Gagan Dev Riar
Gagan Dev Riar is a Mumbai-based theatre actor, director and writer. He has been noted for his performances in plays such as Om Katare's RAVANLEELA, Sunil Shanbag's STORIES IN A SONG and Atul Kumar's production PIYA BEHROOPIYA. Furthermore, he has composed music for several of the productions he has been part of. We talk to him about his latest play ISHQ AHAA, which he has jointly directed with Sukant Goel. He opens up about writing, the importance of music in his drama and of depicting love in theatre.

 By Nishtha Juneja

Nishtha Juneja (NJ): A fair number of plays have been written and staged around the theme of love. How have you approached this theme in your play?

Gagan Dev Riar (GR): Everybody has an opinion about love. We decided not to have any, and presented a few shades of it. Shah Jahaan built the Taj Mahal out of love while Mahiwal gave his life for it. Both were in love. The only one thing we strongly believed in was that 'If music be the food of love, play on' (Reference to Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT). So there is definitely a lot of music to look forward to. Pyaar aur kuch ho na ho, musical toh zaroor hoga...

The four stories we are presenting are based on the four love legends of Punjab and what love meant to them. 'Sassi Punnu' is a Nautanki style depiction of Sassi's search for Punnu when they are separated -written by Amitosh Nagpal; 'Mirza Sahiba' is a stylized presentation of how Sahiba is falsely accused of betraying Mirza - written by Purva Naresh; 'Sohni Mahiwal' and 'Heer Ranjha' are plays within a play, performed with a hint of movement and 'Qissa' (a folk form of story-telling from Punjab) has been written by me and Raghav Dutt.

NJ: Why stories from Punjab?

GR: Being a Punjabi myself, it was only during this beautiful journey that for the first time, I actually understood what a land of treasure I came from! Thanks to Suruchi and Jhoom for believing in this project and in me. I remember the quote: ''Bahot padhai karni padi, kamar ka kookad ban gaya, pair ki nass chad gayi aur koi poochh bhi nahi raha ki bunty tera kya haal hai!'' (from the play PIYA BEHEROOPIYA, penned by Amitosh Nagpal).

I don't remember the last time I read so much...this journey started from reading Fazal Shah, Pilu, Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain...almost all written in Gurumukhi that took me back in time. And before all this happened we went to Punjab where we met many scholars and artists - Jasleen Aulakh, Harpreet, Kamal Tewari, Waryam Mast, Vakila Mann to name a few. They were all very helpful. We were also lucky to be able to watch the rehearsals of a Punjabi musical being played by the students of University of Ludhiana! The best part of it was listening to the music of Punjab which is the soul of our play and a major factor in getting the entire cast to come together.

NJ: How has the drama grown since the first draft? Can you share some instances where actors have improvised sections of it?

GR: In the guest house room in Chandigarh, Raghav Dutt who was also part of the research. He came up with an idea of having a jamming studio as the backdrop for all the four stories. This idea made us think, and led us to many different ideas, versions, discussions and forms. By the end of it since music was our medium, it beautifully got us back to the same idea of it being the backdrop of our play! Another incident was when we were reading 'Sohni Mahiwal' and reading Sohni's death sequence. Raghav Dutt, Sukant Goel and I were hooked on to the idea that it had to be magical. A lot of improvisations were done to understand the connection between the two lovers universally. Later, these became the base of many such conversations used in the play. I don't think we have moved substantially away from the first draft because that was the very first idea; like first love. It was very impulsive and we all fell in love with it!

NJ: If you had to choose between writing and directing; what will be your first choice?

GR: I choose direction because I think there is still time for me to know what writing really means. As a director I can still call it my interpretation and present it. But as a writer I feel that kind of manipulation is not possible, and that you need to be very honest. As Raghav Dutt rightly says ''Agar bande mein soul hai toh kahani mein aayegi hi aayegi.'' Hence in direction, I find myself a lot more in control.

NJ: Though our movies have evolved to depict love between couples, the same cannot be said for our theatre. What is your view about love getting bolder on stage?

GR: I think there is a certain way of presenting almost everything and anything, be it any topic in the world. Even something highly non-aesthetic can be aesthetic, if properly presented. As artists we all have to keep looking for that certain way every time we create and if that involves love getting bolder on stage, then nobody can stop it anyway.

*Nishtha Juneja likes to act and write about theatre. Nishtha Juneja is passionate about dance and food and has completed a post-graduate diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute for Communication (XIC).

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