An Evening with the Bohemian Theater Director: Rudradeep Chakrabarty
It has been almost two decades since Rudradeep Chakrabarty has been writing, performing and directing different plays around the world. The performer, who grew up in the soil of Bengal, spread his wings in diverse world of art. Once a visiting teacher for a number of prestigious institutions including Film and Television Institute of India and The British School, Rudradeep is now more into the making of plays.
As he speaks with India Café 24 in a very non-conventional, friendly interview, different parts of his life and works come forward. His journey, from Orissa to Kolkata to Delhi and finally overseas is wonderfully documented. This is the short glimpse of the journey of a man’s understanding, his learning and unlearning in diverse backdrops. Interview taken by Rudra Nath Chakroborty( RC)
Rudradeep: I think, we can talk, and then you can make A dialogue out of it
RC: Yes, sure. Having gone through your details that is what came in my mind
Rudradeep: Actually, for my past there are a lot of things as I was in Orissa and other states in childhood, then my life in North India, Pune. India chapter is memorable.
RC:I followed that you had a strong cultural background which I am sure helped to pave a path for your future journeys.
Rudradeep: Yes, but I unlearned it also.
RC: Why so?
Rudradeep: As we are from Bengal it is for all of us to have different perspectives. I unlearned many times.
RC: So you are saying only an empty cup can be filled and when a cup is full with bias-ness no new things can be.
Rudradeep: For learning and absorbing new ideas, tabula rasa is important also.
RC: And that happened in case of your understanding of dramas as well right?
RC: In India you have been learning and teaching in different film and drama schools. Then you went abroad.
Rudradeep: Actually, I started teaching after I had an orientation in gathering ideas from many traditional theatre forms of India, then my understanding from different regional theatres of India then from my experiences. I started from National School of Drama then from my life, my struggles. searches and so on. When I lived an independent life as an artist, I started from zero. After drama school when I came out of my house, I started my professional career when I was doing full time theatre. In Bengal, I had to join university drama dept. Then from that time, I was in group theatre. Then I earned money to support myself. I worked for two years in Swabhoomi Heritage Park, used to direct some short open-air performances. I had to manage a small group of actors; I myself acted three days a week from morning to ten o clock at night.
RC: Hectic schedule
Rudradeep: Even on very sunny days, under heat wave, in summer we enacted the theatre performances for audiences who visited the heritage park. Every half an hour we repeated the theatre performances for full day. That time I created some short musical theater performances for audience, and people started liking it and I was getting an understanding of the mind of people
RC: That worked as a very proper preparation for your future endeavors didn’t it?
Rudradeep: Understanding the mind of audience in a big thing. Also we got money as monthly fee. So for the first time I understood that how we have to prepare ourselves for daily performances. Even as an actor I learnt realized how every day in each of the shows we have to be ready with voice, energy, physical inputs, passion as we had to perform under so much heat. From that salary I was studying in university drama dept and then involved myself with group theater movement of India. But then a focus came in mind that I have to be whole timer and pursue theatre full time and explore it explore many paths full time.
RC: Therefore, you wanted to have a full understanding of the art form. How adventurous and equally intellectually enlightening was that?
Rudradeep: When I was in Orissa in childhood, I was inspired by professional Yatra companies. Then there were traditional theatre forms such as Dasakathia, prahlad natak and Danda Natya and shadow puppetry and the folk theaters like mayurbhanj chhau having three forms. These forms gave me lot of spectacles and magic in mind.
RC: You were more attracted to amaze the viewers with awe?
Rudradeep: Actually these inputs were first impressions for me to be an artist, seeing Odissi dance performances and listening to folk songs there. Then when I moved to Kolkata, I came to know more about Brecht, Chekhov as in group theatre we explore great world masters Like Beckett, Miller.
RC: Therefore, that was another transformation, from social traditional tone to the more serious drama and its understanding!
Rudradeep: In Kolkata, I was only working in group theatres. I was very inspired for modern theatre as in group we explored many contemporary texts. Actually, I had seen lot of poverty in my child hood in Orissa, then the injustice in life of people then my readings of Che – Motorcycle Diaries to many write ups tickled my mind. I had seen rallies of common people, factory workers, working class people fighting for rights in Orissa, seen how their street theatre performance against establishment is very powerful. Then when I moved to Kolkata, I continued knowing and seeing people, Kolkata is a dramatic city. I came to Kolkata in the late eighties as a schoolboy, then a new journey started. In Orissa I knew more about rural life and small cities. Then Kolkata as a city taught me a lot. Before that I lived in the small cities like Ranchi with my family. But Kolkata taught me many creative inputs.
