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Mallika Taneja Remains Uncompromising In Her Vision

“I think, really, I’m a creature of opportunity, you know?” Mallika Taneja says over homemade french toast.

Taneja is an actress and playwright whose last play ‘Thoda Dhyan Se’ brought her worldwide acclaim and attention. A confident playwright, Mallika’s next project ‘Rukaawat Ke Liye Khed Hai’ opens tomorrow in New Delhi before she embarks on a European tour.

The play is co-produced with the Zürcher Theatre Spektakel who were interested in working with Taneja on her next piece after the impact of the controversial but incredible ‘Thoda Dyan Se’.

‘Thoda Dyan Se’ was an entirely solo play, one that relied on the visual impact of Taneja’s powerful performance. ‘Rukaawat Ke Liye Khed Hai’, in contrast incorporates a mixture of light, sound and movement. The original score will be performed by Samar Grewal, former lead guitarist and vocalist of four-piece Delhi-based band Hoirong. The play was put into words by Akhil Katyal with live video design by Santana Issar and lighting by Sarah Buchel.

‘Rukaawat Ke Liye Khed Hai’, which was still being made when she spoke to us over breakfast one morning, came about through a series of opportunities. Her co-creator, friend (from college) and actor Shubham, a year ago now, said yes to producing ‘Rukaawat Ke Liye Khed Hai’: “I don’t know why but he said yes to creating this which I am very grateful for because I don’t think I could’ve made sense of all of these things.”

This opportunity led to Taneja creating a team around her, a rarity for the Delhi-based artist: “I think for theatre you need collaborators. I don’t think theatre could ever happen by yourself. Theatre as an art is an exchange between people: an artist goes in front of an audience, puts on a character, gets a light cue. There’s a constant exchange of energy between people”

She found that travelling and performing her previous play got “extremely lonely”. Mallika was solely depending on herself for everything and felt that she wanted to ease her pain, share the burden and bring in more ideas with a team.

Taneja does find it difficult to work with other people, but much like her current play, it’s all a learning process, “ I’m learning how to [work with other people]. I think it’s really strange because artists exist very much in their minds.”

The incorporation of sound and video coupled with the play’s length has made it difficult for Taneja to explain what ‘Rukaawat Ke Liye Khed Hai’ truly is; she finds herself grasping for words when she tries to describe it, “I’m afraid to say that this is what the play is about and then somebody watches the play and they’re like ‘really, that?’”

Her previous work was clear, really sharp and a much larger endeavour but Taneja does end up summarising her new work briefly by stating that “it’s about loss, trying to take a look at the nation that we live in today. It’s about trying to make sense of the race, the rat race that we’re all caught in constantly,” she said.

Gleaning information about the play out of her is difficult because, for Taneja, it’s still very much a work in progress. She’s constantly finding herself questioning the narratives developing around her, “It’s a farce what’s happening around us. The development narrative; the nationalism narrative. All the narratives that we are fed are all a farce. Life is happening in the nooks and crannies of these big things that are there. That's what the play is about.”

And for her, these big things aren’t happening just in India in a vacuum, they’re happening all over the world, “It’s a global shift, it’s almost a tectonic shift.” Which is why after a run of shows at Oddbird Theatre in New Delhi, she’s taking the play to Europe but she’s adamant she won’t be changing anything to pander to foreign audiences. “This is theatre, there’s a person to person, human to human connection,” she exclaimed. Taneja wants to be clear that she isn’t “educating anyone.” She wants to question herself on what her job as a theatre artist is and what is her job in theatre as she lives in a world where everyone has a smartphone.

"If you say every person in the audience is valuable, and you can convey your work to even three people in that audience, my job as an artist is done. And this is where I stand as an artist.”

‘Rukaawat Ke Liye Khed Hai’ opens Saturday, 12 August at Oddbird Theatre in New Delhi. Dates can be found below. To purchase tickets, click here.

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Words: Dhruva Balram
Image credit (main + thumb): Yashas Chandra

 

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11 August 2017

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