Mukul Ahmed (British South Asian Theatre Memories)

I’m Mukul Ahmed. Em, a theatre director, em,
based in London and in er, Bangladesh, Dakha, so, I try to divide myself in both places
and, em, yah, keep on my creative journey, yah.
That’s interesting because, em, you were originally a doctor were you not, or something like that.
Last century yes. How did you do that jump then?
Em, well, well, if you if you technically it’s OT is Operation Theatre isn’t it? So
I jumped from one theatre to another theatre. That’s the difference. Yah was a very kind
of em em turn of my life’s journey. So what inspired you?
Em…few things actually. Because I was in a so-called socialist country. I was trained
as a doctor in Bulgaria? But I was surrounded by many musicians, theatremakers, filmmakers,
so I think that, I mean, subconsciously, they inspired me, and after arrival in this country,
I just, it just happened. Possibly theatre chose me, in a fine morning. And I was I had
an opportunity to work at the Half Moon Theatre? Er, so that was a tremendous opportunity,
and that’s the starting point, and I never looked back, yah.
When you were younger did you were you ever interested in theatre?
Em, not actively, not actively. Just I admired theatre, er, but it’s like of any Asian kid.
That I was always into the films. So becoming one of these, you know, just, taking the shirt
off, dancing, that kind of, you know, but that is a kind of very limited dream, that
yes film, film. Em, theatre was like always a a, like Indian classical music, or western
classical music. I er had a kind of er kind of reverence that yes. Maybe one day I’ll
be, er, part of theatre. That was the dream actually, yah.
And you were brought up in Bangladesh? I was brought up yah, yah.
So the kind of theatre there was is very different from the kind of theatre here wasn’t it?
Yes. Em, I’m not an authority and I left very early like er er as a teenager and I didn’t
have any contact or connection with Bangladeshi theatre. But it’s very vibrant. Now when I
go back, I try to educate myself. Em, it’s very vibrant. So theirs is like Bangladeshi
theatre which is the, I I don’t want to, label it as as a folk theatre. No, it’s a very,
how shall I say, indigenous, their own theatre. And the other one is the proscenium theatre,
which is very western influenced I would I would say? The British when they ruled and
that is the legacy and they still continue. So there’s nice two parallels actually. Two
different narratives of theatre over there. So are these two parallels something that
really interest you in terms of your theatre practice?
Em…indirectly, yes, yes. Some elements. We all are influenced now as global citizens
isn’t it. That we take from here, from there. Em, so yes, I I think some elements are em,
influencing me non-stop, yah. Do you find your formative years actually
play, you know, the influences then play a great part in what you are today as a as a
theatre practitioner. Yes. And that I would say that I am indebted
to English theatre, in a sense. And Eastern European. Because I I saw lots of plays in
Bulgaria when I was living there. Then moved here. So I didn’t, that, that is where formative
kind of you know, the yah, years. Yah. So, would you consider then that, you know,
that, what we call British South Asian theatre, or, should we even call it that, do you think
that, em, has any relevance or importance at all? You talked about the global citizen?
Sure, I, very personally, I don’t see any relevance. No. Why? Em, why? Kind of that
is the policy of er defining and confining. Mm. Now, how come, why I should subscribe
to that, you know. You you are an artist. So artists has a unique, em, identity in the
world isn’t it. Nobody else that Michelangelo or er em er today’s Ang Lee. Where they come
from? That, an artist creating something we all are enjoying. That’s the fundamental.
Why then trying to, er, define. So I’m very much against that because I’m not, er, I haven’t
got…anything to do with South Asia, because I don’t live there. I’m creating art here,
and I’m trying to negotiate to tell a stories to the audience, they’re based here. And why
bringing that luggage here. That just my, maybe inner monologue, all the time, the conflict
is all the time, yah. So I don’t I I don’t subscribe, or I don’t identify myself as a,
em er South Asian or British South Asia. Of course the institutions possibly they’re trying
to, isn’t it box you because everytime you have to tick the box isn’t it. Not Asian,
are you Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, er, so why that. If that’s a democratic process,
if we are talking about equality, why then that, em, boxing. The tick box. That is my
question. That’s interesting, because you talk about
Michelangelo. But, of course, Michelangelo was very much sponsored by the Church And
in fact a lot of his great work is very religious because of the Church paid for it.
