Theatre professional Arnesh Ghose opens up about writing his upcoming play — a gay romance — the process behind it, and more.
Arnesh Ghose describes himself as an “extremely restless theatre professional.” He starts planning on his next play even before his current production is put to rest. “I do not like the gap in between two plays — it makes me feel irritated and cranky,” he says. And so, when an idea for a play strikes, instead of keeping it on hold, he starts working on it almost immediately, allowing it a month to gestate in his mind.
That is also how Shikaayat happened. Produced by The Mirror Merchants, Arnesh’s new play, which he has written and directed, is a romantic comedy. But it’s not one you’d usually expect from a theatre troupe. The “passionate gay rom-com” spans across a decade and tells the love story of two lovers through music, poetry, dance, and letters.
Going back to Arnesh’s writing process for the play, he says how most of writing is a sieve process. “Over the time period that I mull over the core idea of the play, only the necessary parts of it remain, the surplus doesn’t,” he shares, adding how important it is to have a skeleton of the story in mind, so he is aware of where the story goes at all times. Shikaayat, says Arnesh, is not a comfortable love story. Exploring the lives of Liaq and Ved (played by The Mirror Merchants’ actors Sanket Sharma and Arnesh himself), the play explores the heart-touching journey of love and heartbreak. But even as the story in an intimate play of words and poetry, the story is close to Arnesh. He states the need of telling a personal story along these lines solely to have more than just a superficial connect with the audience. “Between Sanket and me, the only people who will be on the stage throughout, it had to relate to at least one person,” he says.
Ever since the inception of his theatre troupe The Mirror Merchants, Arnesh has received several accolades for his plays, namely the most recent one Andheri, which captured the trials and tribulations of living in a city like Mumbai and the conflicts faced by struggling actors in the face of the ever-increasing mehengayi and the lack of stints. But the accolades aren’t what interest Arnesh the most. “Many people from the audience come up to me and tell me what they liked the most about the play, what part they related to the best — and while these compliments feel great after months of hard work put in, I still like receiving criticism. Tell me what you didn’t like about the play, tell me what part you’d want me to improve on, tell me what you didn’t relate to,” he says, adding that criticism is what builds a creative person.
Arnesh likes to shed all tags that come with a theatre professional — an actor, writer, director — he doesn’t know what describes him best. However, every time that he sits down to pen his ideas, he looks at it with the perspective of a storyteller. “First and foremost, I am a storyteller; and then am I a director, an actor a producer,” he clarifies. And since every storyteller is an activist before he is a writer, Arnesh picks up socially relevant issues to talk about. In Andheri, he captures the conflict of a struggling actor, in Asylum (2014), he compares the state of the country in 1947 and today through the eyes of juvenile delinquents being treated in a mental hospital, in Murgistaan, he shines light on the Indian politics and administration is a comic way, and in Chaarpaai (2016), he writes about womanhood, sexuality and gender equality.
With Shikaayat, not only does Arnesh looks at bringing to the fore a fresh love story, but also begin a conversation around queer relationships. “Today’s scenario sees two groups, people who identify as LGBTQs (minority) and the other, heterosexuals (majority). And, there is evidently a lot of animosity between the two groups. With Shikaayat, I want both these groups to begin talking about these issues. We want the majority to stand up for minority issues and vice versa,” he says, adding that only then can we look at living as one big community, and not as several micro-communities.