Ishita Mukhopadhyay: Celebrating womanhood through theatre

Posted by Kaahon Desk On February 13, 2018

Active in Bengali theatre for more than three decades, Ishita Mukhopadhyay has cemented her place as an important theatre director of our times. Her journey in theatre started when, as an undergraduate student at Jadavpur University, she was chosen by her teachers to act in a play. She immediately gravitated towards theatre and directed her first play during her college years. As director, she practices her theatre as a woman in the sense that she brings to bear upon her work a sensibility that is the result of her experiencing life as a woman. She has some very well-formed views about group theatre, the economy of theatre and the challenges of being political in theatre. Over the years, Ishita Mukhopadhyay has directed a host of plays of which Ghar, Kamalkamini, Gawaharjan, Khela Bhangar Khela, Kallu Mama, Ora Tinjon and Agnijatak deserve special mention. The three videos present many sides of Ishita Mukhopadhyay that theatre lovers and people generally interested in cultural practices might find interesting.

Ishita Mukhopadhyay discovered theatre during her student days at Jadavpur University at the instigation of her teachers. Her first directorial venture was an adaptation of The Room by Sartre. She always wanted to be a writer and director of plays and not an actor; she says if she has to act she feels depressed. Her group Ushnik was formed in 1984 (which produced the Sartre adaptation titled Ghar). She is convinced that her group has allowed her the space to work the way she wanted to. She is open to the idea of workshop-based productions if the text so demands. On the other hand she also supports the idea of living and breathing theatre as it happens at NSD. Ishita is finding herself being increasingly drawn to the issue of philosophy of theatre. She sees no problem with this that Bengali theatre is now going through a phase where plays are being produced in great numbers. She believes that even in the midst of this numerical plenitude, good works will find a way to mark their presence. Coming to question of directors fashioning themselves as designers, she is of the opinion that she has problems when designing boils down to just an outward beautification of the play-text.

Ishita is very clear about this that she brings a distinctly female perspective in her works – she says she tries to celebrate her womanhood through her work. She speaks about how content, rather than form, is important to her and about how she prefers to work in a style where words become the tool of exploring the psyche of characters. Ishita feels more comfortable working with her own plays and she is also supportive of young people writing new, original works. She speaks about how a work is gradually given shape. In a turn of the conversation, Ishita talks about how the spirit of tolerance and acceptance is on the wane nowadays. In the final section, she speaks about her unique and priceless experience of working with male sex workers.

Ishita says that the tendency of theatre to create and project ‘star’ actors is driven by the principles of market economy and that she sees nothing wrong in theatre making money. However, she has a problem if plays try to appeal to popular taste by distorting history and by being generally dishonest. Ishita says it is not always possible to be very direct and frontal with political issues at the present moment for a host of reasons. Finally, she comes down heavily on the phenomenon of government grants being misused in certain corners of Bengali theatre.

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