Interview with Oasis Sougaijam:
Q. When one reads the synopsis of the play” Basket of Dolls” , one doesn’t get the impression of grandeur of images one get to see in your production. What was your process of evolving the visual for various sequences in “Basket of Dolls” ?
I took a simple script and I thought I will do my production without any dialogues. It will be narrated through live paintings, images and visuals only. Due to some process needed, I had to add some facts as dialogue, which acted as spine. I feel overall production belongs to every actor and musician. They contributed in lot of things like in visuals. They improvised many things and then we edited it and then we placed it in context. Some visuals came from actors. We discussed whether we should make the scene first or compose the music first. So in some scenes we composed music first and then developed the scene. Like boat coming scene, we thought that we should create the music first and then what the music is saying, from that we created visuals. Our musicians have a very strong sense of theatre. They contributed a lot in making of this play. They used to play some music and everybody listened to that and the images that were coming through the music, we discussed it with actors. For example my batch mate Ravendra Kushwaha , an actor has background of Chhau Dance and Kalari and I have learned Manipuri Martial Arts, folk dance and all learned some folk music. So we all collaborated and decided to narrate the story through physical and musical elements. Music was the spine of my production.
Q: One of the remarkable things in your production was that it was not depending upon the set design. What were the reasons for not choosing any backdrop?
A: We first decided that there will be no set. It’s only 24×36 feet area. This empty area is your canvas and you have to paint on this canvas through your body’s action and acting. This is an empty space which can be made in to anything through physical movement, acting with the help of music and creates visuals. So this was challenging. Had we put up a static stage, it would have been monotones because there would be no changes in the visuals and physical movements need space. So we tried to create an atmosphere into this empty space through actors body and props.
Q: As music was a very important part of your production to enhance the visuals, how did you go about choosing the instruments to play with?
A: Percussions, string instruments and wind instruments were the base of the whole play. Drums which has been made from bamboo was used, through violin, folk tune has been played. Some Manipuri folk instruments have been selected mainly and also used different instruments from different states. And we tried to make fusion music from those instruments. Some instruments were developed from folk instruments e.g. penao. We divided the instruments according to demands of the scenes and harmonized the tune to get the flavor which we like.
Q: You come from Manipuri Tradition, which has pioneer like Rathan Thiyam. Were you worried that people would say that you are trying to reinterpret most of the elements which Rathan Thiyam uses in his production?
A: Ratan Thiyam sir is an Internationally Renowned figure in theatre that you are comparing me with but unfortunately I saw only one production of Ratan Thiyam sir called “King of Dark Chamber” during Bharat Rang Mahotsav opening. I have heard a lot about him and I have seen some of his photographs in newspapers. So can’t say reinterpreting or inspiring form him. But surely I want to mention one name Ovlyakuli Khodjakuli, who is from Uzbekistan. We did one production called “Persian”. So as director he inspired me a lot. For example the way of putting music, speech and actions harmonically, how to develop visuals in a stylized way, in a bit loud form and how to handle the actors is something I learnt from him. I decided I will do my production in a loud form and have to come out from the proscenium and break the realistic way of approach.
Q : Talking about handling the actors, when you narrate a character to the actor, he would look at it from his perspective and you have your perspective , so where do u meet in between ?
A: First day when we read script of Basket of Dolls, some of my actors said that there is nothing in the script, it’s very simple and folk type story with a historical facts. Some actors felt bored about it ! When I saw their faces, I tried to convince them please don’t depend upon the script. I described them we will do approach on visuals and musical things and try to find our own language. I described to them about the designs of the scenes and some visuals, images and actions that this is the way we have to approach. I place all the main characters into chorus and we choreographed the scenes. So in this performance there are no individual characters remain, everything in chorus. I m very proud that I got an opportunity to work with my batch mates and wants to say thanks to all my team for their believed and contribution to me.
Q: Since it was a musical production, how did you manage to give your actors same atmosphere which one gets when you are actually performing because it was live music?
A: We got only 20 days for this production. So from the first day musicians were with us. We were together for 20 days. Most of the theatre production introduces music 5 or 6 days before. Since I was doing a musical play, I needed the music from the beginning. It helped my actors as well as me. I had decided that we have to work with musicians from the beginning so that they can also understand the story and the process and explore with us. We even sometimes changed the music, when it was not working. Finally a concrete structure was evolved.
Having a “form” in any art is very important part, do you think that you have evolved a language of your own.
A: In this production I was trying to develop my own language. I tried to communicate everything through physical movements and musical which is inspired from the ritualistic performances and presented into contemporary manner. And also try to collaborate with fine arts and theatre. Some scenes was tried to convey through images and visuals. In the rape scene, the artists were expressing their feelings of rape through their brush strokes with the colours on the canvas. And also try to place every action into larger than live and loud way. Finding a new language is not an easy task but I tried to my best in those given 20 days with my team. Still eager to explore more on this way of expression in my future productions also. Theatre as a collective art we need to work in collaboration with any respective fields. But I really enjoyed after doing the play “Basket of Dolls” with my NSD actors in those short period of time