Sohini & Pranay Gupta believe in theatre that unites cultures, arts, languages, religions and people.
As playwrights, theatre directors and actors, they feel that in a rapidly changing world it is the power of integrative expression alone which will be at the heart of human unity.
Over the past few years, their body of theatrical work has created a niche by being multi-lingual, cross-cultural and boldly experimental. It has been acknowledged by international luminaries such as Zubin Mehta, Gulzar, Soumitra Chatterjee and others. Pranay, who is also a leading inspirational speaker on leadership, says, “Our work is a rebellion against stereotyping traditional performing arts, and seeks to fuse these arts with dynamic and fresh ideas that inspire and entertain. We embrace both old and new, yet seek to transcend all forms with bold new formats”.
Sohini says, “We love creating new blends of artistic forms through the oldest and most enduring live storytelling medium: theatre. Our productions ‘From Kabir to Kavi’ and ‘Soul Stir’ are two recent examples of this”. Pranay adds, “You know, the old joke is that for hundreds of years, people have been saying that theatre is a ‘dying’ art, but the fact is that it has never died! It endures and is thriving.”
While much of the team’s work has included original musical plays, the social angle of their organisation Tagore Appreciation Society (TAS – www.facebook.com/tasconnects) has been to utilise the performing arts to create well-being for people in drug rehab,, for underprivileged children, and so on. They say they are fortunate to have the support of their very dedicated team at TAS, without whom things would be difficult indeed.
About their theatrical approach, Sohini says, “Our production work is, overall, more intuitive than intellectual. Art is meant to be intuitive. There is a misconception that the highest drama, literature, poetry or music is a product of limited mental constructs. Like mysticism, it is intuitive and expansive. Art is meant to release human spontaneity; performing arts and theatre even more so! It’s about the entirety of being – body, mind, heart and soul.”
Pranay says, “We endeavour to create intuitive art which is meaningful at an existential level. We live in a cross-cultural world, yet often forget our shared universal and spiritualistic origins. The tales of one part of the world reflect those of another part, telling us that our heritage is a common treasure trove of humanistic values conveyed through stories. We therefore strive to creatively fuse diverse storytelling arts and forms in our theatre.”
The art of engaging storytelling is obviously central to their work. Yet besides theatre, this central thread of live storytelling has taken on new forms through Pranay’s PowerTalks for corporates (www.powertalks.in). At prestigious venues such as Antilia the Ambani residence, and for audiences as diverse as CEOs of companies such as Dell, or at global spiritual conventions, Pranay utilises the core tenets of live storytelling to convey powerful leadership lessons and learnings. “It’s a different space, but the basics are the same: to be a raconteur of very inspiring universal parables”, says Pranay.
The team’s original productions, shows and initiatives include:
a. ‘FROM KABIR TO KAVI’: The Musical
‘From Kabir to Kavi’ is a tribute to 2 great poets of India, Kabir and Rabindranath Tagore.It is a theatrical fusion of Indian performing arts, and is tri-lingual: dialogue in English, with lyrics in Hindi and Bengali.
The play features all live music with world travelled musicians, adding to the scale and depth of the production. It has live singing of ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ by the brilliant Sasha Ghoshal, and Kabir’s verses too.
About this production, Pranay says, “Down the ages, more violence and mischief has been done in the name of religion than anything else, and only a few voices such as Kabir’s have managed to rip apart the hypocrisy of religion, and have voiced the truly mystic. Our play is a reflection of that. The world is dominated by hatred. We have forgotten love as the basis of life, the heartbeat of existence. ‘From Kabir to Kavi’ is ultimately an ode to love.”
Sohini says of From Kabir to Kavi, “Peace, harmony, joy, bliss: these are the themes of the production. The innocence of man needs to be rekindled: it has great power. The Upanishads, Jesus of Nazareth, the Sufis, Guru Nanak, the Buddha, Mahavir: ultimately they echo the same truth. The play emphasises this. Tagore was an artiste who built a bridge to mysticism, and Kabir was a mystic who built bridges through poetic art. Humanity is facing a danger of splitting apart. A Kabir is needed now more than ever, as is a Tagore. Their voices unite. Our attitudes need correction. We need to look up to unifiers, and not to instigators of hatred. The anger and pain brought on by religion and dirty politics needs to be replaced by clarity and bliss. Man needs to grow up from following religion blindly.”
Glimpses of debut show with all live dialogue, music & songs are on the following link (please note that over the years the play has undergone transformations, and it’s current avatar is somewhat different from this debut version): http://tiny.cc/xhijjy
b. SOCIAL INITIATIVES
TAS undertakes projects and creates productions with people in rehab, and with children from various backgrounds.
