Quicksand (2017) | Photograph Yashas Chandra
Neel Chaudhari is a writer and director based in New Delhi. Currently, he performs with The Tadpole Repertory and conducts workshops around Performing Arts. Actively involved with the dramatic societies of colleges across University of Delhi, Neel recently put up a production called Rihla with the Agaaz Theatre Trust. Platform speaks to Neel about his evolution as an actor, writer and director.
How did your engagement with theatre begin, and how did you develop an interest in theatre?
I became interested in theatre at a very young age. I spent my school years in Bangalore, and while it was an academically strict school, we used to have one class per week on theatre. In this class taught by Poili Sengupta who is a children’s playwright, I got really drawn to performance and creative freedom. With this, I pursued theatre through school.
But my serious engagement with theatre consolidated in college in Delhi University. I think Delhi University has a very strong campus theatre circuit where you play two productions in a year, and then travel to different festivals. Fortunately, I was involved in this circuit at a point in time where colleges had good practitioners to learn from. But since it was the early 2000s, I didn’t really think of pursuing it as a career, and then later I went on to do my Masters in Film Studies.
Taramandal (2010) | Photograph Ste Murray
Since you went on to study Film, how do you think your education in a theoretical subject like film studies influences your practice?
I think at film school I studied film aesthetics and film criticism rather than filmmaking. But at film school, I was able to watch a lot of cinema which gave me an insight into how films are made around the world. I think the principal influence on me has been how I understood how people have borrowed the three-act structure from Western Cinema. I wanted to sort of challenge that. I also took from films the way time is treated. I think cinema treats time much more fluidly than theatre. The transitions in cinema take place through this method called Dissolve where the screen just dissolves into a certain pause. I think I tried doing the same with theatre. I wanted theatre to be slow paced and have a sense of silence. I have noticed how most plays don’t tend to have silence.
How did the Tadpole Repertory come about? Did you always know you were going to engage with theatre in an organized and professional manner?
I think the larger goal was to find people like myself, and people who were interested in making the same kind of productions. So, when I came back after my Masters I started working as an actor. But I was mostly doing theatre on the side. I was then working with the First City Magazine where I was writing for them. They later started the First City Theater Foundation for artists to make new theater. A lot of us were hired as full-time theater actors and directors. It was then when we had an organization backing us up and we didn’t have to worry about money that we started doing theater full time. Gradually however, it became unsustainable after a point and hence had to be shut down.
Still and and Still Moving (2014) | Photograph Kartikey Shiva
You are both a writer and a director, how do you think dawning one role complements the other?
I think you are never exclusively one or the other. It cannot be separated because when I am writing a play I am already visually conceiving certain things. I have also been fortunate because on some occasions I have been able to write according to the actors who are going to be acting. I have written roles according to the body language of the actors playing the part, and imagining a certain face in my mind.
Further, as a director you have to make choices that perhaps you do not have to make as a writer. Initially I used to find it difficult to change but now I have become quite ruthless with editing. So, I do think both the roles influence each other.
Are there any particular writers that your work borrows from? What is it about these writers that interests you?
I think I have been very influenced by Harold Pinter’s work. I started reading Pinter when I was in college and I think he is one writer who has really made me stop and listen to the way people speak. He’s one of the writers who made me realize the rhythm and poetry of dialogue. The way Pinter uses dialogue is often about how people aren’t always talking in a grammatically correct language, and how often talking is about the pauses and the silences. Another writer I really look up to is Chekhov, and how he has a knack for disarming certain concepts. I think most of his plays and stories are set in the domestic milieu of the family, but within this he reveals certain chasms which are both social and political.
Photograph Varoon P Anand
How do you think an idea evolves from the moment you conceive it to when you execute it? What is it that draws you towards a particular idea?
I think it happens differently every time. I think once I have a story, an incidence or a moment, I spend time thinking about it. I have a notebook where I flesh out ideas and organize my scattered notes. Then I also spend a lot of time reading about them. One of the most important part of the process is sharing it with someone from Tadpole and collaborating with other people – usually actors, and testing things out.
What are some projects that you are planning to work on in the future?
I am working on some script ideas. We’re trying to revisit a play by Fassbender which we performed before, which was quite flawed in its execution. Then, we’re trying to adapt Theories of the Soul by the same director to an Indian context.
Text Muskan Nagpal