Sure. In our day you’ve got the Arts Council as
one of our main funders, paying for it. Sure.
And this kind of box ticking is something we’re all…
Sure. …are very aware of. Now how do you find
yourself negotiating that — funding boxes and in your own life, no boxing.
Yah, well you have to do, because you are applying, yah. So you, that is the inner conflict
or then you have to basically control the animal inside and say, look, just tick the
box. Hm. And there, there is conflict also because am I Bangladeshi, am I Indian, am
I Muslim. So various Bengali, so various questions come then you tick box and then you realize
again you cannot satisfy their needs, meaning, what is their language, what they want, hm.
So it is a difficult kind of journey I would say of filling in forms. Applying for fundings.
That’s very humiliating at some points actually, yah.
OK. That’s interesting you should say it’s humiliating because, do, I think funders possibly
see a thread between South Asian communities and cultures. And they try and bond these,
you know. Sure.
How do you deal with that yourself? Em…it’s a very very difficult…question
I believe, because, I don’t want to identify as South Asian, hm. Then you are competing
and you are fighting within the system in the British, within the British context. Then
part of you says, OK, if I tick the box, and I get the funding, why not. So, there is a
conflict actually all the time. I find it very dis disgraceful, distasteful, I would
say hm. That why not opening it, the competition. Why, not, er, funding according to merit.
Why trying to kind of box people into that. That OK, he’s good, or she’s good, fine, welcome.
You have to compete within this, em, rules and regulations. And if you’re good you’ll
get it, and if you’re not, do try again and again. Yah, so. I think that the policy is
very discriminatory. That’s my, my personal view, yah.
So can you give us any kind of concrete examples of how that has affected, how this funding
er, restrictions have affected what you really want to produce.
em, I’m sure that I, I mean, applications after applications, yah, when you do, what
happens basically, then you ask that are you an artist, or a fundraiser? That, this, there
are two separate things. Now, the artist has to become the fundraiser, the manager. So
that is a difficult journey, number one. Em, it’s a big challenge. Of course when we talked
about Michelangelo’s, definitely he had to negotiate with the Church isn’t it. That OK,
give me the money, I will talk your language. But he created global art, that still today
we are enjoying. Em, it affects, because you get tired. I think, I don’t want to use the
word tired yet, but, it takes a lot of your time. Everyday, I sit down and say OK, I’ll
finish this application. So basically, money doesn’t start with your coffee and that what
I’m going to create. The question is where the money is coming from. You, but still I
believe that we have the er er er fantastic er, kind of how how shall I say the word,
passion, so we are driven by passion, so we, I’m still er er trying to be as positive as
possible, yap. So has that kind of em affected your own artistic
journey? Em, I I think it limits your er, the kind
of possibilities. It doesn’t stop. The journey is there. But, it it limits, the manouevring,
or the way you want to do, the stories you want to tell. So you have to follow the policy
of austerity, that OK, I have to cut this down, I have to cut, OK, instead of two musicians,
I have to use recorded music, for example. In stead of a dancer I have to kind of ask
a, an actor to do that. So what happens, that, I think compromising basically. So that limits
and at the same time the compromise actually, that you have to hehe, get used to.
So you think your artistic journey has been compromised.
Er partly yes. Partly yes. So how do you deal with that as an artist.
Em, various ways. You have to negotiate. You have to possibly change your policy. You have
to em, tactically, you have to place yourself somewhere. How you are going to sell your
product, meaning that convincing the producer. Or those that are supporting you in kind.
How, basically, you convince them. That yes, this is basi, fitting into their artistic
policy. So, em, basically manouevring and selling your idea to others, yah.
