Rasika Agashe Interview
Rasika Agashe and her husband Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub are working tirelessly to help during the Covid crisis. Had things been normal, she and her group Being Association would have been busy for another edition of the Sanhita Manch playwriting contest and festival. "We were not able to do productions of last year's winning plays," she says, "now I feel our energy is better utilized in our relief efforts. If lives are saved, then work can always carry on."

 By Parul Rana

She has done her share of commercial plays, but her commitment to socio-political issues remains her focus, on stage and off. "Because when my daughter grows up and asks me what I was doing about it (injustice in any form), I should be able to give her some answer."

Rasika and Zeeshan founded the group Being Association in 2013, and were soon driven to start the competition, because, as she says, "I wanted to do a new play and I could not find any scripts. I don't like the idea of commissioned plays; I would just get someone to write what's in my mind, and it would be two minds working on a project. So the idea of organising a playwriting competition came about. We took it for granted that we will be able to find at least three plays among the entries. Then we connect the plays by writers from different places with directors from different cities and hold a festival in Mumbai and elsewhere. There is another funny reason-when I talk to senior directors, they always have personal anecdotes to share about playwrights they worked with. I thought, when I get to their age, who will I tell stories about? This way I actually meet the writers and have a connection. I directed two plays that came out of the competition-Sat Bhashe Raidas and Harus Marus and it was a wonderful collaborative effort. We also publish three plays, so that anyone who wants to do one of these plays has access. That process of connecting across the country should start somewhere."

Brought up in Pune ("no relative of Mohan Agashe"), she started acting in plays right from school; in college she took up Sanskrit, "only because classes got over at 9.30 am I had the whole day to do theatre. I had no idea what to do with a degree in Sanskrit."

Before she even graduated, she got admission into National School of Drama (NSD). "I learnt everything there. Apart from Marathi playwrights like Tendulkar, Alekar, Elkunchwar, I didn't know much. In the Sanskrit drama class, I could speak up, because I had studied some; in the other classes I kept quiet. My Hindi improved, I met Zeeshan there; we were best friends and had the same attitude towards our work. I stayed back in Delhi for some years after graduating, and had no desire to come to Mumbai. Had we made enough to live on, we would not even have moved. Zeeshan and I did not come here to do films or TV. I believed I could live quite comfortably doing Marathi commercial theatre.

"The NSD stamp is also problematic in a way. You come out of the NSD prepared for professional theatre, and discover there is no professional theatre in India. We try to set up a repertory but how can we find actors if we can't pay them enough to survive in Mumbai? We realized we will have to do films and TV to manage to fund our theatre work. I also realize we can't work in the old style when all actors were available to rehearse; I am a pro now, I work around everybody else's schedules. But actors come and go; some remain with us, do their other work and return to the stage when we need them. But the scary thing is that everybody wants to be an actor. I am blunt with new people, I tell them it will take them years before they can even say a line properly, but the very next day, they sign up a serial. They don't know anything, they never read anything, but they get up every morning and say, 'Hum actor hain.' They don't see the struggle that goes behind becoming an actor in the true sense."

She set up a work space so they could do theatre the way they wanted to, and then the pandemic struck and best-laid plans were disrupted. The theatre connections, however, helped to reach out with provisions and aid to distant suburbs, where help was needed. "I am linked to people from various streams now, all working towards relief work. We have started Community Covid Care Centre or C2C2, which helps find space and resources for people with mild symptoms, who cannot home isolate due to their living conditions."

She says she tried to work online, doing workshops, but her heart was not in it. "Theatre is not meant to be done this way. We did shoot some plays for Nine Rasa, and that was fun. The plays were shot on a stage with multiple cameras and with the format of most Marathi plays, with box sets and entries-exits, this was possible. And it also becomes a kind of documentation of plays. For the time being, creating, being positive and all that can wait, the needs today are different, art can wait."

(A few quotes are from an earlier interview that appeared in The Hindu)

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

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