Thursday, March 16, 2017

Men in the city

Neel Chaudhuri’s Still & Still Moving, which will be staged today at the 9th Annual Vinod Doshi Theatre Festival, is about a fractured love story with the Delhi Metro used as a metaphor in the interactions between men commuters.

The introduction of Delhi Metro has changed the way people travel in the capital and NCR.
That’s also the premise of Neel Chaudhuri’s play, Still & Still Moving. The Tadpole Repertory production tries to track how the dynamics of relations between men have changed with this mode of travel. The metro, says Chaudhuri, in the play is also a metaphor for the ‘distance’ that the two lovers are trying to overcome. We chatted up Chaudhuri prior to the staging of the play.

Title tale
‘Still & Still Moving’ is a phrase from the poem by T S Eliot — T S Eliot — East Coker. Says Chaudhuri, “It’s a poem I was reading while I was writing the play and the phrase seemed very apt. It’s a beautifully summarised feeling of moving towards something — in this case, it’s the relationship between Partho and Adil. It also captures a feeling of being trapped in one place. Still & Still Moving also alludes to the metaphor of a train. As Partho says in his opening monologue, ‘In the vestiges of train, everything is still. Outside everything has changed.’ There is a stillness within movement...”

What happens in the metro
The metro became an interesting factor for Chaudhuri because he was trying to establish the emotional distance and the closeness between his lead characters. “I was interested in finding out how men exist in the city and use the metro as a space. So in the play there are about seven-eight scenes that are set in the metro and each of them looks at different interactions between them. It does two things — first, it punctuates the love story and second, it’s about two men, who live in the city and in some kind of a metaphorical way try to get closer to each other, bridging their age and cultural gap,” says Chaudhuri, who has previously directed Taaramandal.

Some things unsaid
When this play was being written, the director faced certain challenges on how to portray the relationship. Chaudhuri, in his works, often tries to leave things unsaid. Says he, “I don’t always want the characters to say everything. So there are silences and pauses. In my earlier drafts of this play, there was a lot of silence. All those who read it said it was too muted. That was a challenge for me — how to tell a love story without telling everything.”

A love story
When asked why was it important to stage a love story between two men, Chaudhuri replied, “I didn’t begin this story from the political perspective. I was thinking about two characters and their place in the city, and then the characters, as they developed in my head, were men.”
He further adds that it doesn’t mean that the politics of homosexual bonds is not important. “When we talk about gay rights, we talk from an intellectual and political point of view. One of the biggest struggles that people who are advocating gay rights is that the law is about gay sex, an ‘unnatural act’. But it’s not about love. When you are talking about love, how do you distinguish between a man and a woman’s love and the one between two men? One of the things that plagues our society is that a large percentage of people look at homosexual act as abnormal. And, therefore it stigmatises the love aspect as well,” he explains.

Chaudhuri finds our society paradoxical. He says India is a homo-social society. Male friendships here are far more affectionate than most others in the world. “For that reason, we wanted to look at the story simply as a love story. To me, if someone comes and watches Still & Still Moving and thinks it as a love story with heartbreak and wonder, and beauty, then I feel that the play is a success,” he concludes.

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