When the theaters reopened last year, Makarand Deshpande stepped back on his beloved stage with the play Gandhi. The one-man show depicted the Father of the Nation's relevance in the modern world. Now, the thespian returns with Krishna – a play about Radha and Krishna’s last meeting in Dwarka. Yet again, the maverick performs solo, with live music by sitar-zitar maestro Niladri Kumar. Does he think the mythological tale holds relevance in the present scenario? We asked the veteran actor-director and got some interesting insights. Excerpts:
How did you think of doing a play on Radha-Krishna?
Krishna just happened to me. I saw a murti (sculpture), brought it home and realised that it was Janmashtami. That’s when the idea of this play hit me. In the play, Radha is portrayed in her old age and this is her last meeting with Krishna. The meeting takes place not in Vrindavan but Dwarka. The sutradhaar (narrator) has taken her there to meet Krishna. Lekin Krishna toh Krishna hain. Woh toh aapko bina mile hi mil rahe hain. (However, Krishna being Krishna, he will meet you even without physically meeting you). He is one step ahead of the sutradhaar and Radha is aware of it. Eventually, the sutradhaar tells her about Meera. The drama is about the impact that it has on Radha and what she goes through.
You worked with Niladri Kumar earlier in the play Patni. How does his music add to what you are trying to express?
His (Niladri's) music is so pure that my feelings too become likewise. Woh bhaav ko ras mein badal deta hai. There are times I feel scared that I might forget that I have to perform and just sit and listen to him. He thinks out of the box and is ready to hear as well as connect. At times, it feels as if two musicians are sitting and chatting while sometimes it is as if two actors are performing.
At a time when the world is so hostile towards the concept of love, what makes Radha-Krishna’s tale so relevant?
I think Radha-Krishna is the only tale that’s relevant now. It narrates a story of pure love. Even their idols are kept together in temples. I have addressed the question that you have raised in some of my lines in the play as well. Raas leela ab dharm leela ho gayi hai. Whatever is happening around us is so redundant. What is going to be the outcome of such conservatism? In these times, the more chances you get to speak about love, you should.
What did you keep in mind while writing the play?
Krishna is based on mythology. Mujhe ras laana tha. I don’t feel that I have written this. I feel I have been made to write it. It’s not that I sat, thought about it and wrote it. I can say that I wrote the play Gandhi but this is something I feel I have been 'made to write'. You will get to see a simple story as there is no room for heavy drama.
Last year, you performed Gandhi on stage after the reopening of theaters, did you feel any difference in the audience reaction?
Absolutely, I saw a change in the audience’s reactions. The audience was dying to be present and react to performances. They wanted a place where they can react to. If you react on social media, you get trolled. So where do you speak? Where is this nastiness stemming from? It’s stemming from the lack of education. People don’t want to get educated any longer. They don’t want to learn about literature, fashion, art or music. However, the digital world can also be used beautifully.
Artistes such as you and many others have used digital platforms to stage plays and host acting workshops. How was the experience of going online?
Bahut hi badhiya. I met people from Australia, Dubai and America among others. It was such a lot of fun. They have become friends now and I have invites from them to visit whenever I go to these countries. So yes, there are good people in the world but they are not the ones sitting and writing everyday. It is the few who have nothing to do and just have nasty things to say. It’s become a battlefield where people have waged wars.
The theaters might have reopened but there is still fear among the audience. Online workshops and plays continue taking place. Do you think that in future, a sort of hybrid between online and offline will be achieved?
I think only theatre will be live, even if it means after a year or so. Classes or workshops might carry on online. However, what might change is the writing. It will have more power and depth. Popcorn writing will go out of the window because people have understood that life is more meaningful now. You can’t live your life like you eat fast food.
Speaking of writing, you are such a prolific writer. Have you ever faced a writer’s block?
There was a time long ago, around 1996-1997 when I stopped writing for a while. As a director, I was tired of directing what I wrote. I thought I was penning the same old stuff. That break for a year changed me drastically. Then I did Rabindranath Tagore’s play Chitra and I felt that my writing was opening up once more. It enriched me as an artiste and tapped something inside me. I am thankful to Tagore for that.
What's next from Ansh Theatre Group?
There is a Hindi musical called Brando Ka Pyaar. Post that, I have penned a Marathi farcical play and am also writing another one. Although I am writing a lot now, I want to take it easy. This is not a time when one can force themselves to write.