Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conversations with Sharanya Ramprakash - On theater, acting, directing and Dramanon!

After seeing and writing about [sic], I happened to go through this - Dramanon. The site made me very curious and interested. I decided to do a email interview of Sharanya, actor, director and member of the Dramanon Bangalore team. Initially skeptical about how it would turn out, I would like to thank my friends who encouraged me to go ahead and Sharanya for the succinct manner in which she has answered by taking out precious time. (All the questions are from an amateur/viewer/admirer of theater standpoint). Hope, the spontaneity of this exercise is testimony enough! Since this was done through email, I have not done any edits and I have refrained from interjecting between questions.

Here we go -

Siva: How and when did your fascination with theater begin?
Sharanya: At the risk of sounding terribly cliched, my tryst with theater began as far back as I can remember.
There are some embarrassing photos of me being 5 years old and playing Ali Baba's donkey. From the photographic evidence it looks like I took my time to evolve. It was only by the time I was 8 that I was cast as a human being.

Siva: Which character that you have played do you most identify yourself with? (I read in a DNA review link provided in the site that you identify with Babette...)
Sharanya: There is no alternative to 'being' a certain character but to find that person in yourself. Honestly, there's no other way to do it. So there's no 'this is me' role. I enjoyed being Babette, she was really special. When we're finally through with sic, I'm going to miss her.

Siva:  What attracted you to take up direction?
Sharanya: It happened in the most unimaginative way possible! When Dramanon's Bangalore branch started, someone had to get down to the dirty business of direction. Me!

Siva: The director is also somebody who understands what everyone in the cast is best at. What kind of challenges does it entail, bringing out the best in the cast?
Sharanya: Directing a play involves some serious dysfunction. You have to believe in things you cannot see! The wonderful thing about it is at the end of the day, everyone in the cast and crew has to see it with you. You head together, as a group towards this reality that we've made up, much like children, who make up stories and believe in them. The quality of what turns out is how honest you've been through the process - honesty simplifies things. Ultimately, its this simplicity & clarity that an audience instantly responds to.

Siva: You act in the plays you direct. What do you love most? Acting or directing?
Sharanya:The quality of looking at real life - my own life - with a degree of detachment. That is what I enjoy most about both acting and direction. The ability it gives me,in real life, in a moment of happiness or tragedy to step just a little away from myself and appreciate the sheer theatricality of it. If I just had to pick one - I wouldn't. With a gun to my head - I'd pick direction.

Siva: In the "no retake" world of acting in a play, what are the qualities that would make somebody a good actor?
Sharanya: Effort.Attention to detail. Lastly, on stage, being acutely present, 100% THERE in every moment.

Siva: Who are you inspired by? Any role models?
Sharanya:Sure. Many. Too many to name. All for different reasons.But I have to say this :
The last time I found myself gasping for breath after a play was Hamlet the Clown Prince. That was magic. Unbelievable stuff. To be able to create that is, well, extraordinary. Perch is another one of those magic wielding groups.

Siva: How do you define/interpret 'spunk'? It is a pretty interesting word to use. In a sense, this seems to define the Dramanon team and spirit!
Sharanya: Spunk is best defined in Melissa James's Gibson's play called 'Suitcase and those that resemble flies from a distance', when Sallie is talking to Jen.  Sallie says: "Isn’t it beautiful Jen I mean is there anything more beautiful Jen than people who dress in blatant disregard of their circumstances"
"See I like blatant disregard It’s got what people used to call spunk". Blatant disregard for everything that stops people from being a little crazy. I hope we have that.

Siva: "Dramanon Bangalore started in 2006, over some coffee, old friends and incurable optimism." - says the site. How do you maintain the optimism?
Sharanya: Its optimism or death. Really.
Its not that there are no dark moments of self doubt and mortality. There are many, many of those. In the end, I guess, its about what you choose to run with.
Every little bit helps - having fun doing what we do helps. Being great friends with each other helps. Helps big time.

Siva: Media sensationalism, quarter-life crisis, gadgets and mobiles in contemporary lifestyle and the nuances of relationship - what is it in these scripts that made Dramanon choose them to perform?
Sharanya: Nothing concrete. Nothing I can give a name to, really. They appealed, somehow, in a combination of ways. The most important one being 'Challenging' - challenging to who we were at that point in our lives. It presented a tantalizing set of possibilities that lurked beyond our present abilities, therefore, opening up new ways to do things.