So how would you track your actual journey from when you first started your first production
to today. How’s that been shaped? Em, I I’d still say that the devotion and
the passion is there, of course, but it’s shaping according to, em, we are much more
kind of wiser I believe, mature, yah, and we understand the game, little bit, yah, and
I think that I’m much cleverer than before, if not much shrewd, or, you know, yah, cunning,
yeah, you have to be cunning, hm, in order to survive in this jungle. Hm. Then it’s a
very clear, mm, objective that you have to follow. And also that what you want to pursue,
isn’t it. That if if if I er I believe that my, if my conviction and persuasion is honest,
I’ll reach somewhere. It doesn’t matter where, he. So, yes it changed. Now I’m, I think that
I’m much more confident. I’m into the system. You have to know the rule of the, rules of
the game. So I think that I’m much more confident than when I started. So that is, and I am
much at ease telling my stories, yah. So can you tell us a bit about how you create
your work. Which aspects of it do you do yourselves and which aspects you have to rake in other
people. OK, if I’ve got it right. Em, creators we
all know or any form of I mean, performing art is say collaborative art isn’t it. So
em, I’m very, er, very lucky in a sense, got brilliant writers who help me all the time,
so, I float an idea, then they help me to write or develop the script, then a team of
actors, I have got loyal actors, very talented, and the singers. Em, they come together, we
float the idea, them they start working. They come back. They suggest, look, this is what
I think, this is what, yah, we want to offer. What do you think? So it’s a collaborative
process all the time. Of course, as a director, as a creator, you take the final decision.
It’s a dictatorial way. But basically it’s that thing that is a democratic dictatorship
I would say. Em em but I have a fantastic team that I, like, kind of draw from them,
their ideas. Em, so whatever story I’m telling, it’s not my story. It’s our story I believe.
It’s interesting you say our story because if we look at Shakespeare he predominantly
wrote for an English audience because he was based in England.
Yah. Now you have really different audiences to
deal with because you live and that’s one audience and yo go to Bangladesh and it’s
a completely different audience, which is marvelous because there are two very different
audiences. Now how do you em, develop your work, with these audiences in mind?
Em…tricky question. Em…let me give you the example of Romeo and Juliet. So, every
society, every community, they have got their own Romeo and Juliet. People understand, people
know about that story. So telling this kind of story, retelling, recreating the world,
the imagination, em, actually favours your journey. Then that currency is easy to kind
of buy, you know the audience’s kind of imagination. Em, so they, the story is there. Then you
have to see that how you are going to tell this, your story. And I keep it slightly flexible,
so whenever we create a project, I, basically try to lead the performers that look, keep
if flexible. So what you’re doing on Monday, don’t repeat it on Tuesday. It may change
according to, em, the audience’s response, so many things. So we may travel, then we
have to change it slightly. So if English, in a Shakespeare, if seventy percent is being,
em…performed in English here in UK, we said, look, let’s do it other way round, that seventy
percent in Bengali and thirty percent in English. Let’s try. So it’s always like it’s experimenting
and trying out, that how best you can communicate that story. And of course you have an objective
that yes, I, em, sharing the story in a different way.
Because you are very interested in Shakespeare aren’t you.
Yes, yah. You’ve done his plays in both countries. So
hoe do your bring a, a production from one country to the the other, and back again.
I mean, you said that, you know, you would, tell your performers to change
Sure. What are the kind of tools do you use to help
them change or be flexible. Er, what kind of?
Tools. Ah. Em, lots of negotiation, discussion and
I would say improvisations? So we try out, that look, let’s do it. Then I I always use
the metaphor look, tell the story to a five year old kid. So think that they are, they
don’t understand your language. So how best you can balance the spoken word and the physicality
of it. So there’s a a very good balance that we try, that yes, the physical storytelling.
What is the physical narrative, em, and the pictures, yeah, the still pictures, and each
picture, what it is telling about that scene; three pictures, ten pictures. So it is basically
working on those kind of very, em, I would say, that rigidity, then you go into the,
he, I would say that the fine kind of em, very specific kind of details, we work yah.
Tell me about a specific thing, give us a specific example because I think with Julius
Caesar it was all female casting. Sure, sure.
