Art & Culture

At 1 Madhav Bagh with Revathy

Revathi Menon is a known face in South Indian Cinema and has to her credit five Filmfare awards in the Best Actress Category. Born as Asha Kelunni in Kochi, Kerala she also received the National Award for her role in the 1992 hit Thevar Magan. Mitr, My Friend (2002) was her first directorial venture. A rare Indian English film at the time, Mitr garnered an award for Best Director (English Film) in the National awards. Her next film as a director, Phir Milenge (2004), created waves as one of the first Hindi movies to deal with the sensitive subject of AIDS. She was also a part of Mani Ratnam's stage show, Netru, Indru, Naalai. After having been in front of the camera and behind Revathy has stepped onto the stage to test her acting prowess in the play 1 Madhav Bagh. MyBangalore caught up with the actor par excellence during her visit to the city.

What initiated the entire process of the play 1 Madhav Bagh?

Arundhati Nag initiated the play because she decided to do something called the ‘Other Voices’. It is about intimate theatre which is done in a small place. This piece has been done in a corridor. It is for a very small audience. She was looking for pieces and actors who would be able to do that. I have been coming to Ranga Shankara from the very first festival. So, Arundhati asked me if I would like to be a part of the process.  Stage is a paradise for an actor. So I came down to Bangalore, worked for about ten days with the director. I met Chetan Datar, the writer of the play too. That is where it all started and we staged it for the first time during the Ranga Shankara Festival, 2007.

Who decided on this particular script that deals with homosexuality?

Arundhati happened to send me the script. She sent me a few pieces and said whatever you are comfortable with and you are able to relate to, you could do it. So Chetan Datar’s 1 Madhav Bagh was the first script she sent me and as soon as I read it, I knew this is what I wanted to do because it is an issue of today and I was able to relate to it beautifully because there is a friend of mine whose family gone through this issue. It was easy for me to relate.

Do you think homosexuals today receive support from the society?

I cannot make such a generalized statement whether they are supported or no. I would say both yes and no. I am sure that everybody knows that it is not all that an open issue though there is also openness in the urban societies, the fashion world and metropolitan cities. Still it is a very difficult aspect of life to accept homosexuality. I don’t think any of the orthodox families accept it. We might say that yes we are a developing country and all that but there is only a very small percentage that survives.

While you were working on this particular role did you interact with homosexuals?

No I did not. I do have a few friends who are homosexuals but I did not discuss the play with them.  The play itself is very self explanatory. It is a beautifully written piece. It has amazing layers which I keep discovering with each show. The basic structure holds but what I did in the first show is not what I am doing in say the 20th or 22nd show of the play.

Do you think the piece works better in an intimate space rather than a proscenium space?

This has been performed in Marathi on the normal proscenium stage. The same monologue by a woman. It is just that it works differently here and there. Here it becomes very up-close, intimate and personal even for the audience. For me as an actor this is a good way to step into theatre because the language in celluloid is very different from that of theatre. But then as an actor celluloid to theatre is not a very huge leap. In terms of performance it is only about memorizing the lines and performing at a stretch.  So  I think Arundhati Nag has been an amazing guide telling me that this might work for you and now to go on to the next level, I personally as an actor think that I need a bit of training to get to the big stage because again there the language changes. This is a good step for me and I feel it works beautifully.

Is there any striking audience reaction that has stayed with you?

Reactions are varied and it is very heartening because there have been some people who come up to me and say that this issue needs to be taken to a larger audience. Some say it has to be done in vernacular as it has been done only in Marathi and English. Then there was this gay boy who came up to me and held my hand saying it is just the perfect way it is written. Recently, a mother came to me and said I have gone through exactly the same emotions of this particular character.

Chetan Datar is such a brilliant writer. It is a huge loss to Indian theatre. There have been absolutely no negative reactions as to what the play says, how it is written, the layers it has. For me as an actor it is so challenging.  It is discovering all the time.  Sometimes the reactions unnerve me because I realize that I am actually taking on a huge burden on my shoulder. Even in my film career I have always enjoyed taking up such challenges. Not just as an actor but also taking up issues and talking about them. Theatre is a wonderful way of doing it and I am happy doing that.

What works better for you, theatre or film?

There is absolutely no comparing the two. There is no choice either. I have loved films and I have now discovered that I have a passion for theatre. There is no comparison. I enjoy both. As an actor now I find theatre challenging because Indian cinema does not give many challenging roles to a forty plus woman. So, I happy doing this now. Films and acting is where I find my challenges. And yes direction is a part of my future.

Any particular Indian playwright who you relate to or look up to most?

I am very new to this and this area is too vast. It has been only a year and a half that I have stepped into theatre. It is going to take me a while to understand and start falling in love with a specific or a few specific playwrights.  I might be able to answer this question a few years down the line.

What other projects are you currently working on?

I am hoping to start a Hindi movie sometime this year and yes I am directing a few films too.

Do you consider yourself androgynous as an actor?

Of course. What I have learnt about films is to be able to put yourself in the shoes of several people and gender really does not matter there. As a director that is even more pronounced because we have to write a script and if I have to make it into a movie, I have to understand so many people and emotions. So, gender really does not matter there. It is about people, emotions and relationships. I personally feel that we have varied emotions in both genders. I don’t really differentiate between man and woman.

Has theatre gained momentum as a medium now?

I don’t really know. Probably somebody like Arundhati Nag who is running an establishment would be able to say better. In Chennai, theatre has caught up in the last few years. But then again the right theatre space is a problem there. Whereas in Bombay theatre is extremely powerful. Even as a child when I went to Bombay, I saw some amazing Marathi theatre. Different places have their culture. In Madras it is more of ‘sabha’ culture with dance, music and sabha theatre which is entirely different from this kind of theatre. For instance, during the last Ranga Shankara theatre festival there was a theatre company which was more than 120 years old. So there is nothing really about recent or old. There are constant waves. Something new happens and everybody runs there, again that gradually falls back. Theatre is a root of a lot of cultures. It is hard in today’s time when there are choices of entertainment and theatre happens to be just one of them. I doubt if one would be able to earn a living out of theatre. But I have always believed that some these root cultures survive time.

What is your take on multilingualism in theatre?

It is wonderful because with language comes the particular region’s culture. When one goes to several such theatre festivals one realizes how wonderful and varied people are from all around the world. And suddenly you feel that we as human beings are quite the same. It is just the different cultures that make all the difference. The expression varies but the emotion remains the same.
Tags: Ranga Shankara, Revathy, Suresh Menon, 1 Madhav Bagh, Thevar Magan, Mani Ratnam, Mitr, My Friend, Phir Milenge, Netru, Indru, Naalai, Arundati Nag, Chetan Datar

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