RC: From the group theater to your group Rudrayana… How much you have changed in your acting and presentation of a drama. As you are talking, I can feel the respect for Group Theater so how mach persists.
Rudradeep: When I came to Delhi in search of learning more about diversity of Indian theatre, I initiated a Sunday roof top theatre in a heritage house where I lived in the old part of the city.
RC: That’s very interesting!
Rudradeep: I named it Pilgrims Theater Foundation. In Old Delhi, I used to create some theatre shows on Sunday evenings for international tourists. I had audience from many parts of world. This is the same place where I lived too with some artist friends who were dancers, writers, publishers. It was like a commune.
RC: You formed a creative clan you mean…
Rudradeep: Rather a commune where we lived together, cooked together. We made a studio for joint practice later in drama school; I was traveling in the nooks and corners of India. Even I directed theatre in Ladakh, went to remote parts of Arunachal Pradesh, from Kargil to Kerala, Andaman, Goa everywhere I reached out to understand our diverse Indian theatre forms.
RC: And you absorbed the variations right?
Rudradeep: That’s where, as I mentioned before, I was unlearning. We learn new inputs and then at the same time we unlearn many earlier inputs. Like snake we shed old skin and then we form a new skin. So I was involved in gathering new ideas from new perspectives. For example I remembered some scenographic elements from moble theatre of Assam, mobile theatre of Assam etc. These experiences help us always. I would like to mention here about the shadow puppetry of Orissa. It is magical with showered light
RC: A transition to a new world
Rudradeep: Always. Every year I directed a large-scale theatre production with almost fifty actors and many in backstage team, involving producers giving fees professionally. We gathered 2000 audience from our ideas each evening.
Gathering such a huge audience as we used to make our performances in monuments was a challenging task but we were successful.
RC: Here I have a question.
Rudradeep: Yes, also am coming to the context of overseas soon
RC: No, not that. Do you think that the audience is more related when it is open space theater? The effect is better there?
Rudradeep: No I did in auditoriums too but I selected monuments for an environmental feel and ambience and also where I could bring more audience in large numbers then as I was doing commercial theatre, public theatre.
With professional system it was a different experience for technical set up preparations in open air are challenging even lot of risks rain, storms etc.
Rudradeep: Lighting, sound systems are very important. Main is the sound system, audibility, point of view for each audience, angles, theatre architecture and ideas are very important.
RC: That is something that added a different challenge and root for creative enjoyment didn’t it?
Rudradeep: Yes, I enjoyed a lot. The first thing was that I could pay everyone all the actors, technicians, the entire team. Then we could bring so many people as audience, then the challenge to mount a theatre on purana qila to many places in mehrauli ruins of Delhi, a challenging task but I enjoyed. Up to 2011 I was involved in this system and process.
I started with creating theatres on Travelogues then our epics Mahabharata and Ramayana for people, then Shakespeare,to bring people side by side. I was making musicals.
Anyone can research about my magnum opus theatre productions in India on internet, my earlier experiments with environmental theatre projects, with Shakespeare and on subjects of political theatre and on great epics. I started my directorial career in directing legendary actor Zohra Sehgal of India pairing her with senior stage actor Tom Alter in Sir William Dalrymple’s The City of Djinn’s travelogue on history of India. It was a three and a half hour theatre show, created in Matiigahr monument with 50 actors near India gate.
Every night we got 1500 audience and these show ran for a series of eighteen evenings at a stretch. Then I directed The Mahabharata with a huge cast in mammoth Sri Fort Auditorium. Great writer Farukh Dhondy who was part of Channel Four TV, UK, wrote the script. Then I directed A Midsummer Nights Dream with actors in polo ground in Ladakh and then did another version of it in open-air in historic Shantaram pond inside film institute campus in Pune.
I did many experiments, took lot of challenges, thereafter I directed Broadway musical hair in a historic garden of five senses near Qutab Minar. This initiative was first time in India. Then a Ramayana with jazz and blues in New Delhi, this musical also a great experiment with Kumaoni Ramleela with western musical traditions, in USA I have done an open air environmental theatre on Upanishads inside red wood tree forest on hills with University of California students. I also directed a series on themes of native American theatre and also on silk road traditions and theatre on life of street performers and gypsies of India, am still flowing with these kind of theatre projects.
Rudradeep: Inspired from operas but then I realized producers only funded me in spectacular and entertaining large scale Theatres. Suppose in my mind I want to create death of an anarchist or the irresistible Rise of Arturo oui. Producers are not interested for hard core political theatre
RC:The topic did not seem to be fruitful to them? Or they were afraid Somehow?
