Ram Ganesh Kamatham
Ram Ganesh Kamatham's PROJECT S.T.R.I.P returns to Mumbai for it's closing shows. The play, directed by Quasar Thakore Padamse, is a comic satire about corporate greed threatening to destroy a native island community. Since this play opened, he won the Sultan Padamsee Award for playwriting twice, for ULTIMATE KURUKSHETRA and UNDAUNTED. His plays have won other awards too, as his work as a researcher gives impetus to his theatre, which seems to be ahead of its time.

 By Deepa Gahlot

Why has been decided to end the run of PROJECT S.T.R.I.P, when its subject is relevant today today, more than ever?
I am the wrong person to ask, Quasar would be able to answer it. When we launched the play, it was with the idea of a limited run, so there was this sense that the play would open, we would do a blitz of shows, and that's it. But the play began to just live its own life and now it's been 15 years. From the QTP perspective, they will have a better idea about why they have decided to wind it down, but the play has lived its life, and it's had a German translation and a staging in Munich; it has had a Kannada translation and a staging in Bangalore. I keep getting requests from colleges to stage it in their festivals, so in that sense its lived a full, happy life. The Mumbai production is winding down so maybe there's space for a new English production to take off.

When you look back on the journey of this play as a playwright, as someone who has seen it evolve, what are your thoughts about it, today?
I have had two very good instances of the play's longevity; one is that it has become very relevant in Europe right now. The German translation was done about two years ago and my translator in Vienna was amazed that the play was extremely relevant and talking to contemporary European politics, especially with the whole focus on biodiversity and nature. What started out for us as just a comment on development in India, now actually has interesting perspectives on not just corporate social responsibility, but also just looking at the environment and how business affects things at the global level. So from the European side it is super relevant. The other thing is from the intention, to what it has come to, is also quite an interesting journey. The intention was a harsh critique of some of the decisions that were being taken in the 2009-2010 period. But with the benefit of hindsight, there is a larger globalism that has emerged from it. In the early days, Quasar was keen to comment on the aboriginal condition, which was where his source of inspiration arrived from. And I was, like, what about the adivasis in India? That investigation led to a greater awareness that including indigenous perspectives is not a lament, it's a very key way of returning to principles of planetary well-being. Connection to the land, to the environment, to animals, and where PROJECT S.T.R.I.P is concerned, to genetically modified frogs. And so those indigenous perspectives have become super relevant again, not just from the adivasi politics standpoint, but from the big UN focus on incorporating indigenous voices in larger discourses on economics, development, decision making. Those are the two moments when I though we have managed to land something quite interesting.

Do you think that because the plays you write are heavily research based, you manage to write fewer plays?
I was very prolific up until 2013-14, but I have managed to write one a year, more or less, which is a pretty civil track record. The focus on heavy research has slowed down the output to a large extent. I have become less interested in rushing out productions and I have actually had the benefit and the luxury to steep in the material a lot more, so the last few plays have had very extensive research based kind of processes. So much so that I should now strive towards a couple of quick projects or productions without the research. Professionally also I am a researcher, so it has been a happy confluence of worlds for me, because I have been able to mix both those skills to create something quite interesting

UNDAUNTED, the piece that won the Sultan Padamsee Award—the second time I won it--that one also had a fun, engaging research process on the history of Indian seafarers, who have been an under represented group. It has been a luxury to be able criss cross and intervene the way it has, but I also begin to find the the limits of the playwriting form. It is funny for me because some of the material is so dense and so complex, that I am getting inputs that it actually a novel, not a play, this is a reseach paper not a play. So in some sense it has its own challenges but they are happy challenges to be facing.

