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A Pre-Determined Destiny?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A play that has hit great heights since it was first staged in Italy, The Elephant Journey deals with intertwined fates. Anindra Siqueira speaks with the cast to find out more

Destiny and the fates have fascinated man since time immemorial. The seasons come and go, and in each passing, they shape the world a little, changing it ever so slightly. But is there a destiny to which we are bound? Is our fate in our own hands or is it governed by a plan that has been conceived by a higher entity? These are some of the undertones that the play The Elephant Journey, presented in India by Anvarat Theatres Mumbai and directed by Kulvinder Bakshish, touches upon. It is the story, in part, of the repeated reincarnation of a man and a woman. They are inexplicably connected, even though they resist their fate, and they remember nothing of their past lives, but seemingly accidental events bring them to make the connection.

The play, originally Il lungo cammino degli elefanti written by Gaspare Dori, was staged for the first time in 2002 and has found acclaim the world over. It was staged a while ago at Prithvi Theatre, but if you missed it then, you can catch it now at G5A in Mahalaxmi. We spoke to director Kulvinder Bakshish, as well as actor Mridul Sharma and actor-producers Chirag Lobo and Ashmita Jaggi. Here are excerpts from the interview.

The Elephant Journey has been adapted from the Italian play Il lungo cammino degli elefanti. How has it been changed to suit Indian audiences?
Kulvinder: The play, originally written by Gaspare Dori, was staged for the first time in Turin, Italy, in July 2002. Since then, it has been staged in various countries (Italy, France, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Armenia), and has been translated into English as well as Armenian. Gaspare Dori was very impressed after seeing one of our plays Karna at Prithvi Theatre. He shared his script with us, and after reading it, I was amazed because this is a very heartfelt subject.

The references of events, names, places and nuances are different from the original, because it is written in a different language. However, the essence of the play is based on human emotion and relationships across different periods of time. The story will help every person, living in any nook and corner of this world, feel as though life never ends; it just changes its form. We changed the reference of incidents, names of people and places, and the nuances of characters to suit Indian audiences.

What does the message that the play delivers mean to you? Why were you drawn to it?
Ashmita: The Elephant Journey is truly one of the richest plays in the sense of content, writing, emotions and characters. It has many messages, which it delivers in its own subtle ways. The play is very symbolic too. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame because it gives me the opportunity to explore and grow so much, not just as an actor but also as a person! It’s one of my most honest pieces and will always hold a special place in my life.

Anvarat has been involved in traditional Indian performing styles such as Thang-Ta, Kalaripayattu, Pung cholom, Chhau, and Hetateulee. How does this play fit into that philosophy?
Kulvinder: We have tried to narrate the transitional phases of this play by using these art forms, as we believe in telling a story in a different style, by using visuals rather than just narrating through text.

What’s next from the house of Anvarat? Can you give us a little sneak peek?
Kulvinder: We’re working on a play called Main Wahan Milunga Tujhe — An Ode to Rumi, the Great Sufi Mystic. The play is based on the transformative events in Rumi’s life and will open later this year.

What was it like directing a play that has received such acclaim worldwide? What were the major challenges you faced?
Kulvinder: The plays that I have directed in the past have been inspired by history and mythology. This is my first realistic play, and it has already been performed in different languages across the world. The script is immensely different from the plays that I have directed. It was fun working with something different.

Ashmita, you’re on the production team and acting in the play as well. How do you balance the two roles?
Ashmita: Honestly, I don’t know much about production; it’s an extremely tough job. The only reason I got involved in it was because I wanted to give this play a platform. I wanted to bring the script to life and for it to be witnessed by content-hungry audiences. Now, we have another one of our other cast members (Chirag Lobo) who will embrace this huge responsibility (of being a producer) too. He is currently helping me and doing everything possible to make our next show a success. That’s the best part... that we have a really solid team and that we trust each other blindly.

Mridul, you’ve worked with Kulvinder before, on the play Karna: The Generous Warrior. Tell us about your experience working with him.
Mridul: It has been a wonderful learning experience. The concept of rhythm in movement, which is featured in Karna, was very well conceived by Kulvinder. Karna will always be a proper theatre-style play, which he has neatly portrayed.

Chirag, you’ve appeared in advertisements, web series and even the play Ripples. Is this different because it is such an acclaimed play?
Chirag: Well, I always try to approach every role the same way, irrespective of whether it is part of an acclaimed production or not. But, what I can say for The Elephant Journey is that since I’ve always been a part of devised productions such as Ripples and Cutter Chee, the opportunity to perform such a piece and to be under the tutelage of Kulvinder has been a welcome change.

What were your biggest challenges with this play?
Chirag: The biggest challenge for me was playing a character much older than myself. I’ve always been cast for younger parts, so to break out of that and convince myself that I am the character was a challenge that I thoroughly enjoyed.

When Saturday, January 14, 7.30pm
Where Black Box, G5A, Laxmi Mills Compound, Off Dr. E. Moses Road, Mahalaxmi
Tickets www.bookmyshow.com
For more information about the play, visit www.g5a.org.

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