Probably, while I am writing this blog, one of the best director, actor and painter in the city, Ranji David would be busy painting. I am sure he wouldn’t be expecting this blog to be published today and so, this is a ‘Surprise, Surprise’ for him. If you are wondering what is it all about, let me tell you this; it is both extraordinary and beautiful. A story which stirred my soul and left me unsettled for days together.
Well, it is supposed to be a full length interview with this incredible director about his recent play Amrita Sher-Gil, the famous Hungarian-Indian painter. But this is also about how I could draw parallels with a lady who loved red. Those who are following me in my social media pages would probably know my love for colour Red. The way it attracts me has perplexed those around me. A year ago, my wardrobe was filled with Red colour clothes and I had to literally make a conscious move to change this pattern in my life. Why do get people attracted to a particular colour? I have no idea and my love for red is another full length blog for some other day.
To me, Ranji David’s play on Amrita Sher-Gil is a story of a girl who wanted to live her passion. She painted the canvas, and life in red. A few see her life as a tragedy. I wouldn’t agree to it, I see her as a revolutionary. Even in 2019, women are not able to pursue their dreams without facing hurdles, imagine in the early 1920 s or 30 s how the situation would have been. Voicing against odds, rebelling against those who wished to stop her and trying to fit in a world that never understood her; I somehow can relate to this lady whose legacy inspires artists all throughout the world even today.
Ranji in his play, took the audience through Amrita’s happy childhood alongside her sister Indira, her life as an artist in Europe and in India till her unfortunate death at the age of 28 presumably caused by a failed abortion. To an audience the stage looked like a big white canvas and the artists painting the life of Amrita on it, stroke by stroke using simple dialogues, props and matching music. However, what delighted me was to find a woman from an another decade who rebelled and lived the life, the way she wants. It isn’t easy to live a woman’s life and it is going to be worse, if the woman is a rebel. Personally, I love Amrita Sher-Gil and I love Ranji’s play Amrita Sher-Gil that entertained a houseful of people in Ranga Shankara, Bangalore on April 13th. So, next time if they ever stage the show in the city, please don’t hesitate to go and watch the show. It is a story for every nonconformist woman who dares to dream and step out of the Lakshmana Rekha drawn by the society. Going further read on the interview with the mastermind Ranji David and his Amrita Sher-Gil.
Why did you choose the story of Amrita Sher-Gil?
After I finished my trilogy on Shakespeare’s 3 works through shadows, I was looking for a new subject, a new area where I had not looked before. I just picked up my bags and went across town, looking at various painting exhibitions. I did not know how to paint or sketch. I didn’t know much about Indian painters, except for maybe the very famous ones. I began to wonder, why not make a play on a painter. I told myself, if I have to direct a play on a painter then I must paint, I must understand all that it takes for a painter to paint and all the struggles and journeys with it .
Then I walked into a CKP exhibition and when I walked out, a big board that said a 6-month painting course starts in two days. I signed up for it, and also began to research into various painters from India.I chose 5 painters and to start with I chose Raja Ravi Verma , talked to a script writer from Delhi, Manjima chaudari and off she went writing, after I read the script I began to look for an actor, finally landed in Chennai where I found an actor with whom the play could start. There were production challenges posed by a production company and I decided to come back to Bangalore and re-look at another painter. I told Manjima about the same and I chose Amrita Sher-Gil. she scripted that play and I was quite unhappy with the outcome.
I began to ask inquire and find out from various women actors who could play Amrita Sher-Gil, my idea was to do a play only with a single actor. I spoke to many and even started work with one but films and other commitments took over actor, and for the second time I went back to my den unhappy.
By now it was already 3 years since I started this journey of wanting to make a play on a painter.’By now my passion for painting took over, I painted on a daily basis and there was no play yet.That is when I realized that I should start somewhere.So, I put together a team of 25 actors from my team and told myself I must get started.
I took a print out of quote by Van Gogh, “If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Then we began devising, it took me 9 months to finalize the play, and then we premiered it in 2017
Why do you think she loved red than any other colour?
That’s quite difficult because I wish we had more material on that, but my understanding is that, when she was in Europe, greys dominated the palette of a lot of painters and herself as well. she was looking for an inspiring space rich in colours and India pulled her. Red I suppose is an intense color; love, passion, intensity. All that encompassed red, also defined Amrita, so I guess the liking was natural.
Who is Amrita to you?
Amrita Sher-Gil could easily be the woman of today’s India who is still struggling and grappling with a lot of issue of relationships, success, journey of life, meaning of life, existential questions. Whatever Amrita was pushed into, It is the same for Indian women even today.
Why is that the women in her paintings are always sad, is it the reflection of her own sadness and loneliness deep within?
She found that Indian women lived in oppressive times and I guess she wanted to not only capture that essence, but also give voice to the voiceless through her paintings.
How many months did you take to write the script?
The whole play does not have a script, so its a classic devised theater.I played the activities and games with the actors for 9 months, and this is what emerged.I don’t like being bound to a script.A non script environment gives me a lot of freedom as a director to explore and stitch together a story that like, in a narrative that I like.
Tell us more about the choice of actors, the practice sessions and working as a team?
The greatest problem I have is on managing the actors. Otherwise, any sort of creativity, any sort of theatrical execution is easy for me. But, actors have been my biggest challenge so far with this play. Amateur Actors of today are more interested in playing roles, getting more lines, being more visible on stage and being more visible on posters. Yes, so there is a real big problem of finding actors who are as committed and passionate as the dedicated ones. All my main leads of this play are fantastic, they haven’t given me problems but handling teams are always challenging, when their view and vision of theater is so narrow. Fed up with this style of work culture. I am now looking out to work with professional actors more, for the rest of the Amrita shows and the new shows as well.
How many times the play has been staged in total and how was the response from the crowd?
In 3 years 5 shows, is what we have done. We have got great responses from audiences. Some of have become a big Amrita Sher-Gil play fan, meaning they will come whenever the play is staged.
What are your other ventures in the pipeline?
I begin work on MF Hussain from July onward.
Why do you paint?
If I need to understand a painter and tell their story, then I must paint.
What is the essence of Amrita Sher-Gil, the play by Ranji David?
Each audience interprets the play in their own way, that is the true essence of any artwork.So, I prefer to listen to audiences more.
I cannot do justice to the play by writing a simple blog like this. However, this is for you Ranji. For introducing me to Amrita and her bold red strokes.