By Neelanjana Banerjee:
I got the call on the last day of September. I was expecting her call, since Vijay ji had told me a few days earlier that he’d suggested my name. She sounded sweet and told me that the play would be staged on October 30. “Oh, lots of time,” I said to myself.
I spoke too soon.
It was in early August that I watched “This is how we live?”, a play presented by Delhi’s Bangla cultural group “Dhumketu” on the occasion of their golden jubilee celebrations. I only went to support Vijay ji. The various characters in the play meet accidentally at a home-stay in the hills one rainy night. They talk about their life choices, their regrets and their aspirations. Simple, but real.
Several people were on stage for the first time in their lives. But even to a novice, performing to a full house can be so motivating. I thought of my own show, a few days away, and hoped I’d be able to perform to a full house too. I hugged Vijay ji after the show (he was his usual witty and droll self on stage) – and almost soon after, allowed my mind to be occupied with my play which was to be staged soon.
Vijay Rajoria, who played the home-stay owner, had mentioned to me that there had been a series of extensive workshops and each character had put in their own stories and life philosophies to develop the play. I found that very interesting.
He called me late September to inform that the play was to be staged again, and that one of the actors was travelling for which he’d recommended me as her replacement. The first thought that came to my head then was that I’d finally be able to talk about the biggest trauma I’d faced in the not-too-distant past – my three-year abusive relationship. I thought that somehow, I’d incorporate that story into the play. I was looking forward to that call from Piyali, the director.
And then fell the bombshell.
We all met on October 1, where Piyali informed us that the date of the show was now October 14. Daily rehearsals would begin the next day.
I had 12 days to go on stage.
Clearly, there was no time to incorporate one of my life stories into the play. So I had to go with my predecessor’s, and play a widow. This was not easy for a single woman with no time to prepare. But we began the reading, we began blocking – and before I knew it, I had learned the lines.
But why did it feel so easy? Because we were all a bunch of people who had broken stereotypes in one way or the other. Each of us, through that strong bond that was formed in the rehearsal room, could feel and understand the unspoken struggle of each co-actor as they broke conformity and tried to live the lives they wanted to. Of course, only some of that is in the play – but all our stories, all of our lives’ challenges, cannot fit into a one-hour play, right?
I see someone remember vitriolic arguments with his father because he chose a different career path. I see a young girl, with sparkling eyes and dreams in her heart, fight a battle every day trying to protect and nurture her adventurous spirit. I see a woman who is tired of the ‘routine’ and just wants to write about love. I see a man who feels caged by all that society expects of him. I see a boy, whose idea of masculinity is so different from the men I meet and does not want to plan his life the ‘college-job-marriage-children’ way.
I am the outsider – yet, I see myself in all of them.
And you will too. We are all individuals bound by rules and norms. As is said in the play, “Rules must be humane and fluid because benchmarks of happiness are different for each.” For many of us, it is ‘if only…’. And for many, it is ‘let’s do this!’
We go on stage in two days. To me, it has not just been a play. In these 10 days, I have made new friends. I’ve been reminded that something I take for granted is a privilege denied to many. And for those who may watch the show, you will somehow identify with each of the characters.
Once again, I am grateful to Vijay ji and Piyali for the call.
The author is a media professional, film-maker, corporate anchor and theatre actor.
The play will be performed at BC Pal Auditorium, Chittaranjan Park, on October 14 at 7 PM.