V. Balakrishnan is an alumnus of Sri Ram Centre for Performing Arts (New Delhi) and the National School of Drama (New Delhi), and is the founder and artistic director of Theatre Nisha (Chennai),which has staged over 100 plays in the past 17 years.
He was awarded the Charles Wallace Scholarship to attend an International Residency for Young Directors with the Royal Court Theatre, London. He has been using theatre as a tool to improve communication and disabilities for the past 18 years. He has directed over 200 plays, acted in over 150 plays and written 10 scripts.
He was recently awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching 2017.
After having chatted with Author Devdutt Pattanaik, we catch up with the director.
Image Source: Theatre Nisha
Rasa Aur Drama: Introduce Rasa Aur Drama to your works and training?
Balakrishnan Venkataraman: Theatre Nisha has been deeply interested in stories of mythology ever since its inception in 2000. In 17 years we have produced several plays from Indian and World mythology. Our plays usually transcend the stereotypical boundaries of gender, sex, and relations. We have to our credit over 100 plays that have been performed in over 15 national and regional theater festivals. We debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 with a one-woman show. We regularly conduct workshops on acting, storytelling, and production. Our next play is "The Curse of Urvashi" written by me and based on the curse Urvashi bestows on Arjuna. It will be staged in March this year. You can visit our website: www.theatrenisha.com for more details.
Q2.) Do tell Rasa Aur Drama about the theatre environment in Chennai?
BV: Theatre is slowly growing as a form of craft in Chennai, and over the past few years one has seen a commendable growth in the number of theatre groups. However, we still remain one of the few groups who has worked extensively on topics of mythology and gender.
Q3.) How did you come to chose The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik in 2008?
BV: I had been reading a little of Devdutt's books back then , and still consider "The Pregnant King" a some of his best books. I felt it was a brilliant piece of literature in which he beautifully transcended time zones, bringing characters that were pre and post Krishna era into a single story line, that was strongly knit by a pertinent and powerful conflict. One that was, back then, less discussed and trammeled on. This intrigue and interest urged me to turn it into a play.
Q4.) Were you also a part of the cast for the play?
BV: I adapted it into a script and was the designer and director.
Q5.) How did the Chennai audience take it?
BV: We had 7 houseful shows, and were very fortunate to have Devdutt as one of the audience members. It was very well received and was later performed at a theatre festival in Thrissur. With Devdutt's permission, I directed it as an all-girls production for Janaki MGR college.
Q6.) How does reading the same sex love in mythology affect our present understanding of social life? Or is it just a realistic portrayal?
BV: When we talk about same -sex love in mythology and other classical works, we realise that there was a time period when people were evolved and lived in harmony with nature and nature's gifts. Through the centuries, extreme classification and codification with respect to who we are (cast, creed, color, sex, religion) have made us frightened creatures and fear creates walls. Fear lends itself to postulations. Fear divides. The endeavour of the evolved is to seek liberation from all codifications.
Q7.) Rasa Aur Drama would like to know about the light design for the play?
BV: The lighting scheme was an endeavour to create an aura of mystic realism and allow for the dark to reveal as much as the light shrouded.
Q8.) Rasa Aur Drama would like to know about the costumes?
BV: The primary step was to give each character a black bodysuit in order to neutralise the gender, and then drapes were used to enhance the illusion of the character.
Q9.) Tell Rasa Aur Drama about your improvisation process or imbuing the character environment in the actors?
BV: Theatre Nisha works from the tenet of honest action and improvisational exercises are only used for basic actor preparation and warm-ups, and not in the process of characterization. The process of characterization requires the actors to figure out the conflicts in their scenes, to pinpoint their objectives in each scene and to draw their actions (transitive verbs) that would lead them towards their goal. And when the actors pursue their objectives with their external appearances, the character's illusion is created.
About the Blogger:
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Deepak Sinha writes on theatre at My Theatre Cafe and now at Rasa Aur Drama. He loves to cycle and play basketball. He loves to organize TEDx conferences and is an organizer at TEDxPune.