Rudradeep: I used many political ideas in these ventures but somehow I understood here I cannot create a hardcore political theatre so I started doing hairs musical hardcore political musical then I created raktakarabi with my friends with joint initiatives. This is the time when I took a Sabbath. From commercial producer theatre system I went to live in Nepal first time I left India then I went to Bangladesh for a tour. These tours were fruitful. Both Bangladesh and Nepal offered me a lot of musical theatre forms then Pakistan wander lust started then I started touring different countries. I thought I have to learn more before I was teaching.
Rudradeep: In our National film and television institute in Pune as a freelancer visiting teacher then in some university drama depts. I thought I would end up being a lecturer professor in walls of institutes. Better, I escape or I will be trapped with producer system or a group in India, which can bring limitation to my vision of theatre. I always visualized a free sky for theatre; a theatre with multiculturalism so I took a risk I got a scholarship from a theatre in Europe I came to Paris my first experience in west.
Rudradeep: A complete new journey started as I came to Delhi and started from scratch from Kolkata.
RC:Again unlearning and learning.
Rudradeep: Same happened in Kolkata when I came from other state a poetry always knowing a city new place with new eyes. In Paris I realized so many cultures i got introduction first time I could see so many diverse cultures.
RC: A door to new world of drama?
Rudradeep: Yes another new journey. Then I was travelling many European cities and I was excited to see molieres chair his graves I read all about them in books earlier
RC: A dream comes true
Rudradeep: I was very much influenced by western theatre then.
RC: How old were you then?
Rudradeep: Thirty years.
Rudradeep: I was exploring, life taught me daily living seeing many art forms. However, my past always helps me a solid foundation from east to know the reality of people, their lives.
RC: To be at the height of celebration and yet know where you actually stand, isn’t it?
Rudradeep: Yes, my childhood as I was telling u I have seen many tribal villages places like kalahandi, Koraput…
Rudradeep: Then I am in champ de elyysesin Paris luxurious, illusions I could see myself in both planes of world reality I came back to direct raktakarabi for Delhi university students in 2012 Jan. My life experiences in west helped me to mount a new version so it came out very well then I came to Denmark.
RC:What happened there?
Rudradeep: My plans were to live there and start my theatre activities there in winter.
RC: By then how much your understanding of theater changed?
Rudradeep: I thought that I will be in European theatre only let me be in some place like a melting pot where I can connect south America to Europe, actually it changed lot of things. Seeing art exhibitions daily life theatres films a worldview was in construction of mind. Suppose seeing the African people I never saw in India, the kind of music dance theatre they express. This inputs helped me to unlearn some euro centric ideas, which I had earlier.
Rudradeep: Then I came to Los Angeles California near to Mexico another new chapter. I stayed in same neighborhood In Santa Monica where once Brecht, Thomas Mannalso lived
RC: That must be a hell of an experience?
Rudradeep: I started seeing American theatre, Hollywood etc. Yes I came to San Francisco. I was interested in doing theatres on anthropological subjects which I could not make so much in India or in Europe.
RC: Such as?
Rudradeep: Like theatre on Native American themes as u asked me about forming a group I never did, I created an ensemble
Rudradeep: Its ensemble theatre more creative than a group.
As I had seen limitations of groups so I formed ensemble in 2012, 15th Aug. I picked this date for a tribute to India
My first theater production was on cross pollination of India and native American culture then I created up a nishads with students of UC davis and my artist friends
RC: One more thing I need to know, the east west bondage in the theaters of the director/actors residing abroad, how they make it happen as well as you?
Rudradeep: When I first came to USA I worked with a theatre from South American people mostly Venezuelans.
Rudradeep: Then I acted with an Italian theatre company, then an American theatre company. The major aspect I observed is people in contemporary theatre like multicultural inputs but I worked a lot with my English.
Rudradeep: You remember once when I used to talk with u in English only as I myself.
Rudradeep: I Was preparing for a major lead role
RC: Very well…
Rudradeep: I acted as Orpheus first time before American audience I worked with accents, dictiona lot for that.
RC: Is there a role that you crave to act?
Rudradeep: Actually I have opened a new theatre platform called theatre movement international. I started this initiative last year. I am more interested in directorial projects as I am doing always.
RC: That I am aware of.
Rudradeep: But yes many characters of world theatre is always interesting to act for acting.
RC: I am also including directorial ventures.
Rudradeep: As I explored a lot of sub consciousness in playing. Orpheus. I want to act a post modernist text like Hamlet machine, even I like to explore Shakespearean texts like Henry four, King lear, Willie Loman of death of a Salesman, Peer Gynt of Ibsen, many Brecht, Checkhov’s , Strindberg’s characters touch me. Then Dr. Faustus of Christopher Marlowe, Da-Vinci in the notebook of Leonardo Da Vinci, Motzart of Pushkin, Sweeny Todd, Woyzeck, many characters in our Indian epics , Greek epics always fascinates me.
