Thursday, 22 October 2009


The man in the picture above is Professor Ashis Siddhanta. He is a chemistry teacher by profession, but his passion is directing plays. I’ve had the privilege of being in some of his plays, in diverse roles ranging from lead actor to backstage errand-boy. You may not have heard his name because he works only with amateur student groups in non-commercial productions, but he is, in my humble opinion, one of the best theatre directors in the city.

This year, he is directing a play to mark the sesquicentenary celebrations of St. Xavier’s school and college. I cannot act in the play since I am not a St. Xavier’s student or alumnus, but I would have dearly loved to be involved, and there is always room in a play for enthusiastic people who want to help out backstage. Unfortunately for me, the play is being staged at a time when I will not be in town.

They’ve been rehearsing the play for over a month now, and I’ve forever been meaning to go and attend rehearsals. But until this week, I always found some excuse not to go – inconvenient timings, work, plans with friends. But a few days back, I realised the real reason why I was putting it off – the same reason why, the year I tore a ligament and couldn’t play, I refused to attend a single match in our college football tournament. I wasn’t going because I thought I would feel left out.

So I went.

And I enjoyed it so much that now, I go whenever I can. For plays are magic, and there is a quiet and subtle magic in rehearsals, which is lost in the flashier magic of the stage performance. And I can immerse myself in it even when I am watching rehearsals and not participating; perhaps especially when I am not participating.

The actors are in school uniforms or casual wear, the musicians play unplugged, the bare floorboards are illuminated by a harsh full wash. It is wonderful and strange to see their motions and gestures, and to reflect that one day, all of this will be repeated in a world transformed by full costume and makeup, mixers and amps, strobes and spotlights, though I will not be there to witness it. Does a play really take place if you are not in the audience?

The magic of rehearsals lurks in the interval before consummation, in concerted striving for an ideal, and in the camaraderie and in-jokes that unite theatre casts, study groups and football teams. Being magic, it is indefinable, so it is vain to try, but I can at least tell you what I like best about watching rehearsals.

When you see a finished play, and especially if it is a good play, everything goes off smoothly and you clap with the rest and you file out of the auditorium. But if you see a few rehearsals, you see small triumphs, you see fleeting moments where something – or everything – falls into place, and the actors sense it, and if you’ve been in a few plays yourself, you can sense it too, and no one says a word, but there are other ways of communicating, and for that one moment, everyone – individually and collectively – knows that the moment is special. The moment when the lead actor suddenly delivers a line with splendid and abnormal passion because after all these weeks of saying it mechanically, he has suddenly realised what it means. The moment when the hitherto uncoordinated piano, guitars and tabla somehow manage to all hit it at exactly the same time. Those moments. The ones which call for italics.

An actor friend of mine had this theory that a play has a spirit, and rehearsals are a process of coalescing the spirit, and in the rare moments of perfection that occur at rehearsals, the spirit inwardly smiles. I can’t say about spirits, but I certainly do.


The Orange Cat said...

Same goes for writing.
You spend words on an idea indistinguishable from thin air to anyone but you, you scratch out words, you make love to sentences, you draw out beauty.
And then someone reads it and puts it away.

Rick said...

He is a VERY good chemistry teacher too!

And plays do have spirits.

Pratiti said...

You go to him, Rick??
And, why do blog-posts, articles, literature in general make only a passing sort of impression on me these days? So much so, that I can't even think of anything to comment on. Something's seriously wrong. Hmmph.

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

Yes, he's a wonderful Chemistry teacher. Just wish he were as organized and systematic about Chemistry as he is about his plays :(.
I have never been in a play(unless you count the stuff we had to do for our Spoken English classes in class 5, I think), but I can somehow understand what you mean about small triumphs and fleeting moments when everything falls into place.
I like this post. :)

Priyanka said...

That is a very Rajnikanth pose.