As a playwright, theatre director and filmmaker, Vaibhav Abnave has been concerned with convergences between theatre and cinema. This grant addresses Vaibhav's concern by supporting him to adapt the writings of Marathi playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar into an experimental biographical film that explores notions of experimentation in theatre.
Vaibhav Abnave first encountered the work of Marathi playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar when he began his theatre career in Pune in 2000. These works not only echoed Vaibhav's dissatisfaction, reservations and doubts about Marathi experimental theatre at the time, but also raised fundamental questions around the essence and relevance of the notion of 'experimentation'. In 2005-06, he began a research project titled 'Development of Marathi Experimental Theatre in Pune in the post 1990s', which gave him a sharp insight into debates around the notion of 'experimentation'.
More recently, Vaibhav continued his exploration of Elkunchwar's ideas by using improvisation as a therapeutic and didactic theatrical tool in the making of Dhoosar (Blur)-a documentary film that dealt with the question of 'disclosure' in the context of HIV-affected parents and their children. Elkunchwar's ideas about 'the extension of the frontiers of Realism' and 'the extension of the notion of experimentation provided the inspiration for the making of Dhoosar. With a view to blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, the actors were told to improvise, be spontaneous and use their body, voice and mind more creatively. “Through 'improvisation' actors can “extend the possibilities of a given situation or text and further explore' its meanings or interpretations as well as make inter-textual linkages,” explains Vaibhav. Following his experience of making Doosar, Vaibhav feels it would be appropriate to use this improvisational method to engage with Elkunchwar's complex body of work as well.
Elkunchwar is one of the most important playwrights in the history of modern Marathi theatre. He has often been controversial, misconceived and misrepresented. His works extend theatrical realism into the realm of 'expressionism', 'surrealism' and 'absurdism' without remaining just at the level of formal innovation. Vaibhav explains this further by referencing Elkunchwar's view that "real experimentation goes much deeper... it is a light that illuminates one's work from within. And this light is in the spirit of quest, not only aesthetic. It is an amalgam of so many quests—intellectual, aesthetic, but most of all, a spiritual quest.”
As Marathi “experimental theatre wanted to identify itself with what the popular was not, it almost deliberately recreated itself in the reverse image of the popular. It did so "by constructing its identity as socially aware/committed, political, non-sentimental, intellectual, debate-oriented, non-realistic, preferring abstraction and an absurdist idiom," explains Vaibhav. Within this context, Elkunchwar made serious efforts to 'reclaim' or 'retrieve the possibility of portraying emotions without being sentimental. He attempted to do this by reclaiming realist aesthetics and extending its frontiers with the inclusion of the poetic, lyrical, expressionistic, as seen for example in the Wada trilogy and also occasionally the aesthetics of absurd theatre, as seen in Pratibimba.
In contrast to conventional biographical documentary films that most often only touch upon facts and opinions about an artist, Vaibhav would like to explore and connect the complexities of the artist's mind, life and ideas by innovating with the documentary form as well. He aims to make a poetic and reflexive film that not only paints a portrait of the complex and restless mind of a creative artist but challenges conventional ‘issue based' documentary/fiction film work happening in the Marathi language context.
The film will move seamlessly across the narrative of Elkunchwar's life in a nonlinear manner, juxtaposing 'real' situations, people and spaces with the playwright's ‘theatrical’ characters, situations, and locales. Gradually the thin line between the 'real' and the theatrical will be blurred and destabilised. In a way, Elkunchwar's theatrical vision of taking off from Realism and going beyond it, extending its frontiers” would form the core narrative strategy of the film. Vaibhav explains that he will attempt to “blend and intermix Elkunchwar's life and theatre, the interior and the landscape, the memories and the dreams, this world and the 'other' world and the 'real' and the 'metaphysical'.” At the same time, the film will also attempt to locate Elkunchwar on a larger canvas within the 'tradition of modern Indian theatre and modern Marathi theatre.
Instead of one 'impersonal narrative voice, the film's narrative would be driven by the juxtaposition of multiple voices of the author, of the 'real' and `imaginary' people in his life, the characters from his play, and his contemporaries. Instead of using the spoken word to move the narrative ahead, Vaibhav plans to rely largely upon the silences, the smells, the sounds, the musical motifs, the “real as well as 'theatrical locales and the images as 'transitions' or 'connectors'. Scenes, situations from his life, plays and essays will be improvised upon and enacted by a set of trained theatre actors on the proscenium stage as well as in real locales.
To illustrate how Elkunchwar's plays will be treated in the film, Vaibhav explains that he could, for example, re-create the central situation from his play 'Party'. Some of the interviews may be conducted in the midst of all the characters of 'Party'. The characters may themselves conduct some of the interviews with contemporary theatre personalities and the playwright himself, while 'partying with them. Another play that Vaibhav intends to use is Atmakatha (Autobiography), where an author shares his autobiography with the characters from his various plays. These characters could interrogate the Elkunchwar as well. Atmakatha could be used to blur the boundaries between Elkunchwar's life and his characters, and the borders between his various works.
This description is part of the institutional records created by IFA at the onset of the grant. The project may have changed in due course as reflected in the deliverables from the Grantee.
Grant No : 2008-0-025
Grantee Name : Vaibhav Abnave
Programme : Extending Arts Practice
Grant Status : Completed
Start Date : 31-03-2009
End Date : 31-03-2010
Duration : One Year (one Year + one Year Extension)
Grant Amount : 600,000
Geographical Area of Work : Maharashtra
Disciplinary Field of Work : Theatre