Anupama Chandrashekar Interview
Anupama Chandrashekhar is a Chennai-based playwright. Her play FREE OUTGOING, which originally premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London has now been produced in India under Mahesh Dattani's direction. The play will be performed at the NCPA, Mumbai on 12th February 2015 as part of the NCPA Select programme.

 By Deepa Punjani

Deepa Punjani (DP): You have come a long way since I recall your play ACID in 2004 for the Writers' Bloc festival. Tell us about your journey.

Anupama Chandrashekar (AC): The Writer's Bloc has been a major turning point in my life. The workshops provided me a safe environment to experiment and to fail. I learnt the craft of rewriting there. In 2005, four writers were invited from the workshop to spend a week at the Royal Court Theatre, London, to work on the beginnings of a new play. I took with me a germ of an idea that eventually became FREE OUTGOING. It took two years and dozens of drafts for me to find my voice with the play. The play opened in 2007 - and was a big success, much to my surprise. It was the first Indian play that the theatre had staged. A year later, FREE OUTGOING was given a main stage revival and it travelled to the Traverse for the Edinburgh Fringe.

I was commissioned to write a second play for the Court. That became DISCONNECT, a play set in a call centre in Chennai. I wanted to explore the musicality of the spoken language; it was an experiment in form. Dozens of drafts later, it opened at the Court in 2010 and was another big hit there, with tickets selling out even before the play opened. DISCONNECT was critically well received too. The play is perhaps my biggest success - and has now has seen six different productions across the world.

I wrote an adaptation of the SNOW QUEEN for the Unicorn Theatre, which toured India and the UK. And I'm currently working on a few plays.

When I look back, I can't think of any one play (except my first) in which I didn't initially lose my way. In a sense, because of it, every play has been a big adventure. I never know what I'd discover along the way... and where my journey would take me. All I know is that I have to keep at it till the end.

DP: Any playwrights/writers that inspire you?

So many. Caryl Churchill, Girish Karnad, Mahesh Dattani, Mahesh Ehlkunchwar, Komal Swaminathan, Robert Holman, Simon Stephens, Annie Baker, Lynn Nottage, Pinter, Stoppard, Shakespeare. Novelists I have liked: Iris Murdoch, Kiran Nagarkar. And many many more.

DP: Tell us a little about your writing process.

AC: I research heavily and get lost in all that information. I write some very bad early drafts and then panic, then calm myself down and rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite.

DP: From 2005 onwards, The Royal Court Theatre in the UK has produced four of your plays, including FREE OUTGOING. The British press was charmed by the play. The play was also nominated for various awards in the UK and the US. Back here in India you would be regarded as a success story of sorts. How does it feel?

AC: I don't feel particularly successful - or unsuccessful. But I do feel blessed that there are some wonderful souls, both in India and outside, who have faith in my writing and stagecraft. It's a huge morale booster. It keeps me going. When you are in theatre, especially in India, it's easy to get disheartened and disillusioned. These angels are a reminder that I should constantly strive to write out of my comfort zone, experiment, learn, teach, share and respond to the world around me with truth, honesty and humour.

DP: Why do you think British audiences responded so favourably to FREE OUTGOING?

AC: My friend, the British director Indhu Rubasingham, often tells me, that the more specific the writing, the more universal it gets. I was initially surprised that an essentially Tamil play could find so much global acceptance. But then, I've been told, the western world is not so different from India as we imagine. British parents face the same issues of teen sexuality as we do. Women are objectified there in much the same way as here. There's as much misuse of technology there as here.

Last year, when the play opened in Toronto, Canada was reeling from the suicide of two teen girls, whose rape was filmed and shared online and via cellphones. FREE OUTGOING became particularly timely and relevant there.

DP: FREE OUTGOING, when it opened at the Royal Court Theatre, was directed by Indhu Rubasingham. Now Mahesh Dattani has directed the Indian premiere. What are your thoughts about this production with regards to the director's perspective?

AC: Mahesh Dattani is a playwright's director. He is a wonderful, generous, sensitive director with a keen ear for the rhythm of the spoken word and a rare reverence for the text. He's worked hard with this team of talented actors (Pallavi Arun, Karthik TMK, Uchit Nair and others) to mine the play's emotional core and to portray the play's world with honesty and truth. 15 years ago, he introduced me to theatre. I am thrilled and privileged that he's now directing my play.

DP: What do you consider to be your greatest strength and fear as a writer?

AC: My greatest strength, I think, is my dialogues. I love telling stories through what my characters say or don't say (and do or don't do). My greatest fear - and it's not that uncommon among writers - is that of the blank screen. I hate staring at a blank screen. I get paranoid and insecure. Much of my energy during the first draft is focussed on conquering this fear. As a result, my first drafts are written in diffidence. But I gain confidence and become bolder with each rewrite.

DP: Writers have spoken of being away from their homes where their new environments have given them creative impetus. Would you say the same about yourself?

AC: Being away from home certainly gives you perspective, a new way of looking at the familiar. Yes, I find creative stimulation when I'm away from home... but at the same time, home is where my stories come to me.

DP: You have been commissioned by the Tricycle Theatre in the UK and are also a Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at the University of Chichester. What are your plans?

AC: To work on more plays. Experiment with form and style. Try something new with every play.

Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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