Vivek Raj Tandon Interview
Writer, director, and actor, Vivek Tandon started doing theatre as a teenager. He acted in street theatre in Delhi and also acted in two plays of the Theatre Company called Yatrik. Besides having written children's stories for a publication called Target, he wrote a book of poems called Climbing the Spiral, which was published in 1995. In 2001, he was selected for Royal Court's International Residency Programme for playwrights.

 By Parul Rana

Tandon's upcoming play THE YOGA OF SEX, MARRIAGE AND LOVE revolves around a British girl, Iris, who visits India to learn Yoga. She falls in love with a local boy - partly because she's in love with India. Sujit too falls in love with her - partly because he's in love with the West. Meanwhile, his friend Raina is preparing for an arranged marriage with Mandakini - a fiancé his family has approved. What follows is a comically complicated journey of the star-crossed and culture-crossed lovers. You might want to call it a ... 'rom-com-plication'.

What is the concept of the play?

The play in a sympathetic way deals with how we are all imperfect. We misunderstand each other culturally. When Iris, a British girl is in India, she often finds herself in a unique and difficult position culturally, since we have a very different culture from theirs. There are feelings of racism, colonialism, and much more. As my synopsis says, she falls in love with an Indian party because she is in love with India, he falls in love with her partly because he is in love with the West. When they move in, to live together in Mumbai, they find that they are perhaps not happy. The journey of their lives is not moving in the same direction. So, it's a comedy of cultural and racial errors.

What was the inspiration behind creating a play around this concept?

I had a relationship with a European girl, quite some time ago. So, it emerged from that. It also emerged from the fact that as Indians we kind of have split personalities, as westernized Indians particularly. On one hand, we have the westernized ideal of romantic love and in fact in our films as well, there's a lot of romanticized love. On the other hand, we have the traditional ideal of arranged marriage which is a much more level-headed, practical approach and we are constantly torn between these two ways of living. So that's the other source of inspiration for this play.

The play was first performed in 2002. Are there any changes you have inculcated in the current production?

All those years ago, I went to London, the play had been selected for the Royal Court Theatre, and then I put the play away. It was only three years ago, I rediscovered it and I found it startlingly relevant. I ran it by Tim Supple, who is a theatre giant in the UK, when he had come to India. He has also done a multi-cultural production called MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in India. He read my script and he thought that it would work very well today, provided, and I paraphrase him, "I bash it into shape". So, the modifications, relative to the version performed in 2002 were one, I made it crisper, and second, I introduced two new characters who are opposite of each other. One is an Indian guy called Leather Man, who is a serial rapist of white girls in Mumbai and the other character is a cousin of Iris, my lead character, who has come to India from Britain on a business assignment. He turns out to be a pedophile. So, these two characters were not in my original script. With the introduction of these characters, I believe that the comedy has much more depth because, in real life, these are the forces in our background. We don't want to recognize them but unfortunately, they loom in the background in every society and the normal lives that we live are actually in a way a shelter from this dark side of human nature. These new darker elements in the play make the comedy work and strengthen it. It's almost like introducing a missing thumb into the comedy. It works because now the play has both the opposable thumb and the fingers in terms of grappling the issues of sexuality, race, and human nature which has its dark side and light side.

Please tell us about your experience when the play was selected for the International Residency at Royal Court Theatre, London.

At that point, I was still working through the play. The Royal Court has this great tradition of structures and tradition of practicing backstories. For example, in London, the director at that time was one from the Royal Court Theatre called Ramin Gray. He asked two of my characters to imagine a scene that was not in my play, where they might have met a few years ago and he asked them to enact it. So first they enacted the scene which was not in my play and then they enacted the scene which was in my play, and the results were amazing. The difference was, the body chemistry had changed and they had a much deeper history than before when they were doing just my scenes. All that helped to tighten my play and it also taught me some directorial skills. It was an invaluable experience.

Also, people at the Royal Court and others who have read this play, have compared me to the writer Woody Allen of India. So it is in that zone, I believe I try to be insightful about our culture, and about western culture in a manner that we can enjoy.

What would you like the audience to take away with them after watching this play?

Damn political correctness, enjoy imperfections, and with the best of intentions moving forward. Be tolerant about people's imperfections, be tolerant of your imperfections. Do not have this permanent hangover of blaming the white race for colonialism. We are living in a world where different races and cultures have to get along and we have to enjoy each other's imperfections. That's what I would like the audience to take away with which is let's be tolerant of each other's imperfections and instead of being rigidly politically correct, enjoy life together, move ahead, and progress.

What was the rehearsal process like? Was it done online due to the lockdown restrictions or in person?

In February 2019, a director had come on board and we had decided we would do the play and then the lockdown happened a week later, so then she had to drop out for various reasons. Then I rehearsed online for about six months with an excellent cast. We reached a good place in terms of our rehearsals and we thought, now, we can move forward only by rehearsing on the floor in person. So that was a year ago, and then the second lockdown happened.

Now we had to work with a slightly different cast because all the cast which was available previously was now not available. We resumed rehearsals about a month ago and at that time we didn't have the omicron threat that we do today, so that's another complication that is in front of us now.

I would also like to talk about my actors. Auritra Ghosh who is an extremely accomplished actor. She has worked with Lillete Dubey and Naseeruddin Shah and has also played a lead role in an award-winning web series called Ayesha. There are some newcomers, and there's Samridhi Dutta who is an FTII graduate. It is my actors who also have helped me have faith in this process. They are rehearsing in these very difficult times when there is so much uncertainty around but they believe in this project and have given plenty of time to the rehearsal process. So that's a huge support for me.

*Parul Rana is a theatre enthusiast and movie buff.

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