Theatre actor, writer, director, mentor and designer Vijay Padaki turns 80 today. He is known for his contributions to the English theatre productions, with more than 50 original plays to his credit.
Traversing across multiple genres, styles, periods and forms, his works address socio-political issues and bear relevance to the current times. ‘Credit Titles’, ‘Family Albums’, ‘Gold and Silver’ and ‘Second Shift Muster’ are among his noted works.
Vijay joined the Bangalore Little Theatre (BLT) in 1960. Donning many roles within the organisation, he has been associated with the theatre group till now.
Celebrating 80 years of the theatre master, BLT is organising a three-month theatre festival.
Vijay details his journey and more in a chat with Metrolife.
You have been in theatre for about 60 years. How has the journey been?
The journey has been long. A long and winding road with lots of crossroads, not knowing which direction to take until it has been taken. The uncertainties have actually made the journey more enjoyable, even exciting.
What are some changes that you see in theatre now?
There have been many changes. First, the appearance of systematic training to bring more and more interested people in theatre practice.
Second, beginning in the late 70s, BLT has promoted new writing for the stage in the English language. It is well recognised all over India that Bengaluru is a city of playwrights.
Third, a more recent phenomenon, is the steady rise in pride in ‘Indianness’ in all walks of life in the country. It finds its way into a lot of creative expressions as well.
Finally, I see that the demographics have changed over the years. Earlier there were more students and fewer working people among the participants, today, it is vice-versa.
The average age has also gone up; we have people in their fifties and sixties joining. The gender ratio has also been happily balanced all these years.
About BLT’s initiative celebrating you and your works.
BLT restructured itself ten years ago. BLT Version 2.0 visualised changes in programme thrusts, along with the organisation and management practices needed for them. I was requested to provide the leadership in the formative years for the transformation. By 2017-18, we could see that the plan was working well.
Now, I continue simply as trustee and a mentor if needed. In a retreat held in February, they took the decision to honour my lifetime commitment to BLT and to the theatre. The love and affection showered on me are beyond any description. I am overwhelmed.
Your plays reflect on socio-political issues, which are relevant till now...
It can be argued that all drama is social commentary.
It is true that in my writing a good number of scripts (and short stories) are indeed addressing socio-political issues. These have come out of field experiences in my professional work in taking management to large development programmes. The plays are like case studies, fictionalised, but mirroring social realities.
On the other hand, there is a great deal of writing that is imaginary, enjoying poking fun at mankind and myself.
Your thoughts on the English theatre scene in Bengaluru.
It is growing, which is a good sign. It is also a good sign that the pride in Indianness is seen in today’s English theatre, along with innovations in language.
Although English theatre is enjoyed only by a small minority in the population, it is the most influential market segment in society; it has been so for a long time and is going to remain so.
Also, the single greatest factor in the success of an English language production today is marketing and with marketing comes the savvy of packaging. No longer can a production be expected to draw good houses on the strength of the name of the play or the playwright or the performing group. Under these circumstances, English theatre is often the theatre of indulgence.
Have you noticed any changes in the audience’s preference over the years?
One steady trend over the years, that shows itself in audience preference, is a reduction in time for a performance outing. From full-length three-act plays spread over two and a half hours with two intermissions, twenty-five years ago, it is now a maximum of ninety minutes with no interval. This is not to be seen as a complaint. It is simply one part of many other changes in our lifestyles.
What sort of plays work in Bengaluru?
Bengaluru audiences have definitely evolved over time. Today, there is appreciation for a wide variety of genres in writing, styles of performance, content and language.But, there continue to be relatively closed audiences in corporate bodies and membership clubs, who have had insufficient exposure, who ask for comic sit-com pieces on stage. There is no need to be annoyed with that. We must accept it as a challenge that they, too, need to be educated.
Your thoughts on the non-availability of theatre spaces in the city.
This is a serious problem, and incidentally, a problem in all cities. But, it can also be seen as a challenge to bring out innovations and creative solutions.
It is also compounded by a poor appreciation of the specialised architecture and structural engineering that must go into a technically sound performance space. Most builders are quick to suggest an amphitheatre for the community, in a city where we have evening showers through the year.
Your thoughts on the claim on current plays lacking originality and being adaptations of an already well-known story.
It is only partly true. It could be said that literary stalwarts of an earlier era resorted to mythology and folklore, teasing out little stories to be enlarged into larger-than-life play scripts. But not anymore; there is an upward curve in original writing for the stage. We must also accept that an adaptation of prose into a dramatic script is a valuable contribution in itself.
About your future projects?
I will continue to write; I write for the enjoyment of writing. I may direct a maximum of one play a year, but very carefully chosen ones, taking the artistes into new directions and being available as a mentor to directors. I will give more time to schools and to theatre education. I will take long afternoon naps.