[W]hen I requested a friend to water my plants, while I am away to attend a screenwriters’ workshop in Bhubaneswar, he got excited and told me how he always thought that I should also try writing sometimes and that he’s happy that I am at least giving myself a chance as a writer. But he was surprised when I told him that I am attending the workshop as an actor and not as a writer. He didn’t understand what are actors invited for in a screen writers’ workshop, honestly so didn’t I, but something about this ten day workshop with writers just intrigued me and I decided to take some time off; also the idea of exploring Bhubaneswar was fascinating too. So I landed in the city and took a cab to the venue with my friend Sunny, still wondering what I was getting into.
The first thing we did, immediately after reaching the venue, was to have a brief meeting with Tannishtha (Chatterjee), the actor Mentor. Now, I had been seeing this woman’s stunning on screen presence since my FTII days and the ease with which she played her characters. We had a brief but interesting meeting with all the five actors and then I met a lot of interesting and new writer-directors while I still had a buzz of confusion in my head. Next day at the venue we started with our first session and the writers came forth with their stories. The mentor (Tannishtha) explained the whole concept of the lab to us and what our role was. She told us how the writers will try to explore newer possibilities for their scripts from the actors’ improvisations. It sounded interesting but it was an alien concept to me. Without getting into too much of discussion she asked all of us to warm up. We (including the two writers) started moving around slowly, then we quickened our pace in the work space, faster and faster, we got into the takato body movements (where you precisely cut through the air with your body parts), next we got into lyrical movements and then came the stillness and the gradually return to be ourselves.
It was magical, just by going through this powerful exercise in the same space, I already felt as if I knew these writers and the other actors. The ice was broken and we were already a team. Besanti (yes Besanti!!) narrated her story to us. It’s an Indian story and fortunately she understands Hindi to a good extent so we were not restricted to improvise in English (which is obviously not the language of the characters by far). We went on improvising scene after scene and small ideas started emerging from the exercises. By the end of it we saw a pleasant smile on Besanti’s face, she looked content.
Immediately everything turned out to be super fun. Things started to work, synergy was established between the mentor, actors and the writers. Writers start taking turns with us. And so far, the mentor is doing such a fantabulous job of handling the actors, she understands us in and out already. She just knows what to do with us when we are stuck; she just knows the buttons inside us which she timely switches-on the moment we are stuck. She is always pushing us to do more and bring out newer ideas, which inspires me to think more (otherwise I can be a really lazy actor). I had never played a dog (of various temperaments); an esoteric, snobbish, female mouse; a sick fisherman from Assam; a seven year old girl, an eighty five year old woman obsessed with her withered physical beauty; a mother, a father and all that in the short span of three days, wow!!!
Today was the third day for me in the lab and now I have clearly understood about how helpful this process can be in improving the script and the best part is that the writers still have a choice of just picking up the ideas they like. I, as an actor, just improvise on the basic information given by the writer and then I try to create various situations, some close to the written script and some absolutely random. And surprisingly most of the time it is the random things that we do in the lab that brings a newer possibility to the script.
Besides the beauty of the city and the campus which brings so much serenity in my mind, the atmosphere of the whole lab is shaping up very interestingly. The Independence day celebration in a local Tribal school, the dinners and the random antakshari that suddenly breaks out during the formal dinner and continues madly in the bus on the quiet, deserted roads of Bhubaneswar, all of this is bringing better creative energies around. It’s strange how I got up this morning with a clear mind as to why I am here, what an actor is doing in a screenwriter’s workshop. Seven days more to go and I am already content.