Pratay Saha still calls, "Roll, Camera, Action," and fumbled, at the start, with terms like blocking, but minor hurdles aside, his experience with theatre has been an exciting and immersive one. He worked, non stop, to create Chitraa, a modernised, English translation of Rabindranath Tagore' Chitrangada, written in 1981. This is a timely tribute to women, too, the story from the Mahabharata, of the warrior princess who becomes deeply enamoured with Arjuna.
So far, Saha's experiences have been almost exclusively with cinema, with his short films doing the rounds at various festivals around the world. Chitrangada, Tagore's iconic work, however, inspired him to return to an old love: writing. "I did the translation in five days flat," he says. "It was one of those things - everything just flowed." The play itself came together with his co-director, Shatarupa Bhattacharrya, currently a PhD scholar at the National Institute of Advanced Studies.
With eight years in theatre, she has acted in plays like Evam Indrajeet, Mother Courage and her Children and Waiting for Godot. Saha's days have been filled with rehearsals, working with the actors, the dancers and the musicians. He's home for a meal and then rehearsing once more with the dancers.
"It's been a very busy time," he says. "That's one of the critical differences between theatre and film. I'm used to working on digital medium, doing dozens of retakes. Now, there's no room for mistakes. It's a wonderful way to learn the art of performance." The foray into theatre was a natural one too - he once made a film in 18 hours, script-writing time included.
"I'm always looking for new challenges, new ways to better myself," he says. Set in the twelfth year of the Pandava exile, Arjuna is disguised as a hermit, wandering through the east.
He arrives at Manipur and settles himself in a temple yard, where he sits in silence. Chitraa is the daughter of the king - the anomaly in a family prophesied to have only boys. Without a male heir for his kingdom, the king raises his daughter as a son and Chitraa grows into a great warrior.
Manly and consumed by the pursuits of war, everything changes when Chitraa sets eyes on the hermit. Upon learning that he is Arjuna, that most desirable bachelor, she falls in love with him, only to be turned down by his vows of celibacy. She turns then, to God Madana ,the god of love, to give her all the traits of conventional beauty and returns, to embark on a relationship of passion, truth and ultimately, love.
A percussionist and flautist keeps the ambiance alive during the performance. Saha, during various trips abroad, was blown away by the splendour of theatre in London.
Live orchestras accompanied the performance, bringing them inimitable power and intensity. "That's what I tried to do here." His film experience shows up too - live sound effects will draw the audiences in through sensory interactions - "In theatre, everything is very literal. The actor will say, 'I can hear the sea' and the rest is left to the audience's imagination. Now, you hear the sea too." With live dance and drama, the poignancy of the tale itself still stands out.
"It's a story which determines that beauty and love have nothing to do with society," says Saha. "At the end, it's between two human beings."
When: March 10, 5 pm & 7.30 pm
Where: Alliance Francaise, 108, Thimmaiah Road, Opposite UNI Building, Vasant Nagar