Break down the walls

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 28 February 2019

Theatre director Sunil Shanbag brings his play — Deewar to the city today, as part of the Saarang Theatre Festival

The finale of the ongoing Saarang Theatre Festival in the city will be marked by Deewar. The play, which is produced by Arpana and Prithvi Theatres, was first put up by the late Prithviraj Kapoor. The new version has been directed by Sunil Shanbag and written by Abhinav Grover and Nikhita Singh, whereas the original one was written by Kapoor and Inder Raj Anand.

When asked to share his thoughts on the original play, and if things have changed in the Indian political and social scenario, Shanbag replied, “I read about six plays by Prithviraj Kapoor before choosing to do Deewar. It’s a very perceptive allegory of colonisation, and I found that fascinating, especially since it was done in 1945 when the British were still ruling India. The play does not get into different religions, but looks at the policy of divide and rule through the story of two brothers and their families. What was interesting is that the historical narrative in Deewar is from a very particular class and caste point of view. Now 70 odd years after the Partition and Independence, people are challenging this narrative. Voices that were made invisible, and went unheard, in 1947, demand to be heard today, and that is what we felt we could explore.”
Deewar is set in a fictional jagir in north India, where two rich zamindar brothers rule over a happy family, and a harmonious community of peasants. The unexpected arrival of foreign visitors seeking refuge is the beginning of a dramatic turn of fortunes. Ruthless machinations by the foreigners split the community, and turn brother against brother. Shanbag, who is the Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner (2017) for theatre direction, has made a few changes to the original play to find a contemporary relevance. He says, “At a very simple level, we had to edit the length of the original play. But we also wanted to find contemporary relevance in 2018/19 for events that took place in 1947. Partition is a reality today. Kapoor made the play in 1945 when Partition was only being talked about. He hoped it would not take place and took a strong position to oppose it. Hence, we have made certain interventions in the original play that draw our attention to a new understanding of history and of the Post-Partition period in India.”

The veteran theatre artist has also co-founded Studio Tamaasha, an alternative performance venue in Versova neighbourhood of Mumbai. An intimate space, which is ideas-driven, it is different from the formal theatre venues. It also offers residencies to upcoming theatre artists so that they can hone their skills, work on their projects with a single-minded focus. 

The acclaimed director of Cotton 56, Polyester 84, elaborates on it, “Studio Tamaasha’s residency programme is for young theatre makers who wish to incubate, or develop, a project through rigorous work and explorations. We offer them a safe and supportive space for 11 days, eight hours a day, at no cost, so that they can work free of financial or time concerns. We don’t insist on any outcome, as long as the project is challenging and rigorous. All we ask is for the theatre maker, or group, to share their work with audiences on two evenings during the 11 days. We feel it’s important for theatre makers to articulate their vision and intent, and we have seen that audiences are very keen to listen and respond. So far we have had some six residencies over a year, and some of the work has been outstanding!”  

We then move on to television channels backing dramas, and a dedicated channel to theatre on Tata Sky, which has screened plays like Savita Damodar Paranjape, White Lilly and Knight Rider for a few days. Will these means to get audience to engage with theatre succeed?
“Frankly, I don’t know what kind of impact the Tata Sky channel has. I don’t know anyone who has watched plays on TV! I am sure the potential audience is large, but I worry about how the essentially theatre plays are reproduced for television viewing. Plays, which are sitting room plays, are easier to shoot I suppose, but plays which are theatrical, and use theatre devices and contemporary conventions do not adapt easily to TV.”

ST Reader Service
Deewar will be staged at Yashanwantrao Chavan Natyagruha on March 1, 7.30 pm onwards. Tickets are available at the venue and also on

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