Siva: How do you, as people who are professionals in different fields come together for Dramanon? Is there any goal that you set yourself and work towards or is it less formal than that?
Sharanya:Day after day for the past 3 years we've found the time and energy after a hard day's work to meet up to rehearse. Its got to be because its so much fun. No other reason can substitute fun :) As for a goal - yeah there is an informal, unarticulated but unanimous one - never hit comfort zone. Maybe that goal will change, maybe it won't. So far, so good. 

Siva: I don't see any 'desi' or 'Indian script that you have chosen to perform till now. Is it because of a lack of a good one?
Sharanya: To tell you the truth, we haven't found scripts. They've found us. There has been no conscious effort to do a 'desi' or 'non desi' script, its just turned out that way - more by destiny than by design. As far as Indian scripts go - there are stalwart playwrights - Kambar, Badal Sircar, T P Kailasam, Vijay Tendulkar, Sri Ranga, Karnad... there's no lack, really. Moreover, the regional playwrights abound in every language. But what is sorely missing is contemporary Indian plays.

Siva: How do you see the theater scene in Bangalore in terms of the interest shown by the people to get into theater through active participation or the encouragement
that you receive?
Sharanya: Theater is on the rise ever since Ranga Shankara revolutionized the way Bangalore looks at plays by making the play a day a reality. Its fantastic. In terms of the future of theater in Bangalore - at least with respect to amateur theater; there's a severe lack of mentoring. Who do you go to to learn? No one, currently. If  we've to get somewhere significant, this needs to change.

Siva: How is the English language theater different from that of Hindi or the Kannada one?
Sharanya: Not different in any way. No matter what the genre is, the language or the setting - people come to watch their own lives on stage. They come to see their own story.  Good theater can achieve this. Everything else is mere detail.

Siva: Theater has this aura or perception of catering to more refined or nuanced tastes. Is it true?
Sharanya: I disagree. Theater cannot be treated like this frail invalid to be listened to in silence and applauded in midst of polite company. That is one version of it.
Theater is a hardy, robust creature of the streets, addressing the everyday reality of our days and times.That is version 2.

Siva: How do you think the reach of good plays can be expanded to influence the society? Should theater have a goal like that in the first place or is it just a "nice-to-have" by product?
Sharanya: Not just theater, but anything that's worth something always influences and elevates current thought & perceptions, questions accepted constructs or just simply enchants. If a piece of art cannot move you in someway, its useless. Its a debt we owe, not just in theater, but in everything we do. That is my humble opinion :)

Siva: How is Sharanya like as a person? Where do her interests lie apart from theater?
Sharanya: Under the guise of being your average, working class human being, the Real Sharanya is actually from Planet Zor, eats amino acid broth, enjoys long conversations  in fluent Mandarin, she's right-all-the-time, extremely intelligent and quite, quite spectacular.  Her interests lie in pretending she's mostly harmless.

Siva: Anything that you would like to tell a budding theater aspirant...?
Sharanya: How about - 'Hello' ... ha ha.
No really, I'd tell them to jump right in. Down the rabbit hole is a great place to be.

Again, this is a novel effort as far as my blog posts go and hoping to do more of this in the future!


karthik said...

Good one... Nice first interview and real crisp answers.

Pink Mango Tree said...

Oh... way to go! "(Virtual) Coffee with Siva"! :) :)

Cheers! :)

BTW, why were u found missing for last 2 days? ;)

gopal said...

Nice interview Siva..

Shiva said...

@ Karthik: Thanks and credit to Sharanya for the crisp answers :)

@ Shalini: Sounds good...virtual coffee..! :)

I am on vacation till 26th :)

@ Gopal: Thanks Sir. Am indebted to you for the encouragement!

Hari said...

Great questions...

Shiva said...

@ Hari: Thanks dude!

Naga said...


Pink Mango Tree said...

Hey Siva!!

You have been tagged & awarded @ my blog! :)

Unknown said...

The interview was nice.Keep the good work going.

Shiva said...

@ Naga and Sriram: thanks! :)

@ Shalini: Honored! :)

djinn said...

very articulate answers i thought, quite impossible without the honesty being talked about. though i pretend that i don't understand theater (frankly, i don't even yet) i accept it's my loss or rather possibly my lack of attention, but such discourses will surely make those of my kinds try again!

Unknown said...

Siva, you had a nice set of questions. The conversation is appealing!

Shiva said...

@djinn, glad that this small effort made you think about trying again...

@koipal, :) thank you!