Ila Arun: I can't expect any commitment from younger generation

Ila Arun on 40 years of her theatre group Surnai Theatre and Folk Art Foundation, her growing up years in Rajasthan, and her love for Henrik Ibsen

Priyanka ChandaniUpdated: Saturday, November 26, 2022, 07:16 PM IST
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Ila Arun needs no introduction. Her rustic voice has mesmerised many since the 90s. However, there are many layers to this multifaceted personality that are yet to be unfolded. To put it in her own words: “I have done 40 characters, so I have all of their emotions and sensitivities.”

Be it singing, acting, writing, adapting scripts, or designing sets and costumes, Ila learned everything while growing up in Jaipur, Rajasthan, around art and artistes. Though her claim to fame has been music and films, her heart has always been with theatre. “I am more comfortable on stage than at my home and my home has also become theatre,” she shared.

Ila Arun is all set to stage her play Peechha Karti Parchhaiyan today at the Royal Opera House in collaboration with the Royal Norwegian Consulate General. It is a Hindi adaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. Directed by K K Raina, Peechha Karti Parchhaiyan has been part of Ila’s journey for the last 12 years.

While talking about the relevance of the play, Ila said, “The play is very much relevant today. There are still taboos and rigid customs in Indian society and they haven’t changed much over the years. In fact, middle-class and rural women in India are happier than women in urban cities.”

Ila Arun and K K Raina in Peechha Karti Parchhaiyan

Ila Arun and K K Raina in Peechha Karti Parchhaiyan |

Apart from theatre and acting, music has also been an essential part of her theatre productions. “I never thought I was so good at music. Most of the songs I have composed and sung are from my experience of the culture around me while growing up. It's the same with my theatre. I use every folk art in my plays. I feel humbled when three generations know my songs and sing them and ask for pictures and autographs at airports,” she explained.

A gold medalist at college for her play Tuta Gharonda, a successful radio artiste and writer, Ila learned the nuances of theatre at the National School of Drama. There she did a short-term course under the guidance of theatre veteran Ebrahim Alkazi. “He made a huge difference in my life. He challenged me to be responsible enough to do something for society through entertainment,” she said.

Ila wanted to tell the stories she grew up with and do something for the women of Rajasthan and women in general. She also wanted to take her traditional, folk music to the world. Starting her own theater group was the best option. Her experience with veteran Nadia Zaheer Babbar helped.

Recalling her 40-year-long journey in theatre, Ila said, “I remember everything about how I started my journey all alone. I had a dream to have my theatre group and one of my friends suggested I register my group first for government support. My journey has been like a smoked sandwich, but I wanted to eat diet friendly. So this is good, just like how I wanted to form my theatre group despite challenges.”

Ila Arun in Peechha Karti Parchhaiyan

Ila Arun in Peechha Karti Parchhaiyan | varun

For Ila, the satisfaction came from theatre and she proudly spent her hard-earned money from TV on it. “When you grow up, this process is keeping you alive. You are communicating and not sulking, and that’s what is my achievement,” she expressed.

For Ila, this Ibsen play has many memoirs. “To begin with... I am in love with this man called Ibsen.”

To add to that the play has given her many wonderful moments to cherish. The veteran actress was highly impressed with actor Rajeshwari Sachdev for her dedication. Rajeshwari was admitted to the ICU on the eve of Jameela Bai Kalali.

“I called my niece to do her role on the recorded version of the play. But Rajeshwari messaged me and said she would do the play even when her doctor didn't allow it. I can’t forget the historic moment in my journey,” she recalled.

When asked how it was for her while growing up 60 years back as a woman and making a distinct space in society, she shared, “It’s my parents who were inclined to art and literature. We seven sisters and two brothers grew up in a middle-class family but with a progressive mother, who wanted us to experience life to the fullest. She knew when to hold the string and when to allow us to fly. My time was primitive but I got the freedom to express myself. I had a very smooth growing up because my mother was a wise woman.”

Ila added that today’s generation lacks commitment and sincerity. “For them, it is not the role but the reel. I can't expect any commitment from them. But I do see small theatre spaces coming and artistes doing story readings. This is very satisfying,” she signed off.

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