Editor's note: This interview is part of a series where playwrights talk about the script/s they never managed to stage.
Faezeh Jalali has a million thoughts a minute. Did her mind inspire her passion for running or her running complement the pace at which her mind works? That’s hard to say given that they’re both intrinsically a part of her personality. For someone who identifies first as an actor, then as a director and “probably later” as a writer, Faezeh is in the midst of writing and researching her next script.
In the world of theatre, she’s a fairly new playwright. Her writing debut Shikhandi was critically acclaimed, reaffirming that she’s a writer-director to look out for. From the time she began work on Shikhandi, till it finally reached the NCPA’s Experimental Theatre stage, there have been ideas and themes that Faezeh has been penning. Then again, behind every successful playwright are unfinished scripts that hope to see the light of day. Shikhandi, in fact, was almost relegated as such.
SCRIPT OF EPIC PROPORTIONS:
Shikhandi undertook a seven-year journey before making it to the stage. What began in 2010 in Germany as a one-woman show, lost its way into the vaults of Faezeh’s mental archives. Life happens, she says. “Sometimes one wishes to work on a subject that really matters to them, but you get distracted by trying to pay bills, surviving in the city and generally being busy with whatever life throws at you. Shikhandi was a project I really wanted to stage in a larger format. The feedback I got from the one-woman show was tremendous and I realised that this play can be so much more.”
It wasn’t until 2014 that she decided to revisit it during a short-term course that she was doing in the UK. One of the perks of doing the course was just how much free time it gave her after her classes for the day were done. Away from home, without mundane distractions that tend to wreck one’s best laid plans, Faezeh found the opportunity she was looking for; to be able to flesh out the character to create a bigger play. “One of my early influences for Shikhandi was her story in Devdutt Pattnaik’s The Pregnant King. In the Mahabharat, she is an outlier character. I was really fascinated by how she’s among the earliest references of a trans person. Clearly back in the day, they were significant enough to find mention in a book that has been venerated by generations,” says Faezeh.
The one-woman show script flowed rather organically in verse, a form of writing that Faezeh has grown to find comfort in. She admits that whenever she’s in doubt, writing in verse has somehow given her a sense of clarity, or at least assuaged her anxiety. “I love verse. I don’t know what about it… maybe it’s the rhythm, maybe it’s the way words are used. It’s a form of writing I feel extremely comfortable with. Also, it lends itself beautifully to movement in theatre.”
Between 2014 and 2016, Faezeh wrote a few drafts of the play, waited for feedback on her writing, rewrote portions of it before submitting for the Sultan Padamsee Playwriting Awards. It was declared runner up, giving Faezeh just the encouragement she needed not just to stage the play but to also consider writing on subjects she felt strongly about. “Art is quite spiritual. It comes to you. You don’t go to it. Shikhandi’s time had come and that’s how — despite all delays and distractions — it still got a chance to be staged,” says Faezeh.
A chance to write a short play for Gaysi’s ninth anniversary last year unwittingly inspired the playwright in Faezeh. She started to write a few short stories for enactment about unconventional relationships. There was one about an asexual librarian lesbian couple, another idea about the relationship between a person with mental health issues and his partner-caregiver. What she finally staged was a 12- to 15-minute skit on a polyamorous woman who was married to a gay man. “Titled Marriage of Convenience, the play explored what essentially looks like a ‘normal’ married couple from the outside. In reality, both the man and the woman had different dynamics that suited them both perfectly. I had written a few other drafts of short plays which I thought would work well under the title Strictly Unconventional. I could make it an evening of five stories that look at uncommon relationship dynamics that are often not even spoken about,” she says.
There are three such stories that she already has in place. Faezeh has a few more ideas that she intends to explore after doing her research and talking to people who are in similar relationship situations. Marriage of Convenience is also written in verse form though Faezeh is open to writing the other stories in prose as well. “I want the stories to have a quirky point of view. I could’ve gotten someone else to write the pieces and focus only on directing or acting — I prefer not to handle all the responsibilities simultaneously. But then, this is where the writer in me comes in… I realise there are some things only I can tell the way I have imagined them to be,” she adds.
Faezeh admits that her writing foray was one of those happy accidents. As someone who had countless books filled with “Dear Diary” entries, she didn’t quite end up being an adult with such writing proficiency. She loved the verse and stream of consciousness writing, but her early introduction to theatre involved largely being on stage. An opportunity to star in Tim Supple’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream exposed her to malkhamb. Today, Faezeh is widely associated with being an aerial artist as well, a skill that sometimes finds place in her plays.
Being a Mumbai girl, Faezeh has been rather fascinated by trains. “The commuters are so interesting. What are their stories? Who is this person who is sleeping? What is her life like when she alights? Who is that person who is glued to his cellphone? What kind of day has he had before boarding the train? What about the hijra who just came aboard? Who are these musicians who’re singing? I find all this very interesting. For the longest time I have wanted to work on a play that will be a movement, circus-like piece. Like an Indian Cirque du Soleil. I have been writing stories based on the trains since 2008-09.”
Faezeh has some bit of the script in place. The play is a physical one with a fair bit of movement. While Shikhandi got lost with the vagaries of life and Strictly Unconventional is on hold as Faezeh looks to research more relationships, this play about trains has a more practical reason for her hitting the pause button. “Money. A play of this scale requires a great deal of funding. I would ideally like to finish writing the play, choose the actors and train them for a year of so with a circus before we begin putting it all together. It will be magnificent and once I know that these practical constraints have been addressed, it would inspire me a lot more to finish writing this script.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE:
It’s never easy for a playwright to make that decision to put a draft on hold. Particularly when one writes without an immediate, external deadline, the writing is often free of such constraints and the writer has the flexibility to work and rework the draft. While Faezeh has put two of her pet projects on the back burner, she is using her time today to work on a modern-day interpretation of a biblical story.
“I like the idea of giving a contemporary, relatable context to stories that we’ve heard since childhood. But to do so, I need to read more, research further and give the writing more depth. I am a quarter-way through writing this script and am enjoying the fact that I also have no foreseeable deadline to complete this. It liberates the writing, though it also makes one lackadaisical,” she chuckles.
Listen to Faezeh read from Marriage of Convenience:
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Updated Date: Jul 18, 2018 12:15:38 IST