Dra­matic Flare

In her new play, Nee­lam Mans­ingh Chowdhry ex­plores the realms of vi­o­lence and frac­tured re­la­tion­ships with a cast of young am­a­teurs

India Today - - LEISURE - —Sukant Deepak

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.

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