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Sitting Down with Dr. Atamjit Singh—A Stalwart of Punjabi Theatre

Dr. Atamjit Singh, renowned Punjabi playwright and theatre director, was in conversation with Animesh Bahadur on Day Two of MILAP. This event, titled The Relevance of My Dramatic Efforts, introduced the audience to his body of work and the themes that it revolves around. He discussed the impact that his plays such as Fish of the Kamloops, The Red Prophet, Panch Nad Da Paani, and Rishtian Da Ki Rakhiye Na, had on both him and his audience. The plays deal with themes like the displacement and migration of the Punjabi community, the Partition, the exploitation of women, and narrow nationalism. After the session, The Post had the chance to sit down and talk to him.

A still from an adaptation of his play, Rishtian Da Ki Rakhiyan Na, which is based on Saadat Hasan Manto’s famous Toba Tek Singh. (Source: 8th Theatre Olympics, National School of Drama) 

You have previously spoken about how theatre can help young students and have a positive impact on their life. What is it about theatre that can influence them in such a positive way?

In a theatre production, when you are saying your dialogue, it is the only time in your life when you are speaking, and everybody else is listening. You are on such a pedestal that everyone on stage, as well as the audience, is listening to you. That gives you confidence. You also learn, that you too have to listen when others are speaking. When actors on stage interact as characters, they are passing on some energy and co-operating with each other to build a scene. Giving that co-operation and getting it in return, is a wonderful thing, which you may not experience easily in your life.

Once, during a stage production some time back, I decided to meet all those students who were actors in my play. I discovered a wonderful thingall those students, who were perhaps not good in studies, were now well-settled in their lives because theatre had given them confidence. Anything can happen on the stage. A person can forget his dialogue, or he can fall on the stage. You have to know that no matter what happens, you have to tackle it somehow. In a way, this is just like life – you learn to tackle anything that comes your way. That is the power of theatre. It is not a power of cinema, however. There, you have retakes, you know you can repeat something if it goes wrong. In theatre, there is no retaking.

Image source: The Hindu

Theatre has always been a very powerful tool for social awareness. How is it still relevant today, when everybody has access to movies and television sets?

There is a definite difference between a three-dimensional art and two-dimensional art. A film on a screen has only two dimensions. The third dimension, a depth, which creates a living art, is absent. Though a film may seem like a living art, it is instead a recorded art. In theatre, we deal with the living entity, which is an unparalleled experience. The immediacy of the audience’s response also makes a big difference. Whatever responses there may be in the cinema hall, they do not help or destroy the acting of the actor. But in theatre, they have a significant impact. So you learn how to connect with the audience.

You’ve been a writer as well as a director for your plays. Have these two roles influenced each other?

When I write, I am also a director. I know what the requirements of a director are, so I keep that role of a director in my mind. When I direct, I am hardly a writer, because that part is done. But, here and there, I can change a word or so. But, definitely while writing, I am equally a director.

Featured Image Source: 8th Theatre Olympics, National School of Drama