Theatre director Jino Joseph is basking in the glory for the Kerala-based director’s play, Nona, has bagged four awards, including the Best Director and Best Play (joint winner) at the recently concluded prestigious Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award 2018 (META). In 2015, his play, Mathi, had put him in the spotlight after the play won four awards. Both the times, he has presented the socio-political-economic realities of contemporary India. In Nona, which means “lie” in English, he used the tool of satire and presented the real picture of “India Shining”. The perceptive director, in an exclusive interaction with ACF, shines the light on the perils of “pseudo-nationalism” and why “winning is essential for motivation and recognition”.
Does winning an award give a fillip to a director’s career? Also, in what ways has META been successful in its endeavour?
I believe that META stands for theatre and its welfare. It’s free from all biases and vested interests. The credibility and dignity kept in all aspects of the festival make it unique and prestigious. Not only winning an award in META boosts the career of the theatre person, but also getting selected or nominated is a big identity. Winning the title is a responsibility, a constant reminder of how diverse theatre is, where we stand and how far we have to go. It actually gears up the thrill and passion towards theatre in us.
The pseudo-nationalism is being shoved down our throats at multiple-levels. You chose a rural setting to represent the consequences or repercussions it has on the socio-economic ecosystem. Why did you approach the story through this lens?
Pseudo-nationalism and Fascism are issues from which the common public always keep themselves aloof from. They’ll be alarmed of these crises only when they reach their doorstep. People don’t realize that these are issues which can affect them. Even works reflecting these concerns happen very rarely. The contemporary relevance of this predicament deserves a much reachable setting so as to have a long-lasting impact on the spectators. At first, an issue of contemporary relevance was selected and then decided to set it against the backdrop of a village setting.
The lies and fabricated tales that politicians tell people are akin to the illusions a magician plays. It is a wonderful analogy as they share similar characteristics. At what point did you develop the character of the magician?
At first, the plot was planned to centre on a magician who influences a youngster. Then the thoughts of a government advertisement “India Shining” strike me and then I decided to blend these two threads. Magicians can never create or vanish anything. They can either disclose hidden or concealed things. Contemporary India goes along with such illusions. But the reality is different. Even when the government issues ads like “India Shining”, things are not like that on the other side of the world. Contemporary India is built on fabrications and lies. Nona (Lie) gets its meaning intensified in that context.
Since Nona is a response to several issues the nation is grappling with, how difficult or easy it was for you write this story? Because here we are talking about multiple issues and addressing them in a two-hour play is challenging.
The theme of the play can hinder the director with the threat of a documentation feeling. Extra effort was taken to avoid any direct mentioning of the politics. The image or the map of India which is drawn on the courtyard of the central character Prasanthan’s house worked as a dramatic technique which offered us an open space to communicate the concerns within the framework of theatre and maintaining the natural flow and genuinity of expression. The drama also mentions other crucial issues like nationalism, racism, women abuse and farmers’ issues. Even the dialogue “Percapita income is equal to national income divided by population” is presented as the biggest lie that India is exposed to. The play discusses multiple issues.
After Mathi, you have once again featured non-actors in the play. What is the reason behind this?
Black Theatre is a new theatrical group and is a collective venture of a group of villagers. In fact, the group was formed along with the production of the play. There are more than forty members on and off the stage. They belong to various walks of life. There are children, working people, daily labourers and two or three amateur actors to motivate and groom them. Team Matthi also shares these features. I firmly believe that this is what I can do with theatre and this is my politics, activism and work of art. Often I mention myself as a non-trained theatre activist. I feel the thrill of working with untouched actors. They are free from prejudices, ego and competition. They’ll stand strongly with me for the betterment of drama.
The set of Nona was grand this time. Why did you up the ante?
I believe that the play demands it.Even though all these rural aspects are there, problems with production cost and return are there. I strongly believe that theatre needs updations, innovations and vibrations. As the viewers are fed with exciting visuals today from all the audiovisual media, theatre has to satisfy them visually, even if the subject matter is impressive. Theatre has an important function of entertainment too. I am not for the poor theatre; I am for the theatre of the poor with all its richness, celebration and perfection without any compromises.