Discussion With Talented Director Nayana Sagar

by November 22, 2018 0 comments

Nayana SagarNayana Sagar gives her thoughts to Chahak Mittal about how every script needs vigorous editing to bring each character to life and keep the audience glued to the seat

When Arsenic and Old Lace premiered at Broadway in 1941, there were little gasps of breath and whoops of suppressed laughter around. Nobody could imagine getting away with black humour, a few maniacs and some murders on the stage in such a way, but it did turn out to be very very funny. It became Joseph Kesselring’s legacy that is still re-incarnated and has been adapted by numerous directors.

Director Nayana Sagar brings in another adaptation of it with her own elements of eccentricities in the “absurdly gruesome yet gloriously funny comedy” play. “This is not the first time I have chosen dark comedy as the genre. The previous play that I directed was August Osage County. But this one is much lighter than that,” she says.

However, why did she only choose Kesselring’s play? “That’s because it excited me and made me want to direct a new project. It is always about finding a subject which has crazy content in it. This time I wanted something lighter and more colourful than August Osage County. May be it was something like rejuvenation of the soul moving away from darkness to some light,” says Nayana.

She finds that as per today’s audience, it is also a kind of relaxation to their minds that when they come to watch a play, they don’t leave with heavy hearts and a story that is so intense. This one has a lot of farce, slapstick, easy and laughable jokes, on which “may be in real life, you won’t laugh out that loud. But here, you would because you are not in those circumstances. Someone else is.”

No one would laugh if s/he finds herself/himself in a house full of dead bodies, but the “farcical quotient” in the play would make them laugh at such nuances.

While the play has been adapted by many directors and theatre geeks, Nayana applauds the adaptation by Ranjit Kapoor, Ek Jaam Auntiyon Ke Naam or Auntiyon Ka Taykhana, which was “beautifully adapted.”

The play, staged in the early 1940s, showcased an American English set-up. Ranjit’s adaptation translated the verses to a complete Hindi one but in an Anglo-Indian setup. However, Nayana explains how she has tried to bring the Anglo-Indian dialect in the play to “bring characters to life.”

In Nayana’s adaptation, set in the late 1980s sub-urban Bombay, the play revolves around two ladies of the D’Silva family of Vasai, who are habitual of killing old and lonely men who arrive at their doorstep looking for rental accommodation by tipping a pinch of arsenic in their red wine.

“Most of the stories that you hear, whether Italian, American, French, Dutch, Hindi or any other language, the stories are always the same. The emotions are universal. In Ranjit’s adaptation, I didn’t like the language, which was vintage and a proper Hindi in an Anglo-Indian setup from near sub-urban Bombay. I thought that Hindi is not something they speak properly in their common language. They always speak Hindi in fragments. Hence, I have been very sincere to the lingo of how they talk. Because only then the character becomes more believable. Just like the dialect in films like Julie and Amar  Akbar Anthony,” she says. The dialect should go like, “Hum toh yehi karega, Apun toh usko jaake bolega, Humne tumhara kitna wait kiya na baba.” With such “into-the-skin” dialogues, the characters appear real. Hence, “I edit a lot,” says Nayana.

She believes that the current audience doesn’t have the “fursat” or the time to be glued to the stage. “They set their schedules considering that a play won’t be more than an hour or 90 minutes. Hence, I feel that to transform a written play into a stage performance, a lot of improvement in the script and editing is needed. It should be made interesting but there shouldn’t be any dilution of the existing plot. We don’t have much scope to play but we can edit it to make it crisp, which I usually do too.”

One of her directions were Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, which was also made into a film, Carnage, by Roman Polanski starring Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster. Kate had revealed that Polanski gave the cast only a weekend to prepare for the scenes and all the dialogues to be enacted. This, Nayana feels, is one of the examples of immortality of theatre. She says, “We feel that theatre has not been patronised much. But that is a misconception because there is still a sizeable chunk of audience which finds theatre appealing.”

She gives her own example saying that her visit to London is never complete without a visit to West End. “How can I miss going to West End and watching a play when in London? In every city, there are such theatre geeks who want to see live performances. Hence, the madness around theatre is never going to get diminished. It has been there for years and will stay for much more decades to come,” says she.

The play stars actress Sohaila Kapur, who is known for films like Daas Dev and Land of the Gods, as one of the four protagonists. Playing the role of an old maniac woman who murders people for social service was something that she had “never imagined about.” She says, “It was a challenge to embody the role of someone who kills people and doesn’t even regret doing that. The play can simultaneously make people laugh, wonder and also surprise, which is the beauty of this repertoire.”

If we ask Nayana’s inspiration behind her directions, for her, there would be no particular playwrights or directors that she follows. What appeals to her is “rather stories and something that can make someone glued to the seat for 90 minutes.”

The play will surely be a “mesmerising experience” for the audience as she calls it. This comes from someone who has directed several plays by always adding her own new elements, just like she portrayed a Punjabi family of Delhi in her adaptation of God of Carnage, which was originally set up in a French backdrop.

(The play will be staged at 7pm at the Sri Ram Centre for Performing Arts today.)

Writer: Chahak Mittal

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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