In his play Azad Theatre, Deepro Roy uses a singular set as the backdrop to spar a debate on two contrasting styles of modern theatre: stage and street. 

Snap, snap, snap.

For Abdul, theatre has always been meant to be performed on the streets- where the people are. With snapping fingers, theatre is meant to literally wake audiences up to their sociopolitical realities. He scoffs at the idea of performing a play on stage, for curated audiences that sit back and relax. And yet, this is what he is forced to do in liberal arts student Deepro Roy’s play, Azad Theatre, shortlisted for The Hindu Playwright Award 2019.

The meta script- in which central characters, Abdul, his wife Swara and former mentor Prashant take on the role of playwright, director and theatre enthusiast- is set in the backstage of the eponymous Azad theatre. This set is where, through right narrations of their world views and personal backgrounds that led them to it, the characters debate on the two contrasting styles of modern theatre: contemplative and street.

Growing up in Kolkata and now studying at the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune, the script name came naturally to Deepro. “I wanted to explore this discussion of what modern theatre is. It’s a debate that we have gone over many times even in our course,” he says, adding that, “A lot of the people that I have interacted with during my performance theory course, and even back home inspired the characters in the play.”

Abdul, for instance, is the quintessential “artiste”: intellectual, eloquent, and dry to the point of arrogance. The logical Swara, who falls for this artiste, holds her own despite his persuasive ways, and can call him out when he centers the world around himself. The script goes into rich details of both their lives that molded them into the beings they are today. Though it is narrated by the characters’ themselves, the writing is engaging enough to not make that narration seem stilted.

“I did not want the characters to act our their past. I have a fondness for plays that take place in one closed room, a single set, and I didn’t want to break that tradition,”

says Deepro. and this set- the backstage- is the central metaphor used in the play.

“The backstage works on multiple layers,” explains Deepro.

“The first is the literal one, where all the materials for the plays are, that’s our set. The second is the historical and political background the play is set in, the discussions that the characters hold. The third is the personal backgrounds of the characters.”

Moreover, he adds,

“I’ve tried to expand the metaphor to how modern scientific thought works: the process of unmasking, of taking some given truth, and trying to understand how it came to be.”

As the protagonist Abdul’s street play is being performed on Azad Theatre’s stage (invisible to the audience), our actual play is set backstage, where the nervous director hides away. Here, Abdul and Prashant, founder of Azad Theatre, spar on the different ideas of what constitutes art and theatre.

In a tone that indicates cynicism, Abdul recalls Augusto Boal coming up with the Theatre of the Oppressed. One of the lines says: “We are actually artists. WE are not the ones who fight. We preach to you. YOU are the ones who take the risk.” Deepro says,

“What appears to be cynicism to you is just this experience of these debates leading to a dead end, where you’re no longer sure of the purpose of art in society.”

However, whichever style he may prefer, just like Abdul, Swara, and Prashant, Deepro agrees on one thing: that theatre is for the community.

This article was reposted with permission from The Hindu.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.