Could you talk about that one… Yah, em, now, that was a challenge in the
sense that I didn’t have any idea what I’m going to do. Hm. There are directors. There
I I admire their work. I admire their kind of em, and er their work method. So I just
brought them together. And then day one speech I said look, I’m a good cook I believe, so,
you are very good ingredients, so let’s try to cook together, hm. And the, we didn’t change
the gender, meaning that Brutus’s wife was a she still, so there are some challenges,
that is it a a em lesbian play. So we kept it open that look, we are not going to deal
with that hm. Em, so Julius Caesar was like what political im implication it has, in Bangladesh
for example. Because, there are political upheavals, neighbouring country in India if
I may I er recall, Indira Gandhi, a Democrat, then she became and autocrat, she was killed.
So you see that, that is one model. So we said look, let’s focus into that how, we,
everyone carry a dictator inside us. Everyone has got something here that they at some time
they want to, control, yah. And, power? Em eh, authority? Yah? Let’s work around that.
If we can convey that to the audience, yah, that how we change, with power. Em, conspiracy,
and lust for power. At the same time how, our relationships, work, within that power
structure. This is what we discussed. These are the matter, I mean aspects we discussed
and it moved on, and of course, er, music, then er, Bengali and English fusing it together.
Em I would say it’s more experimental. Then you reach to a point, and it’s editing basically,
yah, yah. So in a sense it was like, almost like kind
of opposite of Shakespeare over here only males…
Sure, sure. …is is performed in a in a cast. And you
had only females. Did you find that er, something that was quite interesting to work with?
Em, in general I think that women actors, they are hard working. That’s my my, you know,
sometime, of course I don’t want to be biased but I think that their dedication sometimes
is, oh my god, yah, finishing rehearsal at 10 o’clock. We rehearse like fourteen to sixteen
hours a day, hm. And that kind of dedication, that was one gift. And, em, their other kind
of inner conflicts. As human beings, as actors, er, I had to handle that, yeah. But I tried
to channel as that energy, that kind of conflict into the play. Er because the Brutus, or Caesar,
er, Mark Anthony, so I said look, we’ll discuss this, why don’t you bring that conflict into
the play, yah. Let it, yah, flow into your acting. Em, yah, I think I had to negotiate
a lot, within, er, when while while rehearsing, you have to negotiate a lot.
So, so in a sense, a very transnational way of working because it is an English playwright.
Sure. Working with a Bengali group of people. And
em, does that kind of transnational experience em, you know, that you’ve lived through yourself,
does that inform an an ident, a cultural identity of some sort?
Em…because I don’t have a cultural identity. That’s interesting.
I I don’t have. I don’t believe into that, and that’s a huge debate I always face. I
say look, I’m a rootless person. Em, so don’t to me about root.
Why, why do you feel, maybe it’s important for other people to think why you don’t have
a transnational identity, or, you don’t have a cultural identity. When they look at you,
and they immediately put you in a box. Sure. Um, people do. We all do isn’t it. So
em, that’ that’s I’m not, believe me, I have no problem with that, yah. Going back to the
em, Julius Caesar cast, I mean. It was not only Bengali and English. So em, a French
girl, Iraqi-British. American, two Americans, er one Indian, two Indians actually, Bangladeshis,
and one, the lighting was done by a Korean, lady. So that was a kind of transnational
casting because I wanted to see that how they with their experience, of dictatorship, authority,
democracy, power, lust. Em, so, I think I identified in a sense, I’m a displaced person.
I never had a root anywhere mm. Do artists they have? That is my question. That’s maybe
I’m searching for that. Once you have rooted, you are planted somewhere, then you don’t,
you don’t grow any more. You don’t move, so I don’t identify myself with that, so why
I tell, or, propagate that theory. So I haven’t I don’t have any tran eh eh cultural identity.
But I don’t suffer identity crisis. That is imposed by the media. That is imposed by the
society. Or he’s suffering from identity crisis. What are we talking about? What kind of identity
crisis? You are, we are, we are artists. We go, we fit into somewhere. Er, we want to
tell stories, isn’t it. That’s that’s what I understand. So I I I don’t identify myself
at all. As a cultural kind of we are conveying any cultural message. No. no.