All characters from our great classics like protagonist Jean of Les Miserables, Dr Zhivago, Dr, Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, even Shankar from Bibhutibhusan’s Chader Pahar. Some of the directorial creations I am looking for are Peter Pan, Jesus Christ superstar, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Phantom of the Opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagony, Man of La Mancha, Tempest, Hamlet, Sleuth, arsenic and Old Lace, Death Trap, The Elephant Man, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Saturday Night Fever. Subjects of history inspire me always, like the great like civil rights movement. I want to do many political theatres on many historic revolutions of world. Then I am inspired with mythology and world history too. I once was going to direct a show on Napoleon Bonaparte’s life. Then in sIndia, I once was in Pune to research on third battle of Panipath. I wanted to create a theatre on this kind of subjects, but very recently I am more busy in working with tribal sissues, on tribal revolutions to save land , water, air , food etc. This subject ignites me, as these are antiestablishment. Same way I am always ready to direct theatre on contemporary hardcore de-colonial political subjects as I earlier mentioned you.
RC: Some dramas you aspire to direct.
Rudradeep: Actually, I gave two interviews on radio about my future ventures.
Last one was in mutiny radio san Francisco I was interviewed by Diamond Dave, a post beat generation artist. Right now I am working on political theatre on apache Indian themes. Some of my theatre shows for this year are on historic touring companies and actors of America and another will be on Silk Road traditions, which I am exploring for some time.
Rudradeep: Conscious theatre practice, multiculturalism, cross pollination, political contemporary theatre is our manifesto of our ensemble.
I am working on lives of black people, Chinese people to Mexican immigrations a theme is always explored in my pieces. As I myself am an immigrant, I immerse myself in all ongoing political movements and I work in making theatre on these themes. A new theatre of mine this year will be afro American living and identity.
Rudradeep: Writing the script now. I recently saw bob Dylan’s performance which was a great experience for me I explore lot of world music dance films and art exhibitions and I myself showcased an exhibition and installation on our theatre journeys in some arts centre San Francisco for all. We showcased the exhibition for a month from our theatre movement international. This was another new chapter to connect audience with photos installations so that they now come to see our live presentations.
I am looking forward to spread our tools of Indian theatre in world theatre to all parts of world, so that people can know more about Indian theatre. I feel sad in west when some people knows Bollywood than contemporary Indian theatre, so my mission is a challenging one, I want to spread our rich theatre of India also in world theatre. Even for India want to open a national theatre in future to showcase our theatre. At the same time I want to open an alternative theatre school to train youths of India for a more conscious and meaningful theatre with ideology, here i am working opening a multi collective community theatre in a building where we can explore theatre full time, and experiment in our studio with self support. we will transform the entire building into a theatre , we will have our studio, library, lab, box office, resource centre, auditorium, storage, everything inside , we will run it as a collective as artists, also here we will start our international theatre research centre connecting every parts of the world, exploring diverse world theatre language.
Rudradeep: Last year we went to Las Vegas , Nevada Colorado, Texas , Oklahoma we went to perform in some states this year Arizona, Utah and new Mexico so I am doing touring.
RC: A contiguous process goes on.
Rudradeep: Yes, preparing for South America starting from Patagonia Chile Bolivia and Peru. It will take some time for us. To organize the fund but preparation is on.
I am looking forward to spread our tools of Indian theatre in world theatre to all parts of world, so that people can know more about Indian theatre. I feel sad in west when some people know Bollywood than contemporary Indian theatre. So my mission is a challenging one, I want to spread our rich theatre of India also in world theatre. Even for India I want to open a national theatre in future to showcase our theatre. At the same time I want to open an alternative theatre school to train youths of India for a more conscious and meaningful theatre with ideology. Here I am working opening a multi-collective community theatre in a building where we can explore theatre full time, and experiment in our studio with self-support. We will transform the entire building into a theatre. We will have our studio, library, lab, box office, resource centre, auditorium, storage, everything inside, we will run it as a collective as artists. Also here we will start our international theatre research centre connecting every parts of the world, exploring diverse world theatre language
RC: With that, I have to put a full stop here.
Rudradeep: Perfect full stop.
RC: But we will continue.
Rudradeep: As theatre goes on no end and unknown
Rudradeep: Arrives which we don’t know or forecast
Rudradeep: Yes always new light reaches.
Another door opens. You can edit this dialogue and also u can add your questions as it was like a flow instinctive.
RC:I don’t intend to edit this last part(Chuckle).