Destined to direct

Article Source :The Hindu

Date of Issue :14th May, 2015

Title of Article :Destined to direct

Details :“It all happened serendipitously,” says Pravin. When he was learning French at the Alliance Francaise, one of his professors asked him why was he not in the drama class. “I really don’t know what he saw in me,” says Pravin. Out of respect for the teacher he casually attended one of the classes. “The energy there instantly attracted me. I became a regular thereafter,” he adds.

Professionally trained in theatre at the Strasbourg school of Theatre, France, Pravin co-founded Magic Lantern Theatre along with Hans Koushik and E. Kumaravel. Having directed ‘Don Juan’ and ‘Caligula’ for Koothu-p-pattarai, Pravin went on to direct ‘Wings and Masks’ (contemporary dance), ‘Fables’, ‘Jeremy’, ‘Veshakkaran’, ‘Mashali Mohalla’ and ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ for Magic Lantern. He has played a pivotal role in many theatre and artists symposiums in Europe and theatre forums in India.

A chance meeting with abstractionist Bhagwan Chavan at an art exhibition in Alliance Francaise drew Pravin into the world of painting. “Initially, I went to ask him about his painting as I was not able to comprehend. At that time he was not familiar with French and wanted to learn the language. We came to a mutual agreement that I would teach him French and in turn he would teach me painting. In fact, he taught me the importance of observation. I got the feel of the light and shadows, dimensions and perspectives. The ‘barter’ system worked well for me,” he chuckles.

Pravin has showcased his art works in Chennai, Bombay and Bangalore. Born and brought up in coastal towns of Kochi, Mangalore and Chennai, images of coastal life unfailingly find a way into his paintings.

Pravin came to Alliance Francaise as a Zoology student more interested in genetics and cytology and with an urge to learn the language. But by the time he finished his French classes his focus was more on theatre. Pravin learnt the theatrical nuances from French theatre director Sylvain Pieplu, who was in charge of the classes. When Sylvain left, Alliance Francaise entrusted the job of directing plays to Pravin. Pravin’s professionalism earned him a scholarship to France to hone his skills in theatre.

In France, he had the privilege of visiting the Avignon Theatre Festival. “It is one of the biggest theatre festivals in the world. Spread over 14 days, classical and cotemporary plays from all over the world were staged. For the first time I was exposed to theatre activity of that magnitude. I watched over 60 plays in 15 days,” he says.

At the Theatre du Soleil he met the famed directors Peter Brookes and Ariane Mnouchkine. “By that time I had watched the film version of Peter Brookes’ Mahabharatha. I also had the opportunity to act with the final year students of Theatre National De Strasbourg.”

Impressed by Pravin’s ebullience, Michel Ladj, the technical course director at Strasbourg offered him a free three-month technical course on lighting and sound. He rejoined Ariane Mnouchkine, who was then planning to do major Greek tragedies in stylised Kathakali dance form.She organised a workshop and auditioned more than 900 people who had applied from all over the world for the workshop.

“I was one of the 120 persons selected for the workshop. At the end of the workshop she organised a performance by Kalamandalam Karunakaran to exemplify what all we had learnt in the workshop. Karunakaran performed a small excerpt from Mahabharatha of Kunti visiting Karna and Karna promising Kunti that she will continue to have five sons even after the war. The two-and-a-half hour kathakali show reminded me of the cultural richness of my home town and I decided to come back knowing pretty well that it would irk Ariane,” he smiles.

On his return he joined his friends Jayakumar and Pasupathy in Koothu-p-pattarai. Since he knew French, he staged Moliere’s Don Juan with grants from the French embassy.He did three plays with Koothu-p-pattarai. “We would work on a play for three months and stage the play for three days for 30 to 40 people. Then go on to next play as our objective was to reach out to more people,” he says.

‘Pinocchio’ the popular wooden puppet that comes to life was the first play with Magic Lantern which he started with his friends. The play focussed on child labour. “We took the play to more than 100 schools. Child Relief and You (CRY) joined us in the project,” he says. This was followed by the Panchanthanthira tales, Dreamtime Australian Aboriginal tales and fables with CRY as the partner. “During the first two years, the plays were staged both in English and Tamil as the actors were well-versed in both the languages,” adds Pravin.

Jeremy was Magic Lantern’s first play staged for the public in association with the Alliance Francasie. A year later Pravin staged ‘Veshakkaran’, based on Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’ and was about a fake godman. “Since our main objective was to reach out to the audience, we took the play to many villages in and around Cheyyar and Vandavasi. It gave us a tremendous opening and overnight we were popular,” he says.

Filmmakers Swarnavel and Arunmozhi, who saw one of the performances at Akhoor village, sowed the seeds for bringing Ponniyin Selvan to stage. “Like so many other things happening spontaneously in my life, Ponniyin Selvan too was conceptualised for the stage over a dinner. My only condition was for me to direct the play, Kumaravel had to be the script-writer,” says Pravin. And everything fell in place, he adds.

Pravin’s next project is ‘Sooravali’ based on writer Indira Parthasarthy’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. “It will be a 90-minute laugh riot,” promises Pravin.