Suba Das on New Plays from India

Inside Out is Curve’s first major festival celebrating regional talent. Over ten days  Leicester’s flagship theatre will celebrate the work of the region’s leading theatre makers with a range of shows, workshops and events. The Asian Writer caught up with Associate Director, Suba Das, to find out more about New Plays from India.

I meet Suba Das at the Curve café. This building – with its dramatic curved glass has transformed Leicester’s cultural quarter and makes the perfect backdrop for our interview. I’ve only met Suba in passing and we’ve never been formally introduced. He starts off by telling me a little bit more about how he came to be here – hired two years ago to a new post, joining Curve’s artistic team as Associate Director with a focus on community engagement. Part of Suba’s role, alongside Tim Ford, is to look at how the theatre can widen its output, create new work and engage young and diverse audiences.

The team have launched a number of pilot programmes to develop local talent, including an inaugural writer development scheme, a scratch programme, as well as an associate artists and affiliate community group scheme – with impressive results, seeing an additional 16,000 people engaged with new strands of work. Inside Out Festival will ‘pull those strands of new work together,’ and will see the team ‘take over the building, to shout about that work.’

‘My belief is that actually artist development and audience development are closely linked. I think we’re looking to bring new and diverse audiences to theatre, supporting the creation of new and diverse work and empowering artists in our community to be our connection to the wider audiences, in the city, in the region and in the country.’

Pamela Raith Photography_PEREIRAÔÇÖS BAKERY AT 76 CHAPEL ROAD_008

This is the first time Suba will be directing new plays from India, to be performed by a local ensemble – young people who are serious about pursuing a career in acting. The background: as part of The Royal Court Theatre’s ten year partnership with Rage Productions Mumbai, writers from India were challenged to write a play asking urgent questions about their changing country. Suba was invited along to the readings a year and a half ago – (and I get the impression he wasn’t expecting to find what he did) saying he was genuinely ‘bowled over’ by what he saw: a complicated, vibrant mix of what life is like in 21st century India. These plays are different: a far cry from the popular, culturally specific, but homogenised version of India that is often encountered at a night at theatre. ‘The plays showed that society’s issues with class, gender and identity which was really exciting. So I set about talking to the Court about bringing them here.’

Pamela Raith Photography_PEREIRAÔÇÖS BAKERY AT 76 CHAPEL ROAD_007

Ok Tata Bye Bye is based on the real life experiences of writer and filmmaker Purva Naresh who ‘uncovered a known phenomenon in a village where prostitution is legal and part of an authorised accepted existence by the community.’ The play addresses issues of everyday sexism and gender politics, and the conflict between a young girl and the filmmaker questions who is right, challenging audiences to think about which side of the debate they sit on. The Pereira’s Bakery at 76 Chapel Road is ‘a gentler piece about a group of tenants in a small community, and its set in a bakery.’ Their community is under threat when developers want to demolish their homes making way for a shopping mall. The play deals with themes of idealism, the threat of big business, preserving cultural heritage, and community.

Of all the plays showcased that night at the Court, Suba says ‘these two specifically made me reflect on my life and what we encounter in the news here, these two were the most interesting and provocative.’ But Suba is keen to assert that ‘what excites (him) is bringing the best possible writing to theatre.’ It seems for him, this is less about delivering culturally specific work and more about bringing human stories to the stage that will resonate with people’s lives today and have universal appeal. It’s a step in the right direction, after all good theatre should open up the doors for new audiences, by putting on a fantastic programme, not simply be a fruitless, box ticking exercise.

New Plays from India will be performed as part of Curve’s Inside Out Festival from 17th-19th April in the Studio. The festival takes place over ten days from 10th April and includes the Curve playwrighting competition – the final, BBC Writersroom masterclass, and lots more.

All images credited to Pamela Raith Photography