Anshulika Dubey and Aakash Prabhakar
Anshulika Dubey and Aakash Prabhakar are, respectively, the Producer and Director of TAPE, an iconic American play coming to India for the first time. Anushulika was earlier the co-founder of Wishberry, India’s first crowdfunding platform for creative artists. Aakash, a Drama School Mumbai alumnus, has performed over 100 shows of the plays directed by him under his company Here and Now Entertainment since 2015.

 By Divyani Rattanpal

What brought you guys together to make TAPE happen?
Aakash: I was trying to figure out a way to distribute my feature film. I reached out to Anshulika, because I had heard about the film she had produced. She had even written a nice, long post on film distribution and I connected with her on the topic. From whatever we understood about stories, we started talking about what we were working on next. I told her about TAPE, the play that I was soon going to be working on.

Also our conversations kept going back and forth about consent. This was the year 2020; MeToo had just happened (2019). And this was something that would always come up in conversations.

Anshulika: Somehow the conversation kept going towards TAPE. When Aakash said that it had also been made into a movie (by Oscar-winning filmmaker Richard Linklater starring Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman), that’s when I told him to send me the movie. When I watched the movie, I found it extremely interesting — in terms of how something that was written two decades back could still have been so relevant. That’s when we started talking about producing the play in India.

How did you guys get the rights of the play?
Aakash: I was doing a play in December 2019 called VISITING MR GREEN, written by Jeff Baron, a New York based playwright and director. I had a very nice time collaborating with him. He had come down to India for the play, in which MK Raina and I performed. I really enjoyed this process of collaborating with an international theatre director and writer on topics which I too, connected to.

I had heard about the play TAPE quite often, and found out that the playwright Stephen Balberg, too, is NY based. I could reach out to him because of Jeff, with whom I had already done a production together. It was not very hard to talk to Stephen Balberg because he is very open.
I just wrote to him and we went back and forth because of the mutual connection. That’s when I started talking to him about whether I could mount this in India and if he’d like to come and see it. If we had opened back in 2020, he also would have come. But the lockdown happened and the process got pushed. Finally, we are putting it up!

Have you Indianised anything?
Aakash: We haven’t. We chose not to. We’ve contemporised it. Suppose there are references from 1990, we’ve changed it to 2020. I think adapting is a different skill set that one has to bring in. It’s definitely something we are thinking about, as we go ahead.

Anshulika: I think because of 2020 and 2021, we were all keen on just starting a play (laughs!). So ideally if this was not the scenario, it would have been really nice to take a step back and Indianise/adapt it a bit. Because there is just so much to adapt. It will just relate on a very different level once it becomes an Indian adaptation. There’s a lot of room for innovation in the play.

(To Anshulika) Why did you decide to start your theatre journey with this play?
Anshulika: It’s not really a debut. It could be the last as well! I think whenever I come across a story that must be told, be it a short film, a feature, a play or a podcast, I operate from there.

Nowadays, there are so many mediums to tell a story. That’s a major motivation. I guess if I find something, then I am really going to jump at it. What I like about Aakash’s process is that he finds these plays that are already done globally, and they connect universally because they are topics of relationships and human flaws, which will work in India, Germany or Timbuktu, wherever. Since this is about sexual consent, it’s important to even take it to workplaces and perform it there. Or for instance, one can invite an intimacy expert to be a part of a conversation after the play. That’s the idea. There needs to be a bigger drive around it.

(To Aakash) Given that the play is about nuances of sexual consent, what did you as an actor telling the story take from it?
Aakash: The point of overstepping was something I was always careful about, personally as Aakash. But I think men especially should be doubly careful. You know in the Indian context, we are not really used to discussing sex, consent or what-happened-that-night. A lot of work for me was to understand the awkwardness around it and try and use it on stage. How well do you play awkwardness? How well do you make the other person awkward?

I think TAPE really explores that well, in the way that something that happened 10 years ago, is brought. It is very well written and crafted in the conversation. So it was nice to explore that for me as an actor.

The team also went back to our own experiences of times and places… did you ask for permission?
We used all of this together to interpret these characters. Even as a director, I told the actor playing the rough boyfriend, to not judge the guy. Because in his head, it happened 10 years ago.

Did your readings ever get full of bickering?
Anshulika: Once people see the play, they will realise that it leaves the judgment on to the audience. So the three people who are discovering the character, they are only putting across to the audience each person’s perspective on what happened.
As actors when you are doing readings, you are not siding with a character because you also know the perspective of the other character. So much is happening in the play that it’s difficult to empathise with one person. You end up empathising with all three.

On a personal note, did the play have anything to do with you two getting married?
Anshulika: We got married on the 18th of last month. In the first seven days of us talking, we were talking about a bunch of stuff, including this play and his movie. He saw a couple of movies that I had produced. But definitely, art and literature was one of the things that got us together.

Author Bio:
Divyani has worked as a journalist for The Quint, where she was also among the Founding Team members. While there, she hosted and produced a podcast and fronted several standups. She’s also worked for The Times of India group, and is now a theatre and film actor.

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