Who is Muzammil?
Muzammil is one of the known faces of Aagaaz, primarily because he makes it extremely hard to miss his presence. Outspoken and confident about his tongue in cheek humor, he is quite a charmer. At a very young age, he started participating in workshops that happened in his school, known as the Katra Wala School, which now has been taken over by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation. The volunteer run summer camps at his school, introduced him to the world of theatre. He confesses to have gone to a few of these activities only when he was forced by his friends. Although he was a part of both music and theatre workshops, he lacked interest and commitment. He remembers being thrown out of his first ever play because of his irregularity. He thinks that the reason behind his insincerity was the disinterest he felt towards the process of making a play. Acting based on a pre written script, learning dialogues exactly as they are, felt forced and he preferred a more creative process.
When Muzammil was in 5th standard, Sanyukta started coming to his school and informally interacting with the kids. She would make the group sit down and listen to horror stories and Muzammil clearly remembers being scared and fascinated by these stories. As soon as she started playing different theatre games, she had his attention. ‘Basuriwala’ was the first play that the group worked on. It was based on the story The Pied Piper. The first performance of the play was in the school itself and received a good response from parents, teachers and other people from the community. His father, who also has experience in theatre, recognized that he was indeed a good actor. This was a confidence booster for him.
The group’s second production coincided with the group’s registration under the name of Aagaaz Theatre. After years of just doing theatre as an activity, now they were an official theatre troupe and ‘Duniya Sabki’ was their gateway into the world of performance. He feels that this play is the foundation of Aagaaz and he can’t imagine the group without this play. The idea, the concept and the experiences that this play is made of came very naturally from the immediate lives of the people in the group. The play emerged from the members of the group sharing their realities and what they felt about the things happening around them. Owing to his previous experience, he was one of the few older actors, who led and supervised the process of creating and building connections with stories. Also, creating a larger structure for these different episodes to fall into place as one play, gave him a larger perspective on how theatre brings together the lives of people on stage.
The process of building pieces seemed easy up to the point of selecting the stories. But the real work that narration and dramatization entails was the challenge. He recollects thinking a lot about the best ways in which the stories could be brought to life on stage through the body, dialogues and using space. He attributes his creative process to theatre exercises that the group did with different people as workshops throughout the year. In addition to this, he feels the space is constantly booming with what he sees, senses and processes from his surroundings. The body he feels is extremely important since it talks even when the actors are silent. He enjoyed telling a particular story through repeating images using frozen bodies of the actors. The narration continued through refrains in words spoken by these frozen images.
While working on Duniya Sabki he realized that he was under equipped in providing an end to his stories and generally relied on open endings, where the audience is left to seek answers for themselves.
The advanced workshops that preceded Raavan Aaya, worked a lot on body and building character. The group did workshops with Dhwani and Neel, which were intensive and more complex than what they had done before. Muzammil particularly remembers Score, the concluding exercise of Dhwani’s movement workshops, to be the most useful. This exercise requires each individual to connect the separate movements, which he/she might have come up with during the course of the workshop, into a continual flow. This exercise has helped him a lot in joining thoughts and narratives outside the workshop and work better on driving the story towards some kind of closure. The exercise also initiated reactionary movements from other actors which in turn built stories automatically. Sparking reactions, he feels, is what theatre does best and with a little bit of intention on the performers’ part, a play can be used to raise questions.
The idea of performing a script, picked up completely from outside was also new. He claims to never have been comfortable with learning dialogues or sticking to them during performances baut a little had to be changed with Raavan Aaya. He began by making connections between two dialogues, to create a natural flow in his memory, instead of mugging them up. Neel’s character building workshops were also very constructive in this context. The workshops insisted on fleshing out individual characters way before stepping onto the stage. Their physical presence, tonality, moods and ways of emoting dialogues came about through rigorous assessment of everything that might have an effect on their behavior. These workshops let the actor become just a medium for the character in the play to go through the story.
Conversely, when he thinks about the reactions from the audiences when Raavan Aaya was performed in Saharanpur, the identity of the actors was not let go off so easily. He remembers the conversations during rehearsals, which happened within the group, about how people from certain religious and political sets might raise questions about their portrayal of a classical text and what’s being said about it in the play. Even then, the way in which the air around them changed after the actors introduced themselves and where they came from as a part of the curtain call, caused a certain discomfort. He still feels content about the existing plays and performances that throw some light on these perspectives and these questions that exist all around us. The fact that this play is providing space for such conversations to happen in the midst of such stark differences in the thought process of the actors and the audience, is something that inspires him.