In his writing Manav Kaul creates a different world or maybe the same world we live in but with an observation that highlights the subtle beauty and complexity of life. His work speaks of dreams, relationships and existentialism. One of the lucky few who had the good fortune of working with Satyadev Dubey, Manav wears many hats of being an actor, director, poet and playwright.
Despite working in cinema and OTT platforms, he continues his love for theatre by actively writing and directing plays. His recent work Giving Up on Godot is stalled because of the lockdown. While we Wait for Manav’s Godot, we caught up with him to talk about some of his best plays, exploring his personal motivations and the socio-cultural landscape that facilitated him to #MakeAScene
Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane
When did you write your first play? What was it about?
I wrote my first play in 2003. It’s called Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane. Its about this guy Raj Kumar, talking about his life experiences. He is desperately searching for a poem to complete his poetry collection. The interesting part is that whatever he talks about his life that itself sounds like poetry yet he is searching for a poem! This is the kind of writing I like in Hindi where prose sounds like poetry.
There are some writers I like…who have this particular style…I really wanted to watch this as an audience so I just wrote it. We opened the play in January 2004 and from then on, I continued writing and directing plays.
Surprisingly, most drama school students choose that monologue from Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane for their final audition. Why does the play relate with so many young people?
I think Shakkar ke Paanch Daane gives actors a lot of scope to perform because it has different emotions on every page and it is very descriptive and spoken. I am assuming that people can choose any part of the play and it will sound interesting because every chunk is a story in itself. It’s humorous, at the same time very poetic. At least, that’s what people have told me.
The Red Sparrow
This play is almost a party where we meet all your favorite writers. Kafka, Bukowski, Nirmal Verma and many other literary legends together in a room sounds like a dream. Where did this idea come from?
The Red Sparrow is a difficult play because of the references of different writers from Charles Bukowski to Nirmal Verma to Vinod Kumar to Devyani Ka Kehna Hain (which is a play) to Kafka to Raskolnikov and Dostoyevsky. I was always fascinated by the idea of- what if all these writers came together in a comic book, what would be that one thing they would search for?
I started writing this play when I was living in the mountains, it was raining and there was no one around. I was having chai in a small cottage and I thought what if Nirmal Verma, one of my favorite writers was sitting outside and I started writing the dialogue between him and me…an imaginary dialogue of course. The conversation took a dramatic turn and I thought what if there is a play about these legends!
Aarti is different from most female characters we see onstage. What was your thought while writing her part?
I don’t see gender as female or male- I just see a person. And every person must be respected regardless of their gender. We must respect and understand that if someone says “Yes” it means Yes, when they say “No” it means No and when they don’t say anything we can’t assume that it’s a Yes. Chuhal is about an independent woman named Aarti and a man, who as per Indian ‘societal norms’ is the perfect man to marry. However, Aarti never says “Yes” to marry him and as long as she doesn’t say it, we can’t assume that she did. Silence does not mean agreement. Aarti, I think is one of the strongest characters I have written.
I wanted to talk about people who aren’t married, and how their single status shouldn’t matter to others around them. I know many people who are single by choice and I wanted to explore and have fun with this idea.
Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi
From collegiate drama societies to amateur theatre groups to several performances and adaptations across the county, Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi still leaves much room for unexplored philosophical questions and those subtle intricacies of a father-son relationship. What was your motivation for writing the play?
Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi was my second play where I wanted to explore the mind of a writer,
how messy it could be. I imagine a writer’s mind is like a room. What happens in that room? How many characters walk in and out? What do these characters do in that room?
This was the thought behind this play and it was bizarre because as I was unfolding the mysteries of a writer’s mind (or room) I was experiencing the same as characters would come and go in the room I had created in my head. Ek story dusri story se milti hain, ek story ka character dusri story mein kuch aur bann jaata hai.
The play is kind of absurd and open ended, allowing audiences to perceive the same play in different ways. It provides creative freedom to interpret, reinterpret and direct it the way one wants to see it. Its a tough play and I often wonder why do theatre makers, especially college students chose to perform it? But then I guess the youth connects to the complexity and honesty of the play.
When people ask you questions like: “Is this your personal story? Is this play autobiographical?” What is your immediate response? Do you think its difficult to write your own story?
The kind of writing I like is the one that sounds and feels personal. But my personal life is very boring! If I write about my day-to-day life, it would get very mundane and why would I want to write a boring play or boring stories or a boring poem.
You write, you create because you want to live more than what you’re already living. So when someone says my writing sounds autobiographical, its a huge compliment. I am happy if you think my stories seem personal because that is what I really want to achieve.
I have written five books, 13 plays, quite a lot of poems and my personal life, does not have that much to offer. It is fiction, of course it is fiction! Everything is fiction and I like fiction, I live in a fictional world and it’s amazing!