I am committed to theatre, not to a specific language. I won't deny that I think in Marathi and hence am more at home doing Marathi plays. But that does not limit my scope in any way.
*A cost accountant by qualification, Sudhir Raikar says that his chequered career of melodramatic proportions brought him closer to the world of films and theatre. He brings with him over 17 years of experience in writing that includes journalistic reports & stories, book and film reviews, analytical writing, critical appreciation, marketing communication, translations and business writing for leading media houses and corporates. His passion is fit-for-purpose writing.