With the monsoon wind swaying across the venue, Anish Victor brings to life the entire audience with a subtle yet powerful play called Koogu (Kannada for shout). The Bengaluru-based actor arrives on stage with the audience closely seated, already establishing itself to be a little different from the usual stage acts. The performance ensues in which dance, sound, song and music are wrapped in a series of conversations. Held at the Gyaan Adab Centre, the play had a lot more in store for Puneites.
The idea of the play was born out of relentless conversations between Victor and French dancer Michel Casanovas about life and what it means to be a performance artiste. Says Victor, “I don’t think when we started out it was the idea of okay we are going to get here. It was like an exploration.” It took about six years before the two decided to take it to the floor, “We started exploring how we can ‘physicalise’ conversations to create a narrative,” adds Victor. The hour- long performance of Koogu runs back and forth between Victor’s real-life experiences and the bigger picture of issues in society.
Victor begins talking about his grandmother who grew up in the Kolar Gold Fields, in Karnataka. He recounts how, despite hating “the whiteys” for their no dogs and no Indians rules, and finding dancing cheap, she would scale the clubhouse walls to watch them dance through ventilation slats. He talks about the nostalgia of wanting to run faster than his best friend, a childhood dream he juxtaposes with the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) ambitious but unsuccessful Special Area Games Programme. Victor calls it the SAI’s dream, but it’s really the story of racism, and a striking lack of foresight that dashed the dreams of the many young Siddis (a community of African-origin people that lives in Gujarat and Karnataka) inducted into this programme. “There are a lot of these programmes which the government is restarting and I make sure I mention those in my play as well,” explains Victor. His one-man performance merging with the choreography provided by Casanovas moves from one vignette to another making you question your thoughts. “One cannot tell the audience what to do, it is a very archaic way. I would rather tell the audience that this is my story and you are intelligent to decide what is to be done. It is a juxtaposition. I leave it open-ended,” describes Victor. Thus, at one-point Victor would be using prerecorded voices of Gandhi to tell a story and suddenly jump to the swift and silent execution of Afzal Guru’s death penalty.
Interactive and engaging is what keeps the audience stuck on throughout, as the audience reacting to Victor is what helps his performance. “Every performance I change and improvise according to the audience. How do I get affected by my audience is what being interactive means to me. Otherwise I might as well shoot a film and show it to you, the piece itself is alive or am I alive is the question to ask.” Victor tautens the performance by interacting with his audience, right from deliberately walking up to an audience member for no reason, to engaging them in conversation mid-performance.
At the end of the play, the audience is welcome to sit back and gather their thoughts and discuss them with Anish. These interactions have brought on responses that keep Anish going, “The most important responses are those which have not been verbalized- crying, stillness, gesture of the body. These impact me the most.”
Theatre has long been home to Victor who says, “I don’t believe theatre holds up a mirror to society.” On probing further, he elaborates, “I think time has to come to question things that have been said in the past. The idea is that theatre should be viewed as a prism, I’m trying to send a thought, idea, feeling through a prism and it breaks down, you see the greys, tones the hues. Like a rainbow.” When asked about his experience in performing in Pune and the audience he says, “I find that the Pune audience is not ready for this. It seems like novelty to them, but once the novelty wears off they’ll be able to see deeper.” We hope you come back to perform for the people of Pune to change that!
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