Shiv Tandan Interview
Shiv Tandan is the founder of The Castiko Space, which is an academy for music and performing arts. He has written and directed plays, short films and songs. A FISTFUL OF RUPEES was runner-up in the Sultan Padamsee Playwriting Awards, and was featured at the Singapore Writers Fest.

 By Tarun Agarwal

What are the contemporary issues that A FISTFUL OF RUPEES comments on?

FISTFUL came out of a very personal experience for me -- I moved back from Singapore to Mumbai and went through serious culture shock. I also met so many people who were in the same boat: so many immigrants here from all over the world, away from home, with dreams in their eyes. That feeling of being unsettled yet excited is such a modern predicament. In that sense, Fistful is a play about any modern day city - glorious nightmares and terrible opportunities all rolled into a single day.

Given that it is full of references about current trends, why is it not a standup act or a movie?

I love theatre as much as I love film -- so it could be a film or a series too, for sure. But there is a certain immediacy to the experience of MumbaI. Something impressionistic and quite abstract that happens in your brain when you are overwhelmed by the lights, the noise, the smells. In a theatre, I think the actors' bodies and voices bring that experience to the audience with so much force that it's hard to beat.

This is also why we chose the form: our four actors play 25 characters in the show, and create the entire cityscape for you without a set, props or costume changes. It's a physically demanding play, and that adds to the joy for the audience. Watching the actors tell this story with such passion is exhilarating!

How has life changed for you and your team after the success of the play? Has it opened the doors that you expected it to?

FISTFUL was always a very ambitious play for everyone involved. The form is unusual, the writing is surprising, and at the time we started making the show, I was still very new to the city and the community. It took immense trust, love and hard, hard work to make this show. In that sense, the biggest change for me personally has been seeing the show come together with such beauty, nuance and verve. The actors have really given this play their all, and their own hearts have infused the play with an incredible energy. The play has given me a lot of confidence and optimism to keep making, and keep looking for amazing people to collaborate with.

What steps do you take to ensure that your play is both exciting and acceptable?

I am quite a taskmaster when it comes to being relentlessly entertaining - but there's a danger there. It's easy to lose the heart and the honesty of a piece when you're chasing laughs or excitement. I have deep respect for the audience. I think when we try to fake it, they can see right through it. So balancing entertainment with truth is the secret sauce. I was fortunate to learn from my gurus, Huzir Sulaiman and Claire Wong, who are two of the most passionate, visionary artists in the world.

For example, a general rule of thumb they taught me: if you feel the play is the right pace, it's probably too slow. If you find it too fast, it's probably the right pace for the audience!

What are the other creative projects you have done besides the play?

I'm writing a web series with Pocket Aces at the moment that is based on school life and education. I'm the Founder of Castiko, which is India's most fun academy for music, acting and other performing arts. I also write and compose music - I recently wrote the lyrics for Paresh Pahuja's Dooron Dooron and I sang, wrote and composed Jaana Ko Manana with Ragini Tandan.

Other than that, if your readers are interested in something crazy - search for Banain Shiv Tandan on YouTube!

What do you think needs to change in the Indian theatre scene?

I think a lot of passionate, skillful creators are choosing theatre as their mode of expression. In that sense, the scene is thriving. But theatre is starving of resources, and economically theatre makes no sense for the artists. That's a huge issue. My first instinct is to think about government grants and funding, but I would also appeal to major venues (rehearsal and performance) to support good work by collaborating and bringing audiences in together. They could request to attend zero shows and meet the teams behind new work before deciding to back them. I know most directors would be open to organizing that.

(Tarun Agarwal is the author of Hope Factory: Business Ideas For Everyone and has directed a short film, Honesty Weds Dishonesty)

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