Sneh Sapru Interview with Ayushi Shah
This is the fourth interview in our series on young, contemporary women theatre practitioners. Currently travelling to write her novel, Sneh Sapru is a playwright, copywriter and a screenwriter. She has written the META award-winning play ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM and was recently shortlisted for The Hindu Playwright Award 2018 for her work HELLO FARMAISH. Sneh talks to Mumbai Theatre Guide of the power of myths, her love for magic realism, and her upcoming projects.

 By Ayushi Shah

Ayushi Shah (AS): You told me you were writing a novel. Could you tell us about it?

Sneh Sapru (SS): Basically it's a piece of fantasy fiction about people who are dead. They come to this place called “Noworld” with memories. The whole world is built on attachments, and if they don't leave these attachments they get stuck there forever. But even in that world, just like ours, there are people playing politics, there are people who want to escape it and there are people in trouble. But none of them can die anymore because they are already dead. So the book is about the other things they do and what happens after.

AS: That's quite interesting. How long have you been working on this?

SS: The idea came to me about a year and a half ago and I've been at it since August. Hopefully I should be done with the draft by December.

AS: You said that theatre happened by chance to you. What led you to write ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

SS: Actually I was working with this producer called Gagan and we were working on this experimental film concept. He was a friend of Yuki's (Ellias), and he told me that she was doing a solo theatre piece. So I met her and we jammed on a couple of ideas. She gave me the premise of a boy who goes searching for his head, based on Ganpati. I found that really interesting, so I sort of picked it up from there. I realised that if it's about the boy with an elephant head, it's also about the elephant that gave him that head - and that's how we went ahead with it.

AS: Do you think myths are powerful?

SS: Yes I think myths are powerful because of the simplicity they carry. I think we deal with the abstract in life often so we like stories that are mythical and have something in them to touch the intangible. So myths live on. I think over time people also get attached to the beliefs in the myths, you know. It gets more and more powerful with time.

AS: So who are your favourite writers?

SS: I love Haruki Murakami, I love Neil Gaiman, I love Franz Kafka, I love Albert Camus, I love Arundhati Roy. I love a lot of writers - it's a long list.

AS: And which are the plays that have inspired you?

SS: I really liked THE ENCOUNTER by Simon McBurney. That's a solo piece based on this photographer who finds the last untouched indigenous tribe in the world. It oscillates between his own life and how he becomes that man - it's quite interesting. They also use sound really cleverly in that - your left ear and your right ear and how that affects your perception in that story. That was very compelling.

AS: What do you enjoy the most about theatre?

SS: Actually theatre just happened to me, to be really honest. It was never something I intended on doing. I was writing an experimental film and that's when I bumped into Yuki. In fact, I would stumble a lot - I would write my own stage directions, which was nonsense because it was a solo (laughs). Over time I realised that because theatre was an interactive medium you could break the fourth wall and make it more than a story coming from the stage. It could be an intimate experience.

AS: Three things about playwriting that are important to you.

SS: More than playwriting, I think the storywriting rules that I try to abide by are:

1. A character should be set up as far as possible with the help of scenes that show who they are as opposed to just telling. As the saying goes - speak less, show more. Use juxtaposition. Like ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM opens with Master Tusk sulking and then you have Makadi making fun of him. So you have the juxtaposition straight away. Or how in HELLO FARMAISH there is talk of two murgas but how it's the women who are actually going to take charge in the other half of the story. So establish your character as cleverly as you can.

2. The second most important thing would be the smoothness of the scenes. So if I want to move from one place to another or if I want to take you from one place to another - what would be the cleverest way to do it without being jarring about it? That is something to think about.

3. The last one is dialogue. It sets a tempo and a tone for the story - gives you a place, a time, and even the politics.

AS: There is a fairytale quality in ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM as well as in your recent play HELLO FARMAISH. The plays are accessible to children though they are not categorically children's plays. Is that a genre of writing that appeals to you?

SS: Magic realism really appeals to me. Both of the plays are in collaboration with Yuki who has a similar sensibility in terms of magic realism. But none of the plays start with the thought 'Who is the audience?' or 'Will children enjoy this?' - it sort of becomes. But I do think there should be a little bit of magic in everything. There should also be a little bit of darkness so that the magic rebels - then there is a little play (laughs). Even my novel is fantasy fiction - so yes, I think it's my genre.

AS: What are the other stories you'd like to write about going ahead?

SS: I've written this international feature film and it's an out and out drama. It's based on the biography of a Danish woman. Even though it's an emotional film, I've tried to put in an element of surrealism.

Quick questions:

AS: Mumbai or Delhi?

SS: Mumbai.



AS: Prithvi or NCPA?

SS: Prithvi. It has a really cool vibe.

AS: Mahabharata or Game of Thrones?

SS: Game of Thrones. I like dragons.

AS: Coffee or fresh lime soda?

SS: Coffee in the morning. Fresh lime soda for a hangover.

AS: Vada Pav or Caesar's Salad?

SS: Vada Pav

AS: Pristine silence or laughter in the aisles?

SS: Laughter always. Silence as well but then laughter.

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