In her new play, Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry explores the realms of violence and fractured relationships with a cast of young amateurs
Anervous energy tiptoes around the actors as Padma Shri recipient Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry enters the private auditorium at her house in Chandigarh’s Sector 4. Dressed all in black, she whispers a hello to the 14 young actors, who immediately begin enacting a scene. No comments come from the director. Just a long silence complemented with a stare from her kohl-rimmed eyes. The scene is enacted again. And again.
At the end of April, Chowdhry will stage her new play, Dark Borders, with a cast of amateurs.
It’s a departure for the renowned dramatist, who has worked exclusively with professional actors from her repertory group, The Company, for 30-odd years. But it has been brewing for a while. The seeds of the play were sown when Chowdhry conducted a series of elaborate workshops that ultimately turned into the film Anatomy of Violence, directed by Deepa Mehta, which premiered in 2016. “Certain issues remained unresolved within me. After all, film is a very different medium,” Chowdhry says.
Rooted in the improvisational style that has characterised Chowdhry’s work for the past five years, the play traces varied dimensions of violence, displacement, fractured relationships and lost homes. As for working with young amateurs, she admits it hasn’t been easy.
“At times it is very frustrating and irritating. After all, I am not very young. However, it is their spirit to come up to a certain level and willingness to unlearn what they know about the medium that keeps me going.”
Later, when the actors finally get the first scene right, Chowdhry’s smile suggests the hard work has made the reward that much sweeter.