‘Balaka’, literally meaning ‘Bird in Flight’, is a unique project initiated by the members of TAS for the wellbeing of patients in de-addiction programs.
Speaking about their social initiatives, Sohini says, “Theatre has tremendous power if used to disseminate positive therapies, methodologies and messages. Through our social initiatives we seek to involve the participants’ energy into pure creativity, for of that comes transformation. It’s about inner change and positive inner transformation. For the individual to flower into true self-confidence. Theatre is therapeutic and healing, and TAS aims at creating inspired individuals! We are usually in a tug of war with ourselves, struggling with inner anxieties, and particularly so people recovering from addictions. Theatre has tools to lessen these anxieties.”
‘Geetimalya’ is a grassroots project which inspires underprivileged children through the performing arts, bringing a new lease of quality in their lives for their self-development. Pranay says, “The feeling of energy on stage is one of the greatest delights for children. Singing, theatre, acting, dance create clarity within the individual. Acting and singing are essentially spiritually healing arts, for they require being an observer of one’s own performance. Music and theatre allow children to relax. They soothe, cleanse. Children enjoy to the full: creativity refreshes their inner world, and strengthens their outward energies. It is ultimately an inner journey, of consciousness.”
Over the years, TAS members have created social communications including some powerful ones on child labour (http://tiny.cc/xgijjy).
c. SOUL STIR: A show that celebrates mysticism
Using a powerful fusion of dramatic storytelling, mystical music, rock, folk, and contemporary sounds, Soul Stir transcends genres.
From the Sufis to the Bauls, from Guru Nanak to Meera, from the mellifluous melodies of Tagore, to Kabir, to the sounds of Sindh, Punjab and Rajasthan: these are all part of SoulStir.
It is a humble tribute to the mystical soul of India, and the spiritual longing of all mankind expressed through music, drama, poetry and song.
Sohini says of it, “Religion was meant to be a dance, a celebration. Soul Stir reflects that mystical spirit of real religion.”
Soul Stir has also featured as the marquee production at large corporate events.
d. ‘Kunti, Karna & The Mahabharat’
The entire Mahabharat for stage told through the eyes of 2 poignant characters, Kunti and Karna.
Scripted in English, with folk music and lyrics of India. Musically choreographed. The idea is to bring out the depth of the world’s largest epic while retaining its ‘kavya’ form, yet making it very contemporary and timeless.
Speaking of it, Pranay says ‘We have a love affair with India’s epics and cultural heritage! And in our stage version of the Mahabharat we are using traditional performing arts, as these have always made people more centred, more integrated and whole. They had a deep emotional, spiritual and psychological significance. Which is why we believe in integrating old forms with the new: this is what we kept in mind while writing the play.”
e. ‘GITANJALI’: A Live Artistic Presentation
A Tagore-based musical presentation combining his mystical poetry & songs (‘Rabindra Sangeet’).
Based on Rabindranath’s best known work ‘Gitanjali’ (for which he won the Nobel Prize).
“The way of Tagore’s art is to approach life through the doorway of beauty, and that is the central theme of the show”, says Sohini.
f. ‘TAGORES’ TALES’
‘Tagore’s Tales’ is a unique bi-lingual medley of storytelling, drama, music and songs (Rabindra Sangeet). It features Tagore’s stories presented as mono acts in English and in Bengali, interwoven with music.
Sohini says, “Through this production we aim to break barriers in understanding the deeper significance of Tagore’s timeless art and literature. Performing art should be a doorway into new spaces, and with that in mind we constantly explore new formats.”
Several people have encouraged Sohini and Pranay to film their productions, yet they strongly believe that in a world facing an onslaught of ‘screens’, the live medium is becoming more and more relevant. They have had their share of interesting experiences in the audio-visual medium, though. They have shot a TV series and created several corporate films, as well as on child labour and other issues. Pranay also narrates how he had once made a short film in the US, called ‘Zen Scroll’. He was then surprised to find that the popular movie ‘Kung Fu Panda’ – made a few years later – had the same ending as his: the discovery of wisdom through an empty scroll.
As they move forward on their theatrical journey, Pranay expresses the universality of the art, saying, “Whether in our plays, in my leadership talk sessions or leadership mentoring, I have realised that some of my most powerful lessons have stemmed from theatre basics. For example, when it comes to the sharing of energy as a team, it is best exemplified in theatre. Participants, including head honchos of top companies, always enjoy modules pertaining to communication, storytelling, body language: all part of our theatrical grounding. While writing on leadership too, I find myself referring deeply learnings from theatre. So theatre acts as a link between art, entertainment and learning.”