So if you don’t have any kind of focus in terms of your identity, em, how do you, em,
em you know, work reach different audiences. Because some might go, oh you know, it’s South
Asian or Bangladeshi, it’s got nothing to do with me. Why should I go and see a performance
by Mukul, but others might say, actually it has relevance to me as a Bangladeshi. Em,
you’ve got two kinds of opposing things and obviously, everything in between.
True. Now, em, let us discuss if when people listen to music, do they say, oh that’s South
Asian music, I’m not going to listen. It’s it’s not making me feel better. It it is not
conveying me a different picture. A different image. When they go to see a dance programme,
do they say oh, it’s just Indian dance, it’s Chinese, it’s ballet. We just go to be entertained.
So, what I’m, my my point is, if they think that this is a Bangladeshi theatre, I don’t,
they want to box me is their their problem. Not my problem. I’m just telling a story.
That’s what I understand, But how do you cope with that problem.
Em… Or do you prefer not to.
I prefer not to kind of focus into that. If it if it is a good quality. It’s like food
isn’t it. That you never ask that if I go to a Vietnamese restaurant, I never ask that
is your chef Vietnamese, or Indian or Pakistani or American. The question is what the quality.
The authenticity of the food. So, is a piece of art, if the audience just say they enjoyed
it, first and foremost, it’s entertainment. That’s fine. And the message underneath, if
I’ve managed to convey that, then I would say that, yes, something had, has been achieved.
Yup. because some of the em, community participants,
er, we having our our chats with, they feel that, actually theatre didn’t have any relevance
to themselves, and and em, and didn’t have any relevance, and that was their reason why
they didn’t go to it, because they didn’t feel connected with it. Now, what do you say
to those people, and do you think there’s a, they are particularly in the rural areas
most of them, they are not from cities, yeah. So they have a very different environment
I which they live in. And so theatre is kind of not really something they would discover.
What do you say to those people. Um, I think, there the theatremakers, they
failed. It’s not the audiences, er em, fault. We we failed them. Possibly theatre became
elitist? And not welcoming them. Not telling their stories. So if something becomes very
elitist or er like…not welcoming them, that they don’t feel welcome, we are not telling
their stories, then why should they come. That is that is the question. We took er Romeo
and Juliet to rural village, allow me to say that, you see, em, em, what is, em, weaving
people, and they have, er, em agrarian people you know. They don’t, even they didn’t speak
proper Bengali. So we did it deliberately, er under a banyan tree with all the full lights,
and after that, I personally just ask people, that did it make any sense. Did you understand.
What you didn’t understand. They said, it’s clear. She fell in love, and the family was
not, so, it’s the way you are telling the story. Is it, does it, touch their feelings.
Their aspirations, their stories, their imagination. I think that we we have to kind of attract.
If they don’t come to the theatre, people theatre has to go to.
You see, I think that’s the transnational experience because that comes from a more
informal way of producing theatre in Bangladesh. In this country, it’s become highly sophisticated,
highly expensive, full of production values, you’ve lost the actual essence of what theatre
is initially. And that for me, is the conflict. Absolutely, absolutely. So going back to The
Globe, I mean if we er, e e what history tells us that in Globe, people from all strata,
they came to, isn’t it, the kings, the royalty to the ordinary working class people, they
drank, they, it was a, like a pub culture isn’t it. They came, they entertained, they
just ventured out, they laughed, they cried, they screamed. Because those stories are so
nicely done. They were most welcome at The Globe. Mm. So, today’s theatre, as you said,
is very clinically kind of you know it is er, how how shall I, this is em, em, disinfected.
So you have to go there, you don’t talk. Even I get irritated when someone is, but in the
old day, olden days, definitely people, isn’t it, discussed, they talked, they responded.
That is live theatre. Hm. Used to be. Slowly it became very elitist and only people who
are high, you know, educated, they have the right to go to theatre. So we have alienated
people. It’s not their fault. So they feel they are not welcome. And of course there
is the challenge of em, television, film. That’s a separate issue, em, but I think that
we failed them. And too much politicize, of kind of, it is not entertainment any more.
