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No full stops

Theatre is a full-time job, says Bangalore's multifaceted KIRTANA KUMAR, who was in Chennai recently



VERSATILE Kirtana Kumar

Even as she gets up to walk, you have classified her. The measured movement is a dancer's. She begins her presentation, you know for sure. Kirtana Kumar is an actor. You listen to her voice and speech modulation, the appraisal gets a final tweak. She is frequently on stage, quite possibly in different geographies, performing to different audiences. In Chennai, she's addressing the Anokhi audience at Prakriti Foundation's conference on Sites of Women's Sexuality.

Breaking myths

Her topic Sexuality 101: Basic theory on gender, sexuality and pleasure sets the tone for the seminar. She talks of the fluidity of gender and its "performative", creative associations. She makes an appeal for new symbols to break myths about sexuality, drawing her conclusions from her family's judgments and attitudes. Yes, she'll answer questions on her life — and the choices that shaped her convictions. Theatre is its mainstay, its passion. And now its sustenance.

"Theatre's my full-time job," she says. Like any kid, she loved the fun and fantasy of play-acting, but unlike most, she loved its rigour — "having to keep mind, body and voice working." Sure there was resistance. Don't people treat theatre as an excursion?

Theatre drew her to a Literature PG course informed by Dostovesky, Flaubert, Chaucer and James Joyce. "How else does one get to read `Finnegan's Wake' or `Ulysses'? American Literature was tagged on, but I'm glad for it because it drew me to Whitman, Thoreau and later the Beat Poets."

Climbing the stage from there, is that easy? "Be obsessed," is her mantra. "Read, learn, experience. Study dance, music, martial art — all the supporting skills. It will make you an eclectic performer." Total theatre is language-inclusive. "For `Shakuntala', because I was working with a kalari artiste, Malayalam and English were good. For `The Retreating World', that I am currently working on, we are using Arabic, Urdu and English."

She takes time to clarify Political Theatre. All theatre is political in some sense, she agrees. Community-supported folk theatre, street theatre, Grotowsky, Boal, our modern Indian playwrights — they all have something to say. "But in the pursuit of urban brittleness, theatre can become terribly banal, so the differentiation happens here."

Performing solo, was that a natural next step? "I performed Dario Fo's `Medea' as a solo piece and later Dario Fo again — We all have the same story — as part of four monologues by Artists Repertory Theatre. `Unruly Women' is a lec-dem on women characters in Shakespeare. Shakuntala was not strictly solo, because I shared the stage with a musician and a kalari artiste. `The Retreating World' (that I am at present working on) is a monologue by Naomi Wallace."

Restlessly, she wanted the theatre experience extended. Documentary film-making would give her the freedom. The grounds were the same — seeking trust, creating space for communication, looking to open some windows. Just add a 360-degree view of a subject, never mind if it takes several films to explore it. "For instance, `My Children Who Should be Running thru Vast Open Spaces' led to `Guhya' which led to `Namma Cinema Talkies' which led to `Chandri'." Where do they get screened? "Oh god, anywhere where people want to watch them," she says. A film-maker travels endlessly with his cans. "[To] film societies, screenings and festivals. Bengaluru boasts other forums for watching documentary films these days — Bangalore Film Society, Collective Chaos, Films for Freedom."

GEETA PADMANABHAN

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