The ABCs is a YouTube channel for artists, books, and cafes. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with playwright-director Abhishek Majumdar, and the conversation revealed many aspects of his work and thinking. He discussed his research process, the importance of training, structure and form in his plays, his inspirations, and how he deals with controversies.
We bring to you some of the excerpts from the interview.
Interviewer: You have laid a lot of emphasis on research. If there is just one quality that a playwright must have, what is it?
Abhishek: The tricky thing about these kind of questions is that you answer different things on different days. So I can only tell you what I think today.
I think any writer should have the ability to rewrite. Because writing is rewriting. It's a cliche, but writing really is about rewriting. Your first ideas can be spontaneous, they can be perceptive. It is not that with subsequent ideas, you get less perceptive. It's really about being able to own the perception, sharpen it, and to give it structure, craft, and relook at it.
For someone who likes to write, rewriting should not be a chore. You'd want to stay with your subject for a long time. I face a deep sense of loss, strangely, when my plays open. Because I feel that now the subject is out there. How will I go back to this subject? Because I would have stayed with it for so long.
So I think that rewriting is something that is important. And that encapsulates many other things, like rereading, reasking, rethinking. This iterative process, I think, is very important.
Interviewer: You have received a lot of training in theatre. You were a student of Mahesh Dattani when you were in Bengaluru. Then you travelled to London and studied theatre. Now you yourself are a teacher, as in you are teaching theatre at different places, including the Bhasha centre, which you've recently started.
How important do you think training is in the process of theatre? Because there are other forms of writing, where people do not lay too much importance on training. Is theatre different from other forms of writing, or should people of other crafts should also focus equally on training?
Abhishek: There is a very interesting book, called 'In jail with Nazim Hikmet', written by Orhan Kemal, who was a Turkish short story writer and novelist. The story is that when Orhan Kemal was seventeen or eighteen, he was put in prison for carrying some communist material. Orhan Kemal really wanted to be a writer, and thought that his life was over. But it turned out soon that Nazim Hikmet the poet, who was his personal hero and a prisoner for a long time, was being transferred from some other prison into Orhan Kemal's cell in the other bed. And essentially this book is about the years of training that Orhan Kemal received with Nazim Hikmet in jail. And Nazim Hikmet was the one who convinced Orhan Kemal to not be a poet, but a prose writer.
I find this book very interesting because it tells a few important things. One, that you can train anywhere. Training is not one kind of thing. You should have the desire to train. Secondly, no two writers can be trained exactly the same way. And the teacher has to remember that the student does not have to become you. So Nazim Hikmet's start student is not a poet. He is a prose writer. And that historical imperative is an important ingredient of art. Something you can learn in jail becomes so important to write, that is very difficult to replicate in any theatre or drama school in the world.
Now, reading the classics, learning structure, finding your voice, and a historical imperative can all happen with Nazim Hikmet with two years in jail. It can happen at a drama school. It an happen if you have teacher and you have different life. But training is actually this.
So when people say that training is not important, what they probably mean is that, its not necessary that you find all the four things in the same place. But training is in looking out for these things and working at it.
As the forty minutes long conversation flowed, we learnt more about theatre and its craft. Do watch the interview below and we bet you’ll pick up a gem or two.