Neither one has had a production in Mumbai...
It's unfortunate, but true. ULTIMATE KURUKSHETRA, that won the award in 2011 had a Bangalore premier and a Singapore premiere, but it did not have a Mumbai premier. Hopefully we will try to rectify that later this year or next year. It had a fantastic stage production we launched in 2018. We performed in 2019 in Singapore at their Kala Utsavam Festival, and got great feedback. It was coming back to India for the national run, then in 2020, everything stopped. UNDAUNTED has not had a production yet. It was seven years between writing ULTIMATE KURUKSHETRA and its production. Hopefully the gap will be shorter for UNDAUNTED.

Do you find this discouraging?
Not really, because they are densely researched, they tend to be ahead of the times. PROJECT S.T.R.I.P had a very engaging and exciting research process; when it premieerd it was ahead of its time in so many ways. With some of the other plays in the pipeline, they would similarly be ahead of time. The audience being aware of what they are seeing is important, and sometimes they are not aware. One of Quasar's points at the premiere was calling it a corporate comedy; that genre did not even exist back in 2009 in Mumbai, from his perspective. Subsequently, a bunch of plays came out that were spoofs on corporate culture. But S.T.R.I.P was never meant to be a satire on corporate culture, it was meant to be a much larger comment. When it came out people were not sure know how to make sense of it. That mixed genre aspect is challenging for people to get. My work tends to defy some opf those categories so it makes it a little tougher to sustain.

Do you think that the research heavy process, prevents you from being on ground more, producing or directing your own work?
I do think I have spent less time in the theatre and more time in the world, as a result of all of this stuff. It does put me in a space where many times I am having to engage with the material in the real world. Digging around in archives, chasing up stories-- it does keep me outside of the action, I just find the other part far more interesting. I really should be doing more stuff in the theare as opposed to running around. Eventually, I have to get back to the rehearsal room and deliver the message in a collective way. That is something I miss.

We did a production in September called DAY ZERO, again ahead of the times, based in the notion that water is a finite resource, Cities have run out of water. Right now, Bangalore is having a water crisis. In the rehearsal I discovered that there was very little awareness of the reality of the city we are living in. Being out in the world gives you insights and you report back to the theatre bringing those insights and theatre in enriched, even though it keeps me off circuit longer than I should be.

What's your working day like? Do you write every day with discipline?
I have a hugely infuriating writing cycle. I do a lot of nothing. I am travelling, reading, or playing video games and not engaging my creative brain.... Then at some point it switches on and I start writing and do not stop, to everyone's utter dismay. If I switch on I write very obsessively round the clock. I find this is what works for me, that I seep an idea for a while and then suddenly there is a burst and I am in a sprint mode and I am not going to let up. I wish it was a little more structured. Other kinds of writing I am able to do that, but with playwriting not really. Because of its extremely demanding emotional nature. I can't sustain it for extended periods of time... so it's gestating for a long time and making a push in the last two or three weeks.

How closely do you and Mallika work together?
We have worked closely for 15-16 years, since 2007. Of late, voice work is something that she has taken to in a very exciting way. It's a gap in training in India. We are seeing a very sophisticated pedagogy that is about voice for performance, that is an exciting development. She directed DAY ZERO, so it was exciting to see her visual style. It was sci-fi on stage again, a very unusual genre. Is it sci fi or social commentary? Do I have to choose? Can't it be both?

When we got together, we found we are heading in the same direction, so ended up collabrotaing. Life partner and partner in many ways. We have journeyed very far on some pieces. Her solo piece, HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT, was extraordinary. It won an award at the Edinburgh Fringe. During the pandemic everybody was wondering how do we make theatre, it is video or it it live? That piece is a beautiful response to what is the theatre if there is no audience, what is the theatre if you may involve a camera, what is theatre if we keep the theatre as a gaze of witnesseing the moment. Very amazing piece. Again, ahead of its time—opened in 2011. Then we put it aide for some years. When we came back to it during the pandemic, it was again super relevant.

Have you thought of publishing your plays?
Some have appeared in anthologies, but yes, it is time for a Collected Works...

(Deepa Gahlot is a journalist, columnist, author and curator. Some of her writings are on

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