Theatre director, scenographer and academic, Deepan Sivaraman is not interested in the simplicity of things. He loves the problems of complexity, negotiating multiple layers of the narrative and stretching time and space in his own way. Theatre, for him, has to be a physical experience.
Deepan also loves to shake up his audience a bit, ask them questions, unsettle them and immerse them completely in the process of viewing. If Spinal Cord was one of the first of his truly experimental works, a unique interpretation of Marquez’s magical realism, Khasakkinte Ithihasam was an intensely raw, sensorial experience.
His 2016 play The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, will be staged in the city for the first time. A theatrical adaptation of the silent German expressionist film of the 1920s, it is a critical take on fascism. A thriller, it is a dark, gripping tale that can push the limits of your standard theatre experience. Some say it is one of Deepan’s best productions. “It is historical, strong, grotesque… It is also very technologically advanced. It has something for everyone—from those looking for some intellectual engagement to even children, who might enjoy it,” Deepan says.
Edited excerpts from an interview with Deepan Sivaraman.
Why did you choose The Cabinet of Dr Caligari?
It was an educational project, done as part of a course. This particular work was celebrated for its visual language when it came out. It was considered as early avant garde cinema and classic material for all kinds of art makers. I was a big fan of German expressionism, especially Caligari. The film was considered a statement on the emergence of the Nazi party in Germany and it kind of predicted the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. I believe directing Caligari in contemporary India has its own political relevance.
When the film was made, the script was changed to portray the protagonist Francis as a mental patient, thereby vindicating Dr Caligari’s position. Caligari was the institution and questioning it would not gone down very well with the upper middle class Germans, who were the primary viewers.
For the play, however, we have revised the ending. It ends with Dr. Caligari telling the audience: “Freedom is not absolute”. It is a very fascist philosophy and very relevant to the times.
What is your interpretation of space in theatre?
I always thought that theatre takes place in space and time. It does not take place in words. Traditionally, we think it comes from literature, but it comes from rituals, sports, … physical enactment.
Literature is a solitary engagement with art. Theatre, on the other hand, is communal experience. It takes place in the middle of people and here, space can be variable, it can be fluid.
Dark things, a recently-concluded production of mine, which has been to international festivals, happens in a factory space. There are all kinds of things—cranes, trucks, construction equipment where labourers work and in between that they tell stories of their lives. We initially produced this play in a factory and are planning to shift it to an actual industrial site.
Engagement with the audience.
We, as social beings have changed. We need to make art for people who live now, who are always ready to make a point. Artists have to see people as a mature human beings, and not necessarily spoon feed them. Negotiation is important now between makers and audience. I don’t believe in one single narrative for everybody. I don’t want to give answers. Let’s not solve everything in the theatre space. Let them solve it on their own, on their way home, perhaps, may be later.
You have acted in Dr Caligari.
I have acted before. In Dark Things as well. Being a part of the physical action brings on its own anxiety. When I am on stage, I try to forget abut my directorial role. It was very tough. I have had my co-workers say I tend to mouth their dialogues.
What are your upcoming projects?
I am doing two international projects. One is an opera titled ‘Daughters’ in Sydney with 49 female performers. It would have artists from India, Australia and New Zealand and it would be premièred in Australia in 2019. I am co-directing it with Anuradha Kapur, former director of the National School of Drama.
The next one is Othello, which will be directed in Othello’s castle in Cyprus. Cyprus is the land of Othello. Directing Othello in his own castle would be an exciting experience. It would also be a musical.
Presented by Performance Studies Collective, Delhi in collaboration with NECAB and Blue Ocean Theatre, Bangalore, the play will be staged at Maharajas College on February 8, 9 and 10 at 6.30 pm and 8.30 pm