Phalguni Vittal Rao
TDL@UsPaar Day 5: The need to disconnect in order to write
Note: In February 2023, Tamaasha Studio Foundation announced a Residential Workshop for Playwrights. Four playwrights – Debi K, Nikhita Singh, Gurleen Judge and Chanakya Vyas – were selected to share drafts of full length plays they are looking to work on.
Over the course of 9 days at Us Paar, the Arts Residency space run by Tamaasha, the 4 playwrights will receive mentorship and guidance from Shanta Gokhale (writer, critic, historian, translator and columnist), Aditya Nigam (professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi), Sameera Iyengar (creative producer and theatre person), Deepa Ganesh (writer, translator, journalist), Rajeev Naik (scholar, critic, playwright, poet), and Vaibhav Abnave (independent researcher and filmmaker).
The four scripts will also be briefly workshopped by Quasar Thakore Padamsee (theatre director, co-founder of QTP India) and Neel Chaudhuri (playwright and director) with actors Dheer Hira, Chakori Dwivedi and Rishabh Kanti. The program has been designed by poet, playwright and director Sapan Saran and co-founder of Tamaasha Theatre Sunil Shanbag.
The Drama Library was asked if we would like to document this process and share daily updates of the discussions, dissections and decisions. And of course we jumped at it.
So here we are, at Us Paar, inviting you to observe and participate in this journey through actor and writer Phalguni Vittal Rao’s daily diary entries.
Jhoome jo Pathaan meri jaan / Mehfil hi loot jaaye / Dede jo zubaan meri jaan / Uspe mar mit jaaye
Now that he was done and dusted with his mentorship sessions for his play The Age of Offence, Chanakya was heard singing the title track from the movie Pathaan in the shower. With no tension about his play being deconstructed for the rest of the week, there was a spring in his stride and a wide grin plastered across his face.
Now, I’m a Shah Rukh Khan fan and yes, I haven’t watched Pathaan yet – I haven’t found the time, okay! And being a fan doesn’t mean that I think all his movies are great. They’re not. It’s just that I’m loyal to him as a person and an actor. I was born in the year of the Wood Dog, after all, so, loyalty runs in my veins. Anyway, I decided to listen to Pathaan’s title track, and I must say it is groovy and catchy and it remained my background score as I wrote this piece. And then, in between, Youtube started playing all the other Shah Rukh songs. Yun Hi Chala Chal (from Swades), Mitwa (from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna), Yeh Dil Deewana (from Pardes) and more. Come to think of it, some of these songs can be perfect representations of a playwright’s angst.
I know, I know I’m meandering but if you look closely, isn’t writing a series of meanderings, a series of digressions? You start at the Gangotri of ideas, tumble down the Himalayas with a stream of characters, flow through several possibilities of who your characters could be and what they can do, change course, meander, loop around life events in a character’s life, and end up gushing forth, hopefully brimming with life, onto the pages of your final draft.
To be able to meander like this, you need a conducive environment. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud asserted that daydreaming is essential to creative writing. In her book Orwell’s Roses, Rebecca Solnit writes:
Writing is a murky business: you are never entirely sure what you are doing or when it will be finished and whether you got it right and how it will be received months or years or decades after you finish. What it does, if it does anything, is a largely imperceptible business that takes place in the minds of people you will mostly never see and never hear from (unless they want to argue with you).
She continues: As a writer, you need to withdraw and disconnect from the world in order to connect to it in far-reaching ways.
I was standing by the sea at Kashid when I realised that spaces like Us Paar and this empty beach afford us a wonderful opportunity to get away from the clatter and cacophony of the world. I grew up reading Ruskin Bond’s stories (one of my favourite authors) and I loved his writing because a) his stories were wonderful; b) he described a world where people simply existed. There wasn’t a hustle to get somewhere. I want to get away from this clattering world of to-do lists and be able to fall into the world that summons me, that is seeking my attention, and I believe such a world exists for all of us, in all of us.
Writing is an impulse. I know this is the fourth time I’m saying this but what I mean is, when we write, we are trying to give voice and expression to that which is unresolved within us, to that which troubles us. It’s what I felt when Nikhita read her play Of Mothers and Daughters. I think everyone sensed that she felt deeply about the things that led her to write this play.
With Rajeev Naik, Vaibhav Abnave and Deepa Ganesh set to dive into Of Mothers and Daughters and Modern Art - Gurleen Judge’s play - I can’t wait to see how differently they will go about pulling apart and then putting back together their worlds. Maybe by meandering and digressing? Wait and watch.