Deepika Arwind Interview with Ayushi Shah
Continuing in the series on young, contemporary women theatre practitioners, Mumbai Theatre Guide catches up with Bangalore-based theatre practitioner Deepika Arwind who talks of her latest production I AM NOT HERE. She shares her views on theatre, the theatre she is attempting and her foray into theatre about women, gender, and identity.

 By Ayushi Shah

Ayushi Shah (AS): Tell us a little about your new production I AM NOT HERE.

Deepika Arwind (DA): The play is about women's writing and censorship of all kinds. It has been supported by Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan. The diving board for this was the call for the Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival 2018 where this year's theme was ‘Plays that almost weren't', which was basically about plays that were banned at some point. I came across BEHZTI by Kuldeep Kaur Bhatti. Having grown up in a Sikh household myself, I was very curious about her work. Then, I stumbled upon this book called "How to Suppress Women's Writing" by Joanna Russ. These two became the driving force for a larger, devised play on women's writing. I worked with a dancer and an actor to create this work.

AS: How did theatre start for you?

DA: It was a very ‘usual' kind of route - I did theatre in school and in college. Then, it was with the youth theatre festival Thespo. Bangalore has a strong theatre culture. I did have a few detours; I went to study journalism, worked in a newspaper for two years, and wrote about theatre in a magazine for a year. But I was always doing theatre in some form or the other.

AS: A play you look back at fondly.

DA: I did ANTIGONE in college. I remember really enjoying it. I was playing a strong female character. Most plays had male leads. Now, when I look back at those years of theatre, I realise the kind of plays I would not want to do anymore. I see the arc my journey has taken and also speaks of why I do the kind of work I do now.

AS: You have thought about gender and your work has reflected that. Is that a conscious decision?

I really feel that there is this masculine theatre where there is a certain way of working - male playwrights, male lead characters, even the form and the content. I also felt very limited by the kind of theatre around me. There has been very little for women to do. I was really bored, really tired of it. So yes, my journey has been conscious and gradual. Even a lot of female playwrights I've heard, say that they write female characters, so that they can enrich the stage and make it more diverse. By representing female voices, I think we are opening up the spectrum for several other voices in the gender/sexuality space to be spoken about. There is toxic masculinity that is oppressive. I'm not negating that theatre altogether, just saying that after all these years of working, now I am finally making my own work. There is a certain kind of theatre I want to do and invest my time in.

AS: How do you start work on a new play?

DA: My last show NO REST IN THE KINGDOM has been a culmination of many, many conversations and research. Not only academic research but research on the walk that I lived. For instance being in other people's rehearsals, working with them, being alone in a rehearsal room for three or four months to create a solo piece that is a funny tongue-in-cheek, irreverent piece on everyday misogyny. So, NO REST IN THE KINGDOM had a script only many shows later. It is a devised piece and is also kind of improv theatre because it uses the audience a lot. I learnt the piece everyday in a new way. I did not have a premiere day. I just went to the rehearsal room and slowly it emerged to have a life of its own.

AS: What kind of forms do you emphasise on in your theatre?

DA: I like to use dance and movement a lot. But I do not mean dance in the way we conventionally look at it. I try not to compromise the physical training. Even training sometimes gives you a way to enter the work - it re-wires your brain and you start thinking differently. Training physically has changed me as a performer - it has changed my voice, my endurance. Those are very essential things for an improv. But I am a writer as well, so even though NO REST IN THE KINGDOM was written after many improvs, I still employed all the faculties of a writer. I was trying to find out the connections between the body, the writer, and the actor.

AS: What does a typical rehearsal day look like?

DA: For the new production I AM NOT HERE, the rehearsals would start at 10 am. But my day starts much earlier. I have breakfast and some coffee. If I can I try to work out, read a little, or listen to some music before my cast comes in. We train for about 2 hours and then we spend time devising. When you're making something, it's more intense. Then I spend most of my days in the rehearsal room and evenings in front of the computer, writing, reading or re-working.

AS: How much time do you spend on the rehearsal floor?

DA: Usually we spend at least 8 weeks rehearsing. But with NO REST IN THE KINGDOM, since I was alone, I gave myself no deadline.

AS: Has the city of Bangalore influenced your work?

DA: Yes, of course. In a way any city or place can influence. But it's also the people I've met in Bangalore. I've always been surrounded by people who take theatre very seriously. The city has a vibrant community and has had a huge influence on me.

AS: Which theatre person would you most like to sit next to during a long flight?

DA: It can be anybody with whom I can have an interesting conversation and need not necessarily be a theatre artist. I think various experiences inform the making of one's theatre. But, they should also let me sleep when I want to (laughs).

AS: Which plays are on your bookshelf?

DA: I have a few books about theatre but I have a lot of fiction and poetry. I've been listening to a lot of rap and I've read a lot of interviews with female authors. So that's what I have been consuming.

AS: What is next for you?

DA: I just want to work with interesting people - people who are interested in good, honest work and believe in the idea. I think work brings us closer together.

The Rapid Fire Round:

Mumbai or Delhi?

Ebrahim Alkazi or Habib Tanvir?
Habib Tanvir.


Prithvi or Shivaji Mandir?

Mahabharata or Game of Thrones?

Coffee or fresh lime soda?

Pristine silence or laughter in the aisles?
A healthy mix of both.

Training or Spontaneous?

*Ayushi Shah has a Bachelors Degree in Mass Media with a Major in Journalism. She has worked in various media and in public relations. She enjoys theatre and has acted in and directed inter-college festival plays.

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