Satyabrata Rout, Eminent Author and Theatre Personality

Prof. Satyabrata Rout is a noted Author, Indian theatre personality, director, and scenographer. He is one of the pioneers of ‘Visual Theatre’ in India. He won the Best Manuscript award for his play ‘Tumhara Vincent’, the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award (META) for his play ‘Matte Eklavya’ and the most prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for his contribution in the field Theatre. He has travelled and taught students around the globe and has recently been awarded the Fullbright Scholarship to teach theatre in the US.

Presently, he teaches theatre design and direction at Department of Theatre Arts, University of Hyderabad.

Q.1. What inspired you to write your books on theatre?

In India, the numbers of books available on Theatre Studies are very few. The books which are within our reach are mostly academic in nature and, in most cases, the authors have no first-hand knowledge of theatre practices. Theatre is a medium of practice, and the theory and concepts regarding the same should be based primarily on a practice-based knowledge. I felt the need to bridg this gap with a book that mediates between the two.

Q.2: How easy it was to publish your first book, On the Crossroads of Theatre?

Publishing a book is a hectic job in India. It is more difficult than writing the actual book. One has to find a good publisher, and pursue them again and again, and pleading with them to publish your book is a big headache. I have gone through this trauma of publishing my first book, ‘On the Crossroads of Theatre’, which consumed most of my valuable time, more than it took to write the book. Marketing is another problem!

Q.3: Your autobiography/memoir ‘On the Crossroads of Theatre’ has an interesting title. Why “Crossroads”? How important do you think book titles are?

‘On the Crossroads of Theatre’ is about my personal journey into the world of Theatre. Though it is not an exactly an autobiography, it shares my personal experiences and valuable interactions with people, on different work-fronts, different places, and talks about theatre studies and other related topics.

The “Crossroads” in the title has a definite purpose. A crossroad is a point where all the roads meet and it also offers an option to take another path or route. Similarly, Theatre provided me a new perspective and gave a new direction for wider experiences. Experience of Theatre will bring everyone to such crossroads.

The title of the book is an important element of writing the book. It creates the first impression about the content inside in brief. Moreover, the name appeals to the like-minded readers who are then drawn towards it.

Q.4: What was the most difficult part of writing your book ‘Scenography: An Indian Perspective’?

‘Scenography: An Indian Perspective’ is a research-based academic book which took me about eight years to pen down. I have taken a lot of pains to author this book which includes travelling widely, researching in various libraries (N.S.D., Natarang, Natya Shodh Sansthan, etc.) and interacting with countless theatre groups.

The major challenge that I faced during my research and table-work was that not a single Indian book was available on this subject that could guide me in conceptualising my topic for the Indian site. There is lot of Western research material available but not any research done from the Indian perspective. Therefore, it was a greater responsibility on my part to do justice so it could be a useful contribution to the non-existing literature on the said subject.

Q.5: What has been your most fulfilling moment as an author?

When the book is finally published and reaches the readers, it is like giving birth to a baby.

Q.6: Promotion has become very integral in today’s time for any kind of a book to reach to its prospective readers. How did you handle the promotion of your books?

Promoting a book is the most difficult aspect of publication and at the same time it is very crucial.

Q7: Your play Tumhara Vincent won the best manuscript award at Sahitya Kala Parishad in Delhi in 2015. How did you come up with the idea of the script?

A: Tumhara Vincent is one of the most fascinating creative works of my career in terms of both the script and the presentation. It has changed my vision of theatre-making and helped me develop my own concept of the “Visual Theatre.”

The idea of scripting a play based on the life and works of the great master, Vincent Van Gogh, was in my mind from my drama school days in NSD where I first encountered his paintings. His works seemed somehow different from his contemporaries like Gauguin, Monet, Pissarro, Goya, Degas, etc. I found the vastness of the landscape, sea, river, meadows, cultivated farmlands, working-class people and many other characters which were very down-to-earth in his works, very relatable, and it was something that echoed my personal experiences in life as well. I felt my personal journey working within the medium of my art seemed akin to that of Van Gogh. Therefore, I was motivated to write the play.

Writing it was both challenging and exciting for me. The most difficult challenge in writing the script was to bind Van Gogh in words since he was a man of visuals!

“How can I possibly weave such visuals in words??” I asked myself. This was the biggest challenge.

The play took almost two years of research which included the study of his paintings and sketches, assimilating a huge collection of written letters that Van Gogh had written to his brother, Theo, pondering over available study material accessed through the internet etc. All this needed to be incorporated in the text as well. Finally, after a lot of inner and outer turmoil, the script was written which then turned into this interesting production called ‘Tumhara Vincent’.

Q.8: Tumhara Vincent is about the life and death of one of the most eminent painters in history, Vincent Van Gogh, who despite struggling with mental illness (or perhaps because of it?) was able to create extra-ordinary works of art. The greatest artists in the world it seems have a touch of insanity. How do you see the relationship between art and madness?

Vincent Van Gogh was a man of hyper-emotion! Somewhere he has stated that, “I am a man of passion, capable and prone to undertake more or less foolish things which I happen to repent more or less.”

He cut his right ear after a fight with Paul Gauguin when he was at the height of his Paroxysm—a disease he suffered from. Finally, he committed suicide at the age of thirty-seven. He painted only for ten years and left behind a such a huge legacy of art: almost 1000 paintings, 1200 sketches and drawings, and a huge volume of letters which he used to write regularly to his brother, Theo.

Looking at this volume of work which was done in a short span of ten years, it seems surreal to the world, but it is true! Vincent had that extra-ordinary power to paint constantly for hours and sometimes for a whole day, canvas upon canvas, climbing and descending from his easel continuously for years between 1886-1888, which was his peak period.

Many a times, his friends and colleagues called him mad since he could not establish any harmony between his work and his personal life. But a statement Vincent gave to his friend Paul Gauguin contradicts the “abnormality” or “insanity” he seems to depicts while working. He says that he is in toch with the rythm of life and only in a state of ecstacy is it possible.

It is a state of union of the Art with the Artist, a state of spirituality. Vincent Van Gogh used to live in that state, which from the point of view of a common man, is a state of madness. But for the artist, it is the state of creation, the moment of supreme joy!

Q.9: What kind of challenges did you face while adapting George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in Odia?

Both the plays put forth different challenges to me while I tried to adapt them into a different culture. While the challenge of ‘Animal Farm’ was political in nature, ‘Waiting for Godot’ poses socio-cultural and existential questions in front of me.

Q.10: Are you planning to come up with any new adaptations? What are you currently working on?

Yes, a lot of projects are yet to be undertaken. I am working on a new text based on a work of the French novelist and playwright, Émile Zola. It is his famous novel, ‘Germinal’. It’s about the sufferings of people (workers and miners) in a coal mine in the south of Belgium.

I am also planning a production of ‘Abhigyanam Shakuntalam’ in English at the Central Michigan University in the month of October as a part of my Fulbright Project, for which I am travelling to USA for a six-months period, starting from August 2018. I will also be conducting a research on digital technology and theatre practices in the same university.

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