art and culture
The world as a stage
Trans World Features (TWF) | 03 Jul 2017
The world as a stage
Aarushi Thakur is a new age theatre director from Jammu who brings a fresh whiff of air to the troubled land. Her repertoire includes adaptations from Shakespeare, and presented in English too, as well as plays
on her own scripts, writes Sonali Jha Chatterjee

Lately, Jammu and Kashmir, unfortunately, has often been in news for turmoil and disharmony. Amidst all this, however, creativity flows too in different forms. Theatre person Aarushi Thakur, 27, of Jammu, thinks that the urge to create often gets more powerful than giving in to despair about conflicts around.


Her plays are often adapted from the English classics and is enacted in English for a primarily Hindi and Dogri audience. This  audience have not only accepted it but are clamouring for more too.


Daughter of well-known theatre director Balwant Thakur, Aarushi, however,  never had plans to enter the stage though she often travelled with her father’s theatre group, Natrang. In fact, it was the travelling that attracted her more than acting. While studying International Politics in London, she attended a theatre workshop at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). “I realised then that I liked theatre after all. In fact, I could work 24 hours without getting exhausted. Theatre consumed me,” she recalls about her stint at RADA.


Back home, while preparing for UPSC, she realised this was not her calling and got involved in various theatre productions.  What about the absence of any formal theatre training? “Well, it would have been a good idea to be formally trained, but I feel that this lacunae has made me more cautious and led me to work doubly hard since I didn’t have the backing of any formal coaching by teachers in this profession. My father did introduce me to various books on theatre but didn’t coach me.” 


Since then she has acted and directed unique productions which pushed her prowess to the limits, way beyond what she thought possible. She began with Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, which, she feels is her best production. The story played and replayed a thousand times in her head like a movie while going through the text in school. After adapting and scripting it she selected a part of the novel and took a huge leap of faith by putting up the play in English. This play performed by amateurs, not very comfortable with English, received widespread appreciation. Her father’s praise for her theatrical skills as a director, “When Dad said, Iske aur shows karwaenge (we will have more shows of this), I knew I had achieved something. That was my biggest push,” Aarushi says.


What Aarushi had achieved was unique in Jammu. No one had performed from the Classics in English for the stage. The encouragement she received from the theatre fraternity spurred her and she picked up her next production, Roshomon. Movie buffs know of this iconic movie directed by Akira Kurosawa where the characters of the movie provide different versions of the same incident. Again Aarushi came up with her version and she had characters playing three wives with their perspectives. It wasn’t surprising that she was discouraged from taking up this work. “I was not concerned about the success of my play. I had no yardstick to measure myself. I simply believed in what I was doing. That led me to take unconventional topics, I suppose,” she says, recollecting those days.


She chose Jammu’s Amar Mahal, a beautiful building located on a hillock as her venue, with the summer breeze adding to the magic. The play’s success went beyond her imagination, especially so when some remarked that the play was good enough to be performed in Broadway. “Thankfully all the praise didn’t get into my head, all due to my Dad, who kept me grounded.”


After this success, Aarushi staged Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Roald Dahl’sMatilda, both with children. She consciously moved away from the dark themes of her first two productions. She, of course, was not happy with doing only adaptations, and wrote her play, Let my Country Awake, a hard hitting piece on child abuse. “Though my Dad was against doing this play with kids, I felt I was doing the right thing. We as theatre people need to raise these issues.”


Henry and Ann came next and this was executed after six months of research, based on the love story of King Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. During this time, she attended a workshop with the National School of Drama (NSD) and the story played on in her mind. For the first time, she explored body theatre.


Strangely, though a new age director, Aarushi feels strongly about excessive experimentation on stage and finds most young directors crossing limits in the name of creativity. She is a stickler for stories and does not believe in being casual while handling classics.

About a year ago, Aarushi made a conscious decision to direct plays in Hindi. Seeing people interested in theatre, she felt the use of Hindi would attract an even larger audience. This time she picked up Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was her first comedy in Hindi and it took her more than three months to prepare.



She had to create a flow chart to explain the story to her actors because the plot was quite baffling. There were three different plots, 31 actors and the play was an hour and a half long. All of these could drive a director up the wall, but not Aarushi. She gave each actor a specific character and a specific costume. The punch lines had to be timed appropriately. There were times when the actors would roll in laughter while rehearsing and as the frequency of rehearsals grew, the laughter died down and the group worried over the fact whether the audience would laugh at all. But laugh they did and each show was packed.


“While conducting workshops at Natrang Theatre, I find that parents are very interested in getting their children involved in theatre. This trend has come in since the past five years or so. Also the fact that theatre has been introduced as a curriculum in many schools speaks of its importance. This gives an outlet to the creativity of students and builds their confidence,” shares Aarushi.


So where is Aarushi headed next? “I need to fall in love with a script and then start work on it,” she says. For the last couple of months she had been working on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. “This has taken long to materialise as my actors were busy with other plays being staged by Natrang. But finally the play has hit the stage.” And how! On 19 June,  the play opened to a packed house at the famous ‘Kingdom of Dreams’ venue in Gurugram. Next it hits Chandigarh and Jammu.


Who would say that Aarushi Thakur was a reluctant entrant to the stage?