“I haven’t done any play in my life which has a message”

Theatre director Mohit Takalkar‘s latest drama is Mosambi Narangi, in which Rajit Kapur and Ajeet Singh Palawat play the titular characters. It’s an adaptation by writer Ashok Mishra of Irish playwright’s Marie Jone’s tragicomedy Stones in his Pocket and set in Benares, where Mosambi and Narangi are cast as extras in a Bollywood movie. The play will be staged in Mumbai from Friday, January 10 to Sunday, January 12 at the NCPA and on Saturday, January 25 at Royal Opera Theatre House.

Takalkar spoke to us about his experience of working on the play, trying out comedy for the first time and why he believes plays should have no message.

Tell us about the experience of directing Mosambi Narangi.   

I was invited to do the play by Rage Productions, and at that time only Rajit was finalised. So when I came on board as director, I had the option to choose the other actor, musicians, scenographers and other aspects as well. I’m known for serious plays, and here I had a comedy on my hands which I honestly didn’t know how to approach. With a comedy, the biggest mistake you can make is to think that you have to make it funny. Once that is out of the way, you have to make the characters credible and multi-dimensional people who are not caricatures. From the very beginning, that was the focal point for Rajit, Ajeet and me. Your characters can’t just crack jokes to make people laugh; that is not a play but stand-up comedy.

Also, there was this entire binding by Marie Jones (the writer of Stones in His Pockets) that only two actors would play all the characters, and that piqued my interest. Once we got into the rehearsal room, it was a completely different play, because only two actors essaying all the characters meant immense hard work. It was an open, malleable script that we could stage in any way we wanted. While on one hand that sounds liberating, on the other, it was a huge challenge as there were so many things that could work or not.

How has Stones in His Pockets been adapted to the Indian context?

The play is about a big film being shot in a rural area in Benares and the entire crew encroaches and exploits the space and people. In Hindi, the adaptation is done by Ashok Mishra, who hails from Benares and is conversant with the language and nuances of the place. Thanks to him, we found many hook points to build the characters, story. In the original play, the rural backdrop and its innocence and haraamipan form an integral premise. This is very much existent in India as well. Also, we have film stitched into the fabric of our everyday living. Most people can recite songs and iconic dialogues from Hindi films by heart. Films are larger than life, and something people aspire and dream about. The play fitted as if it was written for the Indian audience. Adaptations are extremely important because you get to tell stories from other parts of the world. You just need to find that point in an adaptation where you make that story your story.

The original play was a commentary on the disintegration of the rural community of Ireland. What point is the adaptation making?

The play has no message. I haven’t done any play in my life which has a message. A play is to be experienced. If you leave with just one line or a moral of the story, then you haven’t experienced the play. Any play will dish out something different for everyone in the audience. And that something keeps changing with every viewing. When people watch Mosambi Narangi, they will enjoy it and laugh their hearts out. But the play also becomes extremely poignant at a point, so they will feel that too. And that’s the success of the play, that there is a different takeaway for everyone.

The play hinges on the chemistry between Rajit Kapur and Ajeet Singh Palawat. What was the dynamic between the two?

When Rajit comes into the picture, he brings years of experience with him which is evident in his approach to script and building the character. Ajeet hails from a trained background from the National School of Drama. He’s got an extreme eye for detail and is a very meticulous actor. Fortunately, they complemented each other really well. Had they not had this great camaraderie, we would never have been able to pull off what we have. In a play, the most important thing is the give and take between the actors as it determines their chemistry and their bonding really helped. The play is a cocktail of Mosambi and Narangi and it was imperative that they build that and they did.

I would like to add that music also plays an integral part in carrying the story forward. The music team has been very innovative and experimented with sounds ranging from balloons to cornflakes to water in a bucket to Benarasi folk music to create a great variety of sounds and tunes. The sets are amazing as they create a sense of Benares beautifully whether it is the high umbrellas, presence of saffron or the ghat steps littered with film unit equipment. These aspects are just as important as the two actors upon whom the play rests.

Manasi Rawalgaonkar: I work hard to give my cats a better life.