Editor's note: This interview is part of a series where playwrights talk about the script/s they never managed to stage.
Leaving a play mid-way after years of working on it, is not an unfamiliar scenario in a playwright’s life. Given that these raconteurs document the world around them, the reasons to abort writing may — over time — either lose relevance or regain it. Since 1992, Rage Productions has staged immensely popular plays like I’m not Bajirao, Class of ’84, and Jesus Christ Superstar. Despite that, co-founder Rahul DaCunha is no stranger to this creative conundrum. He can think of two prominent unfinished scripts in the past 15 years that have fallen by the way side. He says, “Sometimes a script bears fruit when an opportunity arises. Sometimes a play becomes redundant because you change emotionally. And sometimes a play doesn’t happen because of the world we’re in.”
TWO AGAINST NATURE
Back in 2003-04, Rahul started writing a play titled Page 3 to complete his friendship trilogy, following his writing debut Class of '84 and Pune Highway. He says, “Reeling from political ineptitude, Mumbai needed a CEO, who would not be aligned to any party, and who would be held accountable like any CEO in a company would. Stemming from this belief, I started writing a play about the marriage of two people inhabiting different worlds: a socialist and a socialite. A friend starts to disrupt the life of the socialist. It was a humour-laced social commentary on the convenience of friendships, relationships and politics.”
Set against the backdrop of a 2004 South Mumbai, the play addressed the various social structures of the city. The socialist and the socialite have a chance encounter in a luxury train that eventually brings them together in an unlikely marriage. Talking about one of the scenes in the play that highlights their social disparity, Rahul says, “At one point, the socialite is planning a party on a boat. Her husband cannot understand why they need to host a party when there’s work to be done. She tells him that hosting the party is also a part of their work. If that wasn’t enough, her husband is shocked to hear that a cold soup (gazpacho) will be served. ‘How will a state minister feel when you serve him cold soup?’ he says bewildered.”
One year into writing Page 3, Rahul found himself at the beginning of his divorce proceedings. Where Page 3 came out of his frustrations of being a citizen in a corrupt city, Rahul found that writing about his emotional situation was cathartic. I Do stemmed from his personal anger at himself, at the system, at where his life was; the writing of which began while he was sitting in the divorce court.
He says, “Whether you like it or not, in a divorce court your life gets bared for all to see. As I was sitting in the Bandra court — which lacks the architectural brilliance of the high court or the Supreme Court — I saw people from different walks of life. It was a growing up experience. Writing in any situation usually gives me a solution. Either it gets worse or you gather how bad a situation it is. We think in circles but when we put our thoughts down on paper, it all starts coming together.”
Meant to be a one-and-a-half-hour play with no intervals, Rahul started to write about two people sitting in divorce court along with their lawyers as they wait for the judge to arrive. The conversation between the two oscillates from making pointed observations about relationships to acerbic humour about the state of affairs. Rahul’s writing is an extension of his personality, one that has always somehow managed to find humour in the most improbable — sometimes inappropriate — situations.
DAZED AND CONFUSED
While Page 3 took the backseat in the process of Rahul’s divorce, I Do too reached a stage where the playwright couldn’t go further. “There was a time when I was writing them simultaneously. At one point with Page 3 I knew that I needed to do more research. I kept trying different approaches to find how to move forward, each time I was getting stuck. The play’s premise was very interesting but given how tied in to real life it was, I needed more facts to flesh out the play.”
I Do was shelved for entirely different reasons. In drama school, playwrights are often asked what their anger is. The anger, in this case, is the rage or the passion that drives a writer to wake up and write about the issues that matter to him. While Rahul was writing I Do, he got divorced, became friends again with his ex-wife and somehow the anger fizzled out. “When the anger fizzled out, so did the play. I realised at one point that the play needed another angle. At that stage in my life, I couldn’t find it.”
TOUCH OF GREY
Rahul is currently working on the musical Sing India Sing that will be staged in October. Playwriting, he believes, is often a solo process. Working on a musical, however, is a collaborative effort, where people can push each other to complete the process. Rahul is candid about his ability to start writing, give the writing some form and then leaving it halfway. “For people like me, the process is just as important as the outcome. This musical was eight years in the making. It was going down a similar path when Brian (Tellis) and Clinton (Cerejo) insisted that it become a reality.”
His experience with the musical gave him a fresh perspective on tackling I Do. When Rahul first wrote the play, he was a 40-year-old man at the threshold of being a divorcee. Today, 16 years wiser, his worldview is entirely different. “I wondered if I should go back to being that 40-year-old, or should I treat the play as a 56-year-old looking at his 40-year-old self and maybe even his 30-year-old self? As a musical, I can bring in more characters while addressing more issues that I find are relevant to the institution of marriage. Why do people still look at marriage as a solution? How does a 50-year-old deal with loneliness? What is it to be lonely in a marriage? The divorce is merely an event today. It’s the pre- and post-divorce circumstances that I find more fascinating. A play can start off in a particular world or milieu, and morph into something much bigger.”
With I Do, Rahul is excited about finding a forward point. Page 3 was a play he revisited multiple times over the years, believing that if something is making you come back to it over and over again, you’ve probably got to finish it. The Page 3 culture today is not what it used to be back when the play was written. While Rahul still feels the city needs a mayor, he continues to look for a point to carry forward the story. “You come back to plays such a this one because you feel that the landscape has changed but the issues haven’t. A question that is often asked of playwrights is, ‘Do you know the end?’ For Sing India Sing Bugs (Bhargava) and I always knew our end. With this one, I’m still trying to figure it out.”
While revisiting an unfinished script, a playwright tends to question not just its relevance, but also the quality of the writing technique. How has the technical part of the writing changed in all these years? “There’s a thin line between showing off the skill and the incisiveness of it. Today I can check if I put in a joke there because I wanted a joke or did the situation demand it? As a playwright-director, while you’re writing, you also tend to imagine how you’ll stage it. You can write in the pauses you want on stage. Playwright-directors have the advantage sometimes because you can write the stage direction bit into the play.”
That these scripts are close to his heart makes him a poor choice to direct the plays. Rahul admits that when he was younger, the decision to direct his own play would be a no-brainer. Over the years, he’s enjoyed writing more than directing although he got into it much later. “My teacher Carl Miller was always fighting for me to not direct the plays I was writing, because he believed you don’t fully realise the play then. You’re already saying to yourself: ‘Let me quickly end this scene now and I’ll fix it in rehearsal.’ A director says: ‘No. Give me the fully fleshed out play and I’ll fix it in rehearsal’.”
Sometimes the two roles he plays may be in conflict with each other, but one that he essays most convincingly is that of a social commentator. His observations have become the hallmark of his work. Through his Amul topicals, his columns and his playwriting, Rahul has become a crucial chronicler of our times, a role that he has inadvertently created, but one that we’re grateful for as he 'rage's against the machine.
Listen to Rahul DaCunha reading from his script for I Do:
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Updated Date: Jun 27, 2018 17:14 PM