Some theatre. The became too intellectually kind of engaging hm. Too difficult. Too complicated.
Em, the language is not people’s language any more. So I think that we have to ask,
you know, it’s its a question, for ourselves, that how are we going to deal with this problem.
This challenge. So in a sense it’s a kind of, to me, a kind
of class division at the end of the day. Absolutely, absolutely.
So do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Or do you think that’s inevitable if
you become, you know, you’ve had a very sophisticated em, society, you know, because in in the realms
of science and technology, there’s huge amounts of sophistication. If people can afford these
technological devices and somebody else cannot, therefore they never experience it.
Sure, sure. Em, I actually don’t know, believe me, that is it inevitable you ask that question.
Em, em…I I don’t know. I can’t answer this question.
How about if I sort of ask you to think about in terms of your medical practice or un or
education from before. For example, you’ve got all the different specialists in medical
fields, you know. You, because no one doctor can encompass all these different skills.
And that is quite important in in a medical field. Do you think it’s equally important
in theatre? Is it important?
In theatre, to have this kind of speciality. Audience speciality. Producer’s speciality.
Artists’. Yes and no. Because I mean in medicine, the
discipline, isn’t it, and the em, I think meeting the target or or the time frame. You
have to sit exams of course. You have to understand. You have to, you know, go through the experiments.
That’s fine, but I think theatre is much wider than that. But the intensity, the honesty
of the operation theatre, I always give that, that a surgeon has to be, has to know what
they are doing, yeah? What they want to achieve. So that helps. That yes, you have to be, er,
spot on knowing want you want to do. Er, what is what you want to achieve. How, we are not
doctors of the society but we are trying to show the possibilities of how to cure the
society maybe, what are the possibilities. So there I see some kind of link or a metaphor
that em, er, theatremakers are, in a sense, they they tell, they expose the diseases of
the society, yah. I’m probing you here because, em, you know,
you’re saying that theatre is entertainment. Em, so, you know, the medical profession is
to keep people healthy and to maintain health. However there’s still different different
divisions of what kind of health. So would you have different divisions of what kind
of entertainment? Em…no. I I would say that pure is entertainment.
I don’t want to divide that OK this is this kind of pornographic entertainment or pure
pure entertainment. Entertainment. If people except it. But the artist, possibly, mission
or vision is that how to heighten the quality. How to heighten their taste. Slowly or, em,
according to the need of the society. That is the artist’s du duty I believe. That, yes,
that you have to raise the stakes, but, em, entertainment. First and foremost, then what
you want to say, your politics. Your philosophy. Your vision. That’s the secondary thing. But
of course they go hand in hand. You cannot separate them
In a sense then that’s your cultural identity as a practitioner that it is entertainment
in general, em, because, em, you know, different practitioners with different cultural identities
would perhaps look at it differently, you know, everybody’s different. So in a sense
that’s a description of who you are. And your identity…your artistic identity.
Yah. Yes. And then how did you manage to get to that
point, that’ll be interesting. Because obviously somebody who doesn’t think like you would
have taken a different journey. How do you think you’ve taken your journey. Perhaps you
can explain to us a little bit how your journey has come to where you today now.
Em, I think that, is it consciously we change. I don’t think so. That we there get decision
look, I’m becoming Englishman, so, I’ll behave like an Englishman. You don’t. It it happens.
So it’s like taking, eating food. We don’t know. We never just do OK, this is am am I
mean eat eating an apple or I’m having a biryani so this is going to, you know, help me, er,
em, physically. But what happens, there’s the residue is that slowly transform. So I
would say, em…em…it is it happens subconsciously. Subconsciously. But I think that, fair amount
of er confidence, know how and and and support from other people. Em, that shaped my journey
I would say. I I don’t know. Have have I answered your question, but it is very difficult to
nail down that yes, this was the journey because, it happens subconsciously. It is on auto pilot,
that you start the journey and you reach somewhere. And you you just er never set a goal. I I
think that em, we artists are wandering, kind of isn’t it, we are just moving, floating
all the time, and er, yah, you just searching for new destinations. New goals. So you rate,
then you live that space again, you are moving to another space, so yah.
