It’s extremely difficult to get hold of theatre director Manish Mitra. After his latest play Andha Yug: The Age of Holocaust got rave reviews in Europe, he is planning to stage it in an organic platform near Santiniketan in West Bengal in April.
Once you block a date with Mitra, the avuncular man welcomes you to his unkempt commune in south Kolkata, where he lives with his team. The room is scattered with books and theatre props, with Mitra seated at his table munching biscuits with tea at noon. He and members of his theatre group, Kasba Arghya, rehearse late into the night.
“When we visited the Nazi concentration camps in Berlin, Lublin, Treblinka, Warsaw and Auschwitz, we felt bilious. We needed to vent it out and decided to relive the horrors through theatre. We depicted the unparalleled atrocities through Indian Classical music and dance forms,” says the director, who quit his job in the 90s to plunge into theatre.
Mitra’s efforts were lauded by the European audience when he held a small presentation in Krakow, Poland, last year. “I realised theatre needs no spoken language, and have decided to hold shows across India. But the script will be made contextual to current socio-political fabric in India,” says the 50-year-old raconteur.
Mitra intends to execute the play in the lap of nature, in open spaces away from the confines of proscenium, which he likes to call organic theatre. Plays in such a format are usually showcased in forests, resorts or open spaces that can be used by actors to their advantage.
“All the props used are natural, including the sets and lighting,” he explains.
Mitra experimented with this organic format for his six-hour marathon play Urubhangam, which was based on Mahabharata.
His productions—be it Urubhangam, Dr Faustus, Widows of Brindaban, Macbeth Badya, or his latest play Andhya Yug—are anything but anodyne. Almost all his plays have heavy influence of south Indian dance forms and indigenous martial art forms such as Kathakali, Kutiyattam, Kalariyapattu, Manipuri Thang Ta and Bengal’s Chhau.
Mitra’s love for theatre started when he was 10. He directed Sukumar Ray’s play Obak Jolpan in his school, which he couldn’t attend because of knee-deep waterlogging outside his house.
While bedridden with a fractured thigh bone in his second year of college, the physics undergraduate formed Kasba Arghya.
Mitra keeps trying to push the limits on stage. In his play Othello, the actor playing the eponymous role went nude in a scene. “It’s not easy to go naked in front of 700-800 people. It takes immense mental preparation for that. Instead of being vulgar, the scene always elicited tearful applause from the audience. But each time the actor who played Othello would lock himself up in the changing room to shed tears,” he says.
Apart from scripting and directing plays, teaching theatre and holding workshops and performances in Europe also consume the die-hard foodie’s time. Recently, he directing a new play for the golden jubilee celebrations of the Kannada theatre group Samatentu in Mysuru. He will also hold theatre workshops in organic format with Kannada actors in Bandipur or Mudumalai forest.