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It is a herculean task to articulate into words the cocktail of emotions one experiences when graced by the presence of, none other than Ratan Thyiam. The pen trembles before attempting to write a piece on him but, nevertheless I will try. Ratan Thiyam is one of the biggest names in modern Indian theatre. He is an institution in himself and a man who possess creative intellect surpassing his contemporaries, his novel approach to theatre is beyond comprehension. Ratan Thiyam’s specialises in wowing the audience with his unique approach in creating images that penetrate the space, called the stage. Flowing bubbles, rivers, hell and heaven, if you can imagine it, he can create it on stage.
It was a remarkable experience and great honour to meet Ratan Thiyam in person and to listen to his views regarding theatre and art and his vision for the future. In an event organised by the Indian Counsel of Cultural Relations in collaboration with Sahatiya Academy, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, we had amongst us Ratan Thiyam, a writer, painter, a director but above all an artist. His respect for the discipline could be seen when he bowed down before stepping onto the stage but also exemplifies Ratan Thiyam’s humility. He was honoured with flowers, a memento and a shawl by another legend in Indian theatre, Balwant Thakur at the event. Ratan Thyiam takes a seat upon the stage and warmly greets the audience, before rising towards the podium to interact.
“I do not know theatre”, begins the chairman of the National School of Drama and one of the most celebrated Theatre directors in India, leaving the entire audience rather bemused. A statement which begs the question, if he doesn’t know theatre, then who does? Although open to interpretation what I felt he meant was, theatre cannot be defined nor can it be sandboxed, instead is an amalgamation of various arts, elements and forms and is a boundless entity subject to continuing discovery. Ratan Thiyam projects the notion that he is so consumed with the idea of theatre and so engulfed in the search of new ideas for theatre that he does not want to distinctively limit its definition.
Secondly, he asked, why do we do theatre? An expected answer would have consisted of one of the following, for passion, for the applause of the audience, for recognition but contrary to what was expected, he gave a very clear and precise answer to why he does theatre. He said, “I don’t do it for the audience, I don’t do it for the money, I don’t do it for the production, I do it for my satisfaction. I do it so that my methodology is enhanced and I feel enriched and satisfied. I want my team to be satisfied, I want the artist in me to be satisfied.”
Ratan Thyiam then went on to discuss the roots of theatre and raised the much anticipated issue regarding the relevance of theatre in modern times. He said and I quote “theatre is a miracle, it is the most aesthetically beautiful art form but it is unfortunately in a constant battle with technology and artificial energy.” He said, “Technology is making mankind dependent. It is taking away the experience of creativity. It is so perfect that is seems unreal whereas creativity is in the imperfections, it is in the art of creation from scratch.”
He went on to voice his concern for the presence of Indian theatre internationally, a concern which has been pioneered by Ratan Thyiam. His words compelled me to reminisce about the time I had the pleasure of visiting his campus in the year 2014. At the entrance there is a wall sized world map which was filled with coloured thumb pins everywhere, on asking I was told that the pins symbolised the places Ratan Thyiam had performed and I can recall there was no place left on that map which was not pinned. He has made his work reach every corner of the world but irrespective of that he sadly states that, “Indian theatre lacks that international presence due to the lack of funding offered by the Government of India to create a production and the lack of awareness among people to encourage theatre”. He went on to say, “to create a performance that can be recognised internationally, we would need crores of rupees but the system we live in does not give the due priority to theatre”. Saying so he also said that, She went on to offer a solution, he said that “theatre simply needs to be recognised.” After divulging into the malfeasance of the Indian political system and the reasons behind why theatre is yet to make it to the forefront of entertainment and be recognised as a complete profession, he said that once it is done, there will be employment and money flowing in this profession. Ratan Thyiam has travelled across the world with his productions and has brought fame to our country. He is the same boy who while studying in Kolkata doodled on his books and encircled places on the world map with the desire to visit one day. Today, he is an internationally acclaimed theatre personality and the world keenly awaits to see even a glimpse of his work. He is a man from the soil, a unique vision in the vast magnitude of the world and a genius in its real term, where this term is an understatement.