‘It takes a small trigger to unleash our baser instincts’: Vivek Mansukhani

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After an 11-year-old boy and another child get into a physical fight in a park, the parents of both meet up to talk, because “there is still such a thing as the art of coexistence… which the children don’t appear to have mastered”. The discussion begins on a civilised note. Delhi-based theatre actor and director Vivek Mansukhani first read this play, God of Carnage, a decade ago and looked for an opportunity to stage it. Now, it is the first live theatre piece that he will showcase after the pandemic.

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“I think we have changed individually and collectively as a society (after COVID-19). The greatest lesson is being thankful for being alive every day, and for all the people in our lives who matter to us. That said, all it takes is a small trigger to unleash our baser instincts of greed, anger and foolishness. We think we are charitable, kind and compassionate but, more often than not, we are thinking primarily about ourselves. Are we really who we think we are? Or are we what others think we are? Or are we a combination of the two?” he says about the selection of the play.

In God of Carnage, by French playwright Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton, the adults’ manners disintegrate and a black comedy takes over. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play and Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2009, God of Carnage has been performed by many groups in different countries. Mansukhani has a mature cast of Anila Khosla, Geeta Sudan, Sunit Tandon and Shorba Bhattacharya for his production.

“They have powerfully interpreted the script that shows up a mirror to society, about how people keep up the pretense of being happy and successful while, underneath, they are simmering with rage and angst. If anything sparks them off, they are likely to reveal their darker side and explode with their pent up emotions. While it is funny and irreverent, it reveals human behaviour and complexities with amazing accuracy,” says Mansukhani.

The play is made by Scene Stealers, a group that Mansukhani started with some friends in Kolkata in the 1980s. Mansukhani has been trained in theatre by stalwarts, such as Zarin Chaudhuri, Joy Michael and Barry John, and is a veteran of productions such as Othello: A Play in Black and White (1999), which won the Scotsman Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Festival, and Animals Out of Paper (2019), by the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Rajiv Joseph. After a lifetime on stage, Mansukhani is among the theatre practitioners trying to bring audiences back to the halls after the pandemic disrupted theatre. The art form was suffering dwindling numbers before 2020 and is now vying for attention with entertainment options such as streaming platforms.

“Audiences, I believe, are tired of engaging with online content and want to connect with live performances. Especially, if it is content that entertains as well as makes one think and reflect… We are keen to re-connect and enjoy shared experiences. Going to the theatre is certainly one such shared experience that is deeply fulfilling, enriching and perhaps even empowering. We do hope that audiences will come in large numbers and help theatre to reclaim its place and popularity, to encourage talent and support the arts and creativity,” he says.

God of Carnage will be staged at Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, on August 13 and 14, 7.30 pm

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