BENGALURU: Berlin-based documentary filmmaker Shaheen Dill-Riaz is excited: the English version of theatre production Past is Present, where he plays himself, premiered on Tuesday in the city.
Originally in German, the play that has evolved from Shaheen’s personal experiences has seen about 25 shows in Europe before city-based Sandbox Collective brought it to Ranga Shankara. It explores the concept of the modern-day family -- Shaheen has lived in Berlin for about 20 years, his parents live in his home country Bangladesh, his brother in New York, his sister in Sydney and his son in Warsaw.
Whether a family that lives in different corners of the globe can still be functional, be ‘there’ for each other, and what it means to be ‘there’ are some of the questions Past is Present asks.
“I’m particularly curious about the response in India because it’s being performed for the first time in front of an audience familiar with the socio-cultural background of my family,” he says during an interview ahead of his first show in the city. His parents’ was an arranged marriage, and the conflict between them meant that Shaheen and his siblings missed out on a ‘peaceful childhood’, he shares.
Shaheen would like to see the play with which be forayed into theatre performed in Bangladesh, but is wary of risking a tour owing to the current socio-political climate of that country, he says.
The concept of the play, directed by Basel-based theatreperson Corinne Maier, was inspired by a joint project by the two artistes about four years ago when they met in Berlin. “Shaheen stayed in my house and I helped him write a film treatment on his family experiences,” Corinne says.
A year later, when she wanted to do a documentary theatre piece on family life, she immediately thought of Shaheen’s work. “We already had video footage of Shaheen,” she says. “So we began by watching it, and then put it away because I wanted to create a production keeping in mind that it would be for the stage.”
So although the play uses the footage, it had to be woven in and not simply ‘introduced’. “That was tricky,” she says. From the footage stage, the focus has also shifted from how globalisation affects family to ‘documentation of documenting’.“Shaheen introspects, observes himself documenting his and his family’s experiences,” she explains. And the chronology and facts have not been ‘manipulated’ in the least, the actor and director say.
To aid the introspection process, stage actor Anne Haug was roped in. “The play opens with her on stage,” the director says. “In the beginning, she plays the role of the narrator. Later on, she actually plays Shaheen.”
Anne, Shaheen says, acts out things he would like to but dare not say, while he pulls her up, and puts her in a corner so she isn’t sure how to respond. Meanwhile, he strives to strike a ‘balance between playing and simply being himself, which is always a struggle’.
“Some parts feel spontaneous because that’s how we arrived at the script -- through weeks of rehearsal and actual dialogue,” he adds. The process involved the two actors and the director comparing notes on childhood experiences.
*Past is Present, at 7.30 pm on Wednesday, at Ranga Shankara. Tickets are priced at Rs 200. The 80-minute Pro Helvetia-Swiss Arts Council presentation in partnership with Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan at Bengaluru will travel next to National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, and Adishakti, Puduchery.