Fifty and Counting – The New Indian Express

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In 1972, as recent graduates of Modern School, Delhi, Feisal Alkazi and Arun Kukreja founded a theater group with some buddies. They have nurtured it through good times and bad, but never imagined that 50 years later, having created an impressive legacy, it would still be there. The Ruchika Theater Group continues to thrive, delighting audiences with their impactful productions that never shy away from pissing off the apple cart.

“Having a very secure core audience helped Ruchika get to this point. I think we developed a different audience that has stayed with us over the years,” says Alkazi, also an educator, social activist, author, master trainer, with over 200 plays as a director. Some of their members have made their mark like Alok Nath, Sohaila Kapur, Neena Gupta, Pawan Malhotra and Harsh Chhaya etc.

Feisal Alkazi

The troupe regularly presents a season with at least three new productions every year. Performed in English, Hindi or Urdu, the focus was on pieces with social relevance. “Our plays reflect audience and performer feedback. As a tight-knit group of actors who have been together for over 45 years and newcomers as young as 16, we value everyone’s views,” he adds. Her most famous productions include Strindberg’s The Father, Dorfman’s The Women, Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Marsha Norman’s Night Mother, Goldemberg’s Letter’s Home, Dario Fo’s Female Parts, Mohan Rakesh’s Aashad Ka Ek Din and Lehron ke Raj Hans, Mahasweta Devis Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Ma, Rakt Pushp by Elkunchwar, Odhni by Vijay Dan Detha and Rishte Naate by Jaywant Dalvi.

Alkazi fondly recalls some of the defining moments of his 50-year tenure as head of the Ruchika Theater Group. The first of these was the performance of Henrik Ibsen’s play Doll House at the Gaiety Theater in Simla. As he took the centuries-old stage to perform this seminal work on female emancipation, written over 100 years ago, he felt a strange sense of déjà vu. On another occasion, his performance of Ariel Dorfman’s play based on his book Widows in Delhi coincided with the arrest in London of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was the book’s antagonist. When his play Noor was performed in San Francisco to a mostly Indian audience, some of the audience left angry after a hijra opened the show with a powerful description of the art of making love with a man. Experiences that showed the power of theater.

The Ruchika Theater Group has elaborate plans to celebrate this momentous occasion. They started the year with their play Devyani, which premiered in February at the revamped Triveni Kala Sangam Auditorium. In March they performed Noor based on the life of Noorjehan. There will also be events in different parts of India and abroad. Noor, along with A Quiet Desire and Adhe Adhure – a play based on Tagore’s alleged relationship with his sister-in-law Kadambari Devi, and Mohan Rakesh’s Hindi classic respectively – will premiere in the US later this year.

Amid larger productions, the group also plans to dabble in smaller plays at Teesri Manzil, an experimental performance space at Alkazi’s home. He has worked extensively in the field of children’s theater and wrote Rang Biranga Rangmanch (published by the National Book Trust) which has sold over 30,000 copies. Never idle, he has also directed two series, 32 documentaries and short films and won numerous awards. His recent book Enter Stage Right: the Alkazi/Padamsee Family Memoir has done well in its English version and will soon be available in Hindi.

Believing that the group has evolved enormously over the years, Alkazi says: “In recent years we have traveled a lot with our plays. The actors were fond of traveling because the level of our theater is very high. It’s also an incredible bonding experience. There have also been several marriages within the group over the years!”

Alkazi hopes that the profound power of theater will be the legacy of Ruchika Theater Group for years to come – where art comes first, money is no sway and the love of theater survives everything, including a global pandemic.

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