Mandar Vaidya on new play & growth of Indian theatre in Melbourne

By Indira Laisram
Troupe from Natyadarpan's 4 June 2022 show // Pic supplied

An alumnus of Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre, Mandar Vaidya has been pursuing theatre activity in Melbourne since 2002. In 2016, he along with like-minded Indian Australians living in Melbourne established the Natyadarpan Indian Theatre Academy, which today is at the forefront of the city’s Indian theatre scene. To date, Vaidya has acted, produced and directed over 35 plays here.

Natyadarpan conducts acting workshops and presents dramas regularly to Melbourne audiences, while seeking enthusiasts, amateurs and professionals to join the theatre activity. “We help developing actors, directors, writers, translators, singers, background music providers, stage light and sound specialists, promoters, sound, set designers amongst those joining Natyadarpan,” says Vaidya.

Vaidya’s bracing influence in the arts won him the Order of Australia Medal for his contribution to the performing arts in 20019.

Natyadarpan is presenting its much-awaited production Dhai Akshar Prem Ke on 5 November at the Chandler Theatre, Keysborough. The play is based on the life of Kabir, Indian poet-saint revered by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. An adaptation of the play Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein written by Bhishma Sahni,  Dhai Akshar Prem Ke is directed by Vaidya.

Vaidya touts this is an epic play with a huge star cast, the proceeds of which will go to the Salvation Army. In conversation with Mandar Vaidya on Dhai Akshar Prem Ke as also his thoughts as a denizen of Melbourne’s Indian theatre world.

Mandar Vaidya // Pic supplied

■ Tell us more about Dhai Akshar Prem Ke.

It is based on the life and teachings of Kabir. In 15th century north India, the mystic weaver Kabir spoke his poems in the marketplace, his spirituality firmly grounded in the public square. Six hundred years after his time, Kabir is found in both spaces – sacred and secular. This play interweaves some aspects in his personal life, his struggle with the then rulers, religious sects and his strive to preach humanity, love and brotherhood.

If you can elaborate a bit about the cast and the production.

I am directing this play and have the privilege of working with a great crew. I am also playing the character of Kotwal in this play. We have a 35 strong cast depicting Kabir, his relationship with his parents and wife Loi, his four friends and followers, the various regions and political strongholds in Banaras, Sikander Lodi, the second Afghan invader of India and a beautiful troupe of story tellers or Banjarans.

We have several members in the crew who are editing, adapting, composing and arranging subtitles, music, designing and managing lights, sets, make up, etc. I am very grateful to every team member for their immense contribution to this project.

How does Dhai Akshar Prem Ke challenge the audience?

The play will definitely make us ponder and help us understand Kabir’s message of love—that God is attained through love and not by rituals. It is especially a good thought provoker for the people from our Indian sub-continent where we continue to be divided in boundaries by religions, caste, languages, regions, etc. This play will inspire and motivate us to unite and shed the various boundaries that divide us.

Poster supplied

Did you find any challenges working in Hindi while producing plays in Melbourne?

We are blessed to be surrounded by a strong team of cast and crew including editors, people who help in adapting, editing the script, a team translating the script into English in order to present English subtitles to the audience members. We also have our own language expert who guides the team in the intricacies of phonetics.

How does India and Australia affect your sensibility as a theatre artist?

India has shaped me as an actor and Australia helped me to serve theatre by directing more than 35 plays. Australia is a great place to live. I grew up in India watching the example of my parents who would always engage in fundraising for the orphanages, etc.. The sensibility within the actor and director prompted me to drive various fundraising campaigns such as Good Friday Appeal, Red Cross Flood Relief, Smith Family, Alfred Hospital, to name a few.

A good script, a good thought, always trigger thought provocation and helps us to spread a social message. However we are glad that we could directly make monetary donations to the society also.

What is the value of collaboration for independent theatre organisations. How does one develop as an artiste in multicultural Australia?

I think that Indian theatre is still in its adolescence and there is lot of space where one can work to promote theatre, and collaboration is one of them. However, the biggest challenge is to get the audiences to come and enjoy live performances and indulge in the rich cultural heritage that we have to offer. The attention span and convenience of our valuable audience have now been restricted by the various social media entertainment forms out there.

Is there a message then about cultures and collaboration?

There is a strong message of love. We urge the audiences to shed the boundaries of religion, caste and region as we are all humans, breathing the same air, with the same blood flowing within us.

What do you look for in a play and what makes you challenge yourself as an artiste?

I surely look for a good script and a good social message. Intricacies of characters, personalities, challenges in directing various arrays of emotions always entice me in the selection process.

Your thoughts on the contemporary Indian theatre scene in Melbourne?

I am very happy at the way the Indian theatre scene in Melbourne is shaping up. The fact that some of students that I have learnt acting from me or who have worked under my direction over the past 20 years have aspired and are now budding theatre enthusiasts makes me feel happy about the theatre movement here. I am confident that the future for Indian theatre is very bright.

(For tickets to Dhai Akshar Prem Ke, click here)

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