The history of English theatre in Kolkata would have certainly been written differently without Theatrecian, the 22-year-old English theatre group in Kolkata. Tathagata Chowdhury, playwright, actor, director and TED-X speaker founded this group, and gave it a solid base and a distinct identity of its own.

Chowdhury’s passion for theatre includes writing plays himself, creating plays, training youngsters, organising shows, and last but never the least, training school children in theatre, practical and theoretical towards the performance of plays, classic, modern, mythological and self-created.

He currently teaches theatre and film studies to students of Pathways International School located at the picturesque Aravalli Hills at Gurugram where the students presented a brilliant and unique interpretation of Raavana in the play titled ‘Dashaanan’ written by Chowdhury. Chowdhury opens up in a detailed interview with this writer.

You have been doing theatre for more than two decades now. How do you look back on the experience?

It's been a painful pleasure, 22 years of Theatrecian and I know what a father goes through. I've seen the birth of this baby and I've been responsible. I think I go through the joys and pains that any father goes through.

There are moments of doubt, agony, depression but they get dwarfed when a thunderous audience response greets a performance. When I come across fellow Theatrecian and they look back at their association with Theatrecian and acknowledge, at times sincerely, often grudgingly, about Theatrecian’s contribution in their life's journey, I feel she (Theatrecians) and I have just started our journey.

What was your aim since you stuck to English in a Kolkata ambience which is more friendly towards Bangla theatre?

The aim is the same as it was 22 years back. The intention was to ensure a youth theatre movement in the city that can sustain itself and in the process Theatre in English becomes a viable career option. It is unfortunate that I think I have failed completely. But though I have failed, it has taught me a lot.

In the failure of this mission, there have been other rewards which were unexpected. We did not realise that we had staged around nearly 200 productions with over 2000 shows, not just in Calcutta but across the country and even abroad. It has become a platform for many young talents to express themselves.

It is also a stress buster for everyday professionals. Among talents associated with us, I may mention names like Jim Sarbh, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Sonali Seyygall, Apratim Chatterji, Shadab Kamal, Samvedna, Ronjini Chakraborty, who are doing amazing work across all platforms and media dedicated to performing arts. Our Dhruv Mookerji is a regular face in the ad world.

Bangla Theatre is almost like an industry, though unstructured, but that never daunted us. We continue performing only in English.

How do you look back on Theatrecian as a personal experience?

Theatrecian is the very purpose of my existence. It has given me a reason not only to exist but also to strive towards something meaningful which will impact the community and society in an enriching manner. This has not been easy.

There have been massive lows like debts, court cases, police complaints, threats. The bouquets and the appreciation do not always provide a compensating balm but the relief and the drive to strive come out of responsibility. There are so many dreams and expectations associated with Theatrecian.

Name five Theatrecian productions you would love to recall.

‘There's Something About Nemo’, It was our original play scripted and directed by me. ‘The Zoo Story’, is the longest running play in the history of Calcutta's English theatre with more than 100 shows.

‘Look Back In Anger’, Alyque Padamsee Sir helped us promote the play. The John Osborne classic was directed by me. It was a tough play and well received.

‘The Comedy Kitchen’, this was an anthology of short plays directed by Dhruv Mukherjee. It has been the most profitable production by Theatrecian with shows across Tata NCPA in Mumbai, Jagriti Theatre in Bangalore, the Alliance Francaise in Delhi, and wherever we performed in Kolkata.

The fifth most memorable play’s position is shared among ‘12 Angry Jurors, Woody Allen’s God’ directed by Kanak, Harold Pinter's ‘The Birthday Party’ and Girish Karnad's ‘Hayavadan’ directed by Prithviraj.

You are now quite famous for dividing your attention between Theatrecian and writing, training and directing plays for children in schools. How would you differentiate?

Directing plays for school students is part of my work profile. Schools have strict do's and don'ts, certain agendas which may not resonate with me. But I enjoy associating and collaborating with schools.

It is challenging. The available infrastructure helps in creating scenes without worrying much about the budget. This is a major difference between school plays and Theatrecian productions.

Tell us about the three recent plays you have done with school children, ‘The Sound Of Music’, ‘Malgudi Days’, and ‘Dashaanan’.

‘The Sound of Music’ was commissioned to me first in 2018 for the Missouri Public School. I enjoyed complete creative liberty and experimented with a modern-day political perspective and the school backed the idea.

The most rewarding ‘Sound Of Music’ happened with the students of DPS Rajpura, in Punjab. The Principal at DPS Rajpura ensured that the production would be a life-changing process for those involved.

‘Malgudi Days’ I did with Birla High School for boys in Kolkata. Earlier I directed Treasure Island for the same school. Some of my school plays have also won awards at competitions.

I created the play ‘Dashaanan’ for students of Pathways International School in Gurugram. I was inspired by ‘negative’ characters like the Joker in ‘Batman’, Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, etc. We have certain preconditioned ideas about such characters.

In ‘Dashaanan’ I have tried to revisit the ten heads of Raavan. It is a play that tells us the need to tame emotions which have the potential to be destructive. There is the need to awaken the Rama within us and destroy each of the ten heads. Dr. Sonya Mehta, director of the school, played a key role in choosing this play so that the children learnt about our cultural roots. I also did the lighting for this grand play and it was a great success.

Which theatre personalities have inspired you the most and why?

For me, playwrights are more inspiring. I would like to name Harold Pinter, Edward Albee as two of the most significant influences. Then there's Agatha Christie. I believe and follow the Stanislavsky style. Habib Tanvir Saab and Mahesh Dattani are the Indian practitioners I believe in. I got a chance to work with and learn from Alyque Padamsee. My peers- Dhruv Mookerji and Kanak Gupta inspire me with the kind of phenomenal work they are doing.

Are these productions financially viable for you as director/writer/etc? If not, how do you keep body and soul together?

School productions help to meet the bills. As a theatre producer, I need to ensure that the productions earn money not just because of the team, but there are technicians who expect to be paid. Auditoriums are expensive. So I do not have an option but to ensure that the productions are financially viable. The workshops help me earn.

What does theatre mean to you today vis-a-vis cinema and other performing arts like music, and dance?

I do not do theatre for a living. I do theatre to stay alive. At the cost of sounding clichéd, theatre is my purpose of existence. The idea of exploring, connecting, and collaborating on various issues of life and existence is enriching and also liberating.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I would like to have my own academy and direct musicals like Andrew Loyd Webber.