Purva Naresh’s plays are running in theatres in Mumbai, so here’s revisiting an interview with her:
An Indian playwright is given a brief by an Australian director to write a play that must have a caged bird, a girl on a train, a dog, 500-year-old woman and a reference to female trafficking in India, and Purva Naresh comes up a play titled Jatinga that gets rave reviews for being “a highly provocative, intelligent and engrossing theatrical experience, which challenges romantic ideas of India.”
Purva Naresh, writer, director, dancer, pakhawaj player, and occasional actor, is getting international recognition and opportunities to work on exciting projects across continents.
Apart from Jatinga, she was commissioned to adapt Amana Fontanella-Khan’s book Pink Sari Revolution into a play for Leicester’s Curve Theatre, directed by Subha Das, with local Asian actors. Earlier, her play Ok Tata Bye Bye had a reading in London. Naresh wears her achievements lightly, but she is today, one of the most accomplished playwright-directors on the scene in India, with plays performed at Writers’ Bloc, Aadyam and her own group Aarambh that kicked off in 2010, with the outstanding musical, Aaj Rang Hai, which is still running. She has also been producing plays under the Aarambh banner, not written or directed by her.
“In fact,” she says, “how will I ever find time to write when the plays I have produced—Bandish, Okay Tata Bye Bye, Ladies Sangeet, Umrao are all being performed in some city or the other.”
For the last few years, Naresh worked at a high-pressure corporate job (which she quit eventually) and did big productions and film writing assignments “So,” she explains, “I can promote newer, younger work. I also often wondered if Aarambh will do just my plays or there is a larger vision to it.”
All her plays have very strong female characters, and both the plays she worked on abroad are about women’s issues. Pink Sari Revolution is about Sampat Pal and her now famous Gulabi Gang that fights for women’s causes in the north Indian hinterland. It follows the case of Sheelu, a Dalit girl, raped by an upper caste man, and then arrested and thrown into prison; it flows like a thriller but does not dilute the caste and political concerns.
Naresh has written another play based on the same subject but in a fictionalized format; she put it aside because Pink Sari Revolution was planning an India tour. Disappointingly for Naresh, after attending the rehearsals for a month she could not extend her visa to watch the show. “The other regret is that I could not work with Indian actors,” she says. “The Asian actors from the UK were trained and very good, but over there, India means Bollywood or Kumars At No 42. How can they even be expected in a few weeks of rehearsal to understand what being a Dalit means.”
She also found the style of working abroad very different from how things are in Indian theatre. “They are very process-driven. They have unions, so there is not one second of overtime. The movement director or sound directors comes and works with the actor and goes away; there is an accent trainer, who is not even Indian but an Irish expert in accent. So they don’t have people spoon feeding you; there are professional actors and other professionals who come together, grapple with the basics, get it all sorted and then the actor and the director work with the text. There is a lot of workshopping and talking around the issue, and there’s a dramaturge involved. I found it all a little regimented and time-table driven for my taste… I was impressed but I am not a fan of that method. But the good thing is that they do previews and change things according to feedback.”
She does admit, however, that a commissioned work demands a kind of surrender. “Inevitably there are points of departure between writer’s vision and the director’s. I would love to do the plays I write my way. But being part of another process and another journey is enriching too.”
(This is an edited version of the piece that appeared in The Hindu on April 2018)