A new adaptation of Manav Kaul’s celebrated play Ilhaam is ready for its first run in Bengaluru

Premiering at Lahe Lahe this weekend, the play’s director Deevas Gupta and lead actor Varun Kainth open up about how they connected with the script’s philosophy

A glimpse from the play’s rehearsal sessions

By Reema Gowalla

Noted actor-director Manav Kaul’s distinctive style of art reflects in his acting as much as it does in his writing. He can spin poetry, philosophy and elements of absurdity in the narrative and still make it look relatable for the common audience. An adaptation of one of his first and finest plays, Ilhaam (that translates as enlightenment), is premiering in Bengaluru this weekend. A Kinaaya Collective presentation, the play is directed by Deevas Gupta, with actor Varun Kainth playing the protagonist.

The 90-minute Hindi play spotlights the character of Bhagwan — a middle-class man who works at the bank and is increasingly finding himself distanced from the humdrum of everyday responsibilities. He’s torn between what society thinks ‘he should do’ in life and his inner voice suggesting otherwise. Drawing inspiration from the works of philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the piece explores ‘the grey area between enlightenment and alienation, with imagination, realisation, non-acceptance and denial being the central tenets’.

Ready for its maiden show at Lahe Lahe on February 26 and 27 (5pm and 7.30pm), Ilhaam’s ensemble cast also includes actors Urvashi HV, Hari Singh, Mann Chhatbar, Sumeet Borana, Vijay Sharma, Prakil Singh, Kewallya Jain and Prateek Sultania. An original score for the one-act play is composed by Jataveda Banerjee, which — according to the director — is its USP.

Deevas Gupta

What’s most interesting about this project, however, is the manner in which both the director and the lead actor have engaged with the script’s philosophy, on an artistic as well as personal level. Deevas has been reading Manav’s plays for longer than he can remember. “The ideas of existentialism, absurdity and purpose of life juxtapose quite brilliantly in Manav’s scripts. They are never overbearing for the audience. Instead, people quickly identify with the profound nuances, because they are so life-like,” he says, adding, “In Ilhaam, truth is shown as a perception. Bhagwan is dealing with what can be described as a mid-life crisis, riddled by angst, moral and social ethics. But again, it is not the theatre of the absurd, as all the characters in the play are relatable.”

Varun Kainth

For Varun, on the other hand, who feels that he has evolved quite a bit as a human being and as a performing artist in recent years, this play couldn’t have come at a better time. “Contrary to my earlier self, I have become a lot quieter of late. And interestingly, I enjoy this alienation. I have never been someone who believed in training a lot to fine-tune the portrayal of a character on stage. My effort has been to form and curate characters that I myself can connect with on a deeper level. To an extent, Ilhaam allows me to do that,” the actor elaborates.

Giving a peek into his preparation for the role of Bhagwan in the play, Varun says, “While the elements of crisis and inner conflict are obvious, the biggest challenge as an actor has been to obtain the theatrical tools to channel the inner monologues of the protagonist’s personal journey — in a way that showcases the stillness as well as speaks to the audience.”

The making of Ilhaam has also enabled him to research more on the writings of Ramana, Friedrich, Jiddu Krishnamurti and Albert Camus among others. “More often than not, their works have revealed the constant conflict between the outside world that we call reality, and the one inside which we strive to be one with,” the actor sums up.

You can book your tickets here.

Varun Kainth and Sumeet Borana

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