So within this floating journey of yours, have you encountered any kind of traumatic
experiences that have actually made you sit up and take stock of of your work. And how
you are producing your work. Em, it does all the time, isn’t it. Meaning
that there are, em, the industry’s full of deception, full of em, heartache, betrayal,
but you don’t focus into that. Yes, It it it em, sort of em, influence you. But, they
don’t dictate your journey. Because you have a certain kind of, it’s the passionate persuasion
yah, that er, so, yes, I I face that. We all do, not only me. Em, you have to rise above
these things, isn’t it. The negativity. Because I don’t believe that an artist can create
any form of art, er, I mean, keeping in mind jealousy, anger, anger is possibly but er,
vengeance or that kind of, you know, negative aspects cannot create good art. You have to
be kind of very open minded, all embracing, trying it out. And then you see what is the
result. Can you give us an specific examples?
Em, then I have to name people which I don’t want to. Because that was a huge kind of,
you know, that er, I I didn’t say that they tried but it was like the situation was like,
basically, soul destroying. And, that time, possibly I interpreted it, that that person
had something personally against me, and, the jealousy thing, because nobody actually,
when it is very competitive, em, artists can, we can be very very nasty at the same time.
We give so much to the world, isn’t it. At he same time, at times, we are very very narrow
minded ah. That is what I learnt, before starting theatre I didn’t realize. Everything was for
me, oh my god, these are the great people. They are always giving, carrying, supporting,
the you realize no. Its also the animal thing, isn’t it. That you have your own territory.
You don’t allow, the other one come in. Having said that, but I made more positive and generous
people than, my negative experience, because, enormous gift. I mean always being supported
by, em such great minded people. I I am am more, I’m very thankful to them for my journey
because, the support, all the time. They are providing, they are asking, they are giving,
and that’s a blessing, as an artist, that, to get, this kind of attention, yah.
Talking about support, you know. When you changed your line of, your direction, er,
in in life, did you get any support from your family and friends.
Em… difficult question. Family was not extremely happy. Immediate family, parents were like,
OK, if you want to pursue that career, it was a shock for them, and I don’t blame them.
Er, very, em, South Asian, I’m using the word, middle class family. Their aspirations are
very, I would say, guided by the social kind of demands and, hm, their talk needs, you
go for medicine, law, em, is it accountancy, he, engineering. These are the norms of the
society, so you cannot blame tem for that. But I think that yes, my family was very supportive,
hm. But the extended family, still they ask, what do you do. Why don’t you practice. Then
OK, with the initially very shy and I very kind of, you know, I said look, I work in
theatre, hm. But what do you do? Yah. So, well even in this country, they don’t take
sit… theatre seriously, isn’t it. Do, it’s an hobby. It’s not a profession. So I think
that, we have, I have to carry that all my li life, that statement, that actually he
is unemployable or unemployed because his doing nothing. Theatre cannot be a profession.
Art cannot be a profession. So, yes I had from friends and family, em, some support
I would say. Very cautious. Yah. It’s interesting. I just read em, today, that
apparently, em, the third profession that most interest young boys now is to be a dancer,
which is an amazing shift. Sure. Sure. That’s that’s interesting. Yah.
First thing still is to be a doctor though. Yah, sure, sure, sure.
Yes. And how so you’ve you’ve now kind of worked in theatre all your professional life.
Have you…em, how would you say the changes in theatre have taken place and how, what
is the state of theatre is today? Em, then again it, in what context we are
talking about, isn’t it. West End is flourishing, isn’t it. I’d say that the main theatre houses,
for example, have enormous, kind of, like in for the National what they are doing now,
is a huge shift, because em, ten years back, how many Black theatres we enjoyed at the
National, but now it’s regular programme, being prepare, progammed at the National.
