Vijay Kenkre once told me that the purpose of Experimental Theatre is to make Commercial Theatre better.
The past few days have whirled by in a daze. The breaking #metoo stories since Friday have caused many of us to look into our phones every hour expecting and dreading new people to be named. 'Expecting' because we know it exists, irrespective of the profession. 'Dreading' because which of our 'gods' are going to be exposed for having feet (or hands) of clay.
In an earlier age, accomplishments would overshadow behaviour; almost as though the end justifies the means. So the attitude was, "Yes he's a creep, but what a fine actor/ sportsmen/ artist. And so that he can continue to create, we will ignore his wandering hands, or throbbing penis!" But as we've entered the Age of Celebrity, the view of the individual is now all encompassing. Nuance or contradiction struggle to exist. Therefore everything is either 'good' or everything is 'bad'. Orwell was such a prophet! Therefore Tiger Woods is pulled up for his philandering ways. And no matter how fantastic Kaiser Solzhe or Frank Underwood is, it does not justify Kevin Spacey's behaviour.
The Indian movement has only just begun. The first few days have focussed on the 'fringe' industries: Alternate cinema icons, journalists, and novelists. For many, the 'outing' of the 'off beat' names create the knee jerk reaction of our nation's favourite new game "Whatabouterry". But the movement MUST start in the fringes, because that's where people are most sensitive, and held to a higher standard. It's only a matter of time before it enters the main stream, of politics, cricket, Bollywood, etc.; the sectors that people have often spoken about in hushed tones and know-it-all glances. Vijay Kenkre once told me that the purpose of Experimental Theatre is to make Commercial Theatre better. I think that holds, not just for artistic practice or content, but also for the working environment.
The conventional theatre culture is a very feudal one. The power equations are skewed. And boundaries are often pushed in the service of artistic pursuit. The film CRD captures that level of abuse at the campus level quite accurately. But it is not only among the campuses. Early in my career, I confessed to a senior theatre person, that I am bit of a dictator in the room, and she replied, "But you have to be!" Being autocratic is condoned. That is the way it is 'supposed' to be.
Fortunately, things have changed. And processes have evolved. But largely the lens needs to be changed. Some cases of abuse, sexual or otherwise are unintentional. They are bi-products of artistic pursuit. But that doesn't make them any less relevant or heinous. Intent is only part of the equation. How an act is received is equally important, and the conductor of the act must be sensitive to this. A hug, while normal for many, might be a soul crushing thing for someone else. The victim cannot be brushed away as 'too sensitive'. She has a right to be…and she didn't ask to be hugged.
Theatre companies must evolve, and adapt to the new world. This is a correction. And everyone must to relook at their processes and how they work, and take steps to ensure that everyone feels safe. This is even more important in the performing arts, because people are drawn to the theatre for its sense of family, for its sense of security. And when people feel safe, they can then tap into their vulnerabilities and create great art and performances. This will take some doing. It is a paradigm shift. One that is long overdue.
There is a sense of despondency about being associated with a profession that has people being named. The feeling is that something that I believed was so pure has been tarnished. While that feeling is understandable, I also feel we should change our lens, and be proud of the women and men who have done the naming. They too belong to our profession, and they are standing up to be counted. They are the leaders of the revolution, and must be saluted.
Quasar Thakore Padamseeis a Bombay-based theatre-holic. He works primarily as a theatre-director for arts management company QTP, who also manage the youth theatre movement Thespo.