Writing a play or performing in one, artistic disciplines are curiously interconnected: Deepika Arwind

The theatremaker-playwright keenly observes how her artsy pursuits influence each other

Deepika Arwind during the rehearsals of ‘#Unlisted’ in Dubai recently (image credit: Liz-Ann D’souza)

By Reema Gowalla

There aren’t many theatremakers who have written every piece of work they have performed. Deepika Arwind, whose scripts are so stimulating that they can put even the audiences through their paces, is one such. Known for her plays like ‘No Rest in the Kingdom’ and ‘I am not here’ among others, Deepika also indulges in witty poetry and comics. Her ‘Pyaare’ poems and a series of clever comic strips have garnered a lot of attention on social media during the pandemic.

In the latest edition of TheatreRoom’s ‘Talk’ series, the Bengaluru-based theatremaker and performer traces her journey from being a journalist to a playwright and every other stint in between; her pandemic projects; and upcoming plays. Excerpts:

On writing..

I have written for as long as I have performed and worked in theatre. I am trained as a journalist and even worked in the capacity of an editor during the early days of my career. I have also written a lot of fiction and poetry and, at one point, was even thinking of publishing a book. In 2011, I received the Toto Funds the Arts Creative Writing Award, and a bunch of other awards for writing in the following years. With time, I realised that my interest in writing positively influenced my work in theatre.

Of the many things that I do, I see myself in the future as a playwright and poet just as much as a theatremaker and performer. I feel that all artistic disciplines are interconnected, and they have something to do with each other. What you think and occupy yourself with finds itself in every piece of work that you do. I see it all as a way of being engaged with your art and having it evolve.

On making ‘Pyaare 2020-Ji’..

I actually struggled to make an online show with the ‘Pyaare poems, which I wrote in isolation during the first lockdown and were eventually commissioned by Amol Vellani for virtual festival. I first thought of making a film out of these verses, but it seemed too daunting a task. Although I am in the business of performance-making and I know it when I see a promising piece of work, not having learnt the language of filmmaking meant that I lack the critical eye for films. And that’s why I finally resorted to a live show on Zoom.

Apart from the poetry and camera work, the composite picture that you see on your screen comprised the labour of my team that included Medha Agrawal, Debosmita Dam, Nikhil Nagaraj and ​​Niranjan Gokhale. It was different from a usual show on stage, but it wasn’t a digital show either. The proposition of it was the loss of liveness, and we used the boxes on Zoom to express that idea. It was performed on the platform, but the conversation was about us not being together. In the end, it turned out to be an interesting experience both for us and the audience.

On her experience of creating ‘#Unlisted’ in Dubai amid the pandemic..

It all started when my friend Malavika Varadan, who runs a public speaking and drama academy in Dubai called The Hive, invited me over to work with a group of teenagers at the art space and help create a devised play. Some of these youngsters seem to be struggling with this peculiar ‘list’ phenomenon that’s trending across high schools. It’s a rating list that evaluates girls on the basis of their appearance and other very shocking criteria. Obviously, the young women on this list are affected by the ratings. Even the girl who is in the number one spot is not happy because others are either envious of or annoyed with her.

I wrote and directed a play for them at the academy. Most of the writing came from them being in the rehearsal room with me and us ‘devising’ stuff, but largely I came up with the script based on my conversations with the youngsters. We also had light music by two young guitar players from the group. The performance was premiered as part of the academy’s drama fest that had 17 plays over a span of seven days, with nearly 1,000 audience members walking in. Toward the end of the fest, the participants were ecstatic. I think more than the show itself, they liked the process of creating a play and the experience of being involved with it.

On her new projects..

Before the pandemic put us in our rooms, plans were afoot to go to Germany for a residency programme, which I am hoping to make it to in January 2022. I’ll be working with choreographer-dancer Shaymaa Shoukry from Cairo and cellist Andi Otto from Hamburg. We want to create a work about imaginary rituals. It will be a devised piece that will take inspiration from our experiences through the pandemic. Meanwhile, I am writing a new play. I also have another play called ‘Phantasmagoria’, which is now represented in Germany by theatre agency Drei Masken Verlag. The piece was translated and presented in Munich a few months ago. The same play is likely to travel to the UK toward the end of 2022. There is another play of mine that recently premiered. Titled ‘How It Happens’, the piece was produced by Enacte Arts and Rage Productions as part of their new theatre festival. The play is about two people — a writer and a positivity influencer — in conversation over a video call.

These work projects aside, I am doodling and sketching a lot; trying to learn the guitar; and do some yoga.

‘Pyaare Zoom-Ji’ (Aparna Nori); a scene from ‘#Unlisted’ (Liz-Ann D’souza); comic strip (Instagram - @deepika.arwind)

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