So, I think that we are much more visible now. Mm. And less excuses. So I can’t do this,
because they don’t, who are these they and we. I don’t believe into that. If I want to
do something, and I have enough conviction, I’ll do it. So I think that, yes, this is
the time, there’s no excuse any more. Or asking for favours. So that is the change I believe,
that now it is the time for action. Er, lots of opportunities, lots of ere r, er kind of
challenges are there but lots of opportunities there to tell our stories. If we want to say
in that context, that our. Er, em er er yah, yah.
So there’s far more British South Asian theatre as well now, isn’t there. And do you feel
that these, that this theatre now, em, accurately depicts, em, South Asian. The South Asian
community and the South Asian values and culture? Should be. I’m sure they are. But then again
my, then we cannot complain, that oh look, they are not taking us very seriously, because
we are trying to box ourselves. We are trying to confine within that, comfort zone. And
does it matter to the wider audience. Em, er if want to be, counted, yah, again I’m
saying ‘we’, is it which ‘we’, em, yes, I’m sure they are doing, but I don’t think that
that’s that’s the journey of the future. I don’t think so.
So what do you think the journey of the future is?
Um, telling stories different ways, innovation, challenging the stereotype, and, em, innovation
I believe. That it has to be innovative. It has to be dynamic. It has to tell the story
of today. It’s not the back home all the time yah. The luggage is there and bringing it
here and saying look, this is I’m, opening in front of you. Er, possibly that’s not going
to appeal anymore the audience. Em, so do you find that’s the stereotype then?
I I think lot of it is a stereotype, yes. Yes. OK.
Yes. Em, the aunty’s running away with a, a neighbour, neighbouring uncle, or who’s
getting, er, what kind of, you know, affiliations, or what happened back home, er forced marriage…we
know about this. But, what’s new, because human experiences, that is what we are interested.
We express different ways, of course, but our experiences are very similar. That’s what
I believe. So, em, how, could you let us know what em
work you’re at, of your own, that you know, you’d like to share with us, as something
that you are really pleased, and successful, with.
That’s really, hehe, difficult isn’t it. Er, em, in the sense that, e, success, now do
we measure it. So, is it financial success, or the audience, they enjoyed it. We managed
to retell a story, em, very difficult…to measure, for me. Em, or blowing your own trumpet,
but, em, still I would say that em, em, Julius Caesar, all female, I really enjoyed, and
people, they, the way…female audience in Bangladesh reacted to that. I really, I didn’t
expect that? So that was the unexpected coming from the audience. They’re waiting there,
ask me so many questions, em, I I I really really cherish that. And I’m never satisfied
with my work? I’m happy, what I’m doing but, it’s the satisfaction you know. No. Em, Romeo
and Juliet, of course it has it’s own journey, telling the known story in a different way.
Em, em, also…I think we did another Shakespeare’s em, er, Rape of Lucrezia, which is a poetry
and you know, just long, in Bulgarian and English. I think, I like that one also. Yah,
so it something very mysterious and the Shakespearan elements came out. Em, yah. And Devdas, I
was very satisfied in a sense yah. Not happy, but I’m satisfied because we tried to tell,
connect the stories, of, Devdas, in a British context. So, that was another journey and
er, the audience feedback is that the understood the story. It was not confined within the
history context. Is a very 60s 70s this hippy flower revolution. Em, yah it was enjoyable
that that er storytelling. And what about the future?
Various stories, and now, few writers are helping, kind of, adapting Indian stories
into British context. That is my, kind of, I’m fascinated that how wonderful stories
exist there but never been told in this country. So why not trying to negotiate that. And also
should be a few Shakespeare stories em, and a large scale musical that I’m just thinking
and planning. Let’s see how it goes, and er, why not try in a different way, a musical.
Em, mm, and maybe one day an opera. So that will be another challenge. Challenging your
isn’t it, my myself, that yes, how far we, I can extend my imagination and er, always
I’m ready to fail and learn from that failing isn’t it, because you learn from that. So,
em, that will be my journey and taking what with various, er, different, I mean, how shall
I say, that talented people, imaginative people coming together. I want to challenge them.
They will I want them to challenge me, and er, try to create new work. That will be the
future journey. Thank you. Thank you Mukul.
Thank you.

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