'Rihla' play: In search of a new world

Theatre director Neel Chaudhari’s latest play explores the youth’s disgruntlement with the status quo through a group of actors from the fringes of society.

Published: 17th November 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th November 2019 08:47 AM   |  A+A-

Still from the play Rihla

Still from the play Rihla

Aagaaz Theatre Trust’s Rihla has been gathering buzz over weeks in the capital. Directed by Neel Chaudhuri, the play is adapted from Andreas Flourakis’ I Want A Country.

The Greek playwright’s work is seen as open text and is left to the viewers to interpret it in a way they deem fit. Talking about its Indian adaptation,  Chaudhuri says, “The term ‘rihla’ was the title of the great explorer Ibn Battuta’s written accounts of his extensive travels, and means ‘a journey both real and imaginary’.

That’s why we decided to name the play Rihla. The script speaks of people living in extremely difficult environments seeking to migrate to a different country.

I have always admired Aagaaz ensemble which has been founded by Sanyukta Saha and wanted to collaborate with them.”

Rihla opened on November 1 at Black Box Theatre in Delhi and has been running every weekend since then.

A festival outing at Ranga Shankara Festival in Bengaluru is also part of the month-long itinerary for the troupe. The play also had a successful crowd-funding campaign on the platform Ketto as part of the project.

For the uninitiated, Aagaz which came together in 2013 is a Delhi-based theatre trust that works with youth in theatre from the city’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti area.

They are essentially a group of arts practitioners, theatre-makers, and facilitators. Their previous plays such as Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan and Raavan Aaya has presented the untapped potential of the marginalised from the capital city. Rihla’s director, however, chanced upon Flourakis in 2016 where he was part of a three-week Directors’ Lab at the Lincoln Centre in New York, USA.

He had worked with five other international directors and part of that cohort was Menelaos Karantzas, who is also from Greece and directed a presentation of Flourakis’ play with local American actors.

Chaudhuri was moved by the script of I Want a Country but he felt that the privileged performers did not appropriately complement the play’s sentiments.

On working with Aagaz’s troupe of actors, Chaudhuri says, “I felt this was the only group of actors I would like to do the play with. It is about a kind of indignation and disgruntlement with the status quo, and the gift of an imaginary country 
as it might be expressed through the voice of the youth.” 

The play has been translated into Hindi by Rahul Rai and follows an intrepid band of young rebels seeking out fresh stomping grounds to grow into and claim as their own.

The blurb put out by the group reads, “Their quest is a voyage into a place they can only imagine, covering a distance they cannot fully conceive.” 

On the challenges of working with Aagaz’s actors, Chaudhuri says, “I wanted to get them to recognise that the story itself was within them and that they didn’t have to be immigrants on a boat. However, they are truly a very rich ensemble, in terms of their interpersonal relationships, the way they relate to each other, their honesty amongst each other, the collective sense of drive.” Before Chaudhuri, Aagaz has also worked with theatre directors such as Neel Sengupta and Dhwani Vij, and the plays have had a successful run.

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