Going Solo on Stage: A Chat with 'O! Frida' Director Abhishek Deshmukh

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Pune has been turning out as a hub for experimental theatre activities and as the days are passing by, their different forms are entering into the cultural scene. One of the forms is “Solo Act Play”, which is growing in Pune and is a total tryout with Punekars. Solo act play is a unique and challenging format, as the whole structure of play revolves around one person. One such solo play which we found out very gripping was “O! Frida”, which is based on the life story of a Mexican revolutionary painter Mee Magdalena Carmen Frieda, popularly known as Frida Kahlo. The multilingual play by Expression Lab is written and directed by Abhishek Deshmukh, who is a Pune-based theatre artist. The role of Frida Kahlo has been wonderfully played by actress Krutika Deo, whose appealing performance drives the audience and takes them to Frida Kahlo’s range of emotions.

In January 2015, the play was performed in “Rangmahotsav 2015” organized by Maharashtra Cultural Centre. The solo play has been selected for the 16th International Youth Festival, Vreme-Vratza, Bulgaria which is going to be held from 12th to 17th June. The festival will witness the participation from various countries.

We chatted with the writer/director Abhishek Deshmukh and the actress Krutika Deo to learn more about the art of solo acts and gained new insights. Read up on and enjoy!

1. What inspired you to write a play on Frida Kahlo’s life story?

Abhishek: Actually one of my friends told me about Frida Kahlo, that she was a painter from Mexico, and she has done self-portraits throughout her life. Later I searched her on Google and saw her paintings and then I got to know that there is a story of her life behind every painting. An honest expression concluded in her paintings inspired me to write a play about her.

2. Were there any specific thoughts behind using solo act as a form to express her story?

Abhishek: Yes I wanted to write and direct a Solo piece. I was looking for a strong subject. I felt Frida Kahlo in herself is a solo personality. Most of the time, she was in solitude, conveying herself through her art.

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3. How much efforts did you have to take on the research of Frida Kahlo’s life?

Abhishek: She was completely unknown personality for me. As usual, I did a research on internet but it was not satisfying to make me write a play, then I searched for some books, articles in all bookstores throughout the city. Finally, I ordered them online. Books were very expensive but I glanced in her life and started making dramatic possibilities based on tragic and mysterious experiences of her life. It was a process of 3 months to write a play. It was kind of learning. It was like introspecting in our own lives. That was something which is dissimilar to routine life; her letters were full of honesty & misery. She was eccentric but at the same time she was spineless when it comes to her husband and famous muralist Diego Rivera. Portraying a multi-layered character on paper was like a roller-coaster ride. But still, I can say she is still unknown to me and I am happy for that because pursuit of her is still alive.

4. Lights, set design and background music has played very essential role in your play. What thoughts did you put in while working on these aspects?

Abhishek: As a Director I gathered my team very sensibly, Mihir Kulkarni, who is a light designer but at the same time he saw Frida’s painting and her work and took an insight to enlighten her incidences. Set Design is done by Ameya Bhalerao, Prasad Rajopadhye, Harsh Singh. All the technical team has previously worked for Purushottam award winning play “Ullagaddi”. Everybody has their own artistic sense. Hemant Chaturya does light assistance and publicity posters for us. He makes every poster meticulously in his own style. Music has been done by Akash Choudhary; he is a freak when it comes to music. He collected many tracks for Frida. He knows nerve of the play; he knows every dialogue as he is part of the process and rehearsals selflessly from first day. So, all these factors really fulfill ‘O! Frida’.

5. What challenges are you facing to reach at “The 16th International Youth Theatre Festival Vreme-Vratza, Bulgaria”?

Abhishek: According to the organizing committee of festival, we have to bear travelling expenses on our own which is difficult for experimental theatre group. So, we had ask many organizations including cultural department of government but due to time constraints and financial issues it didn’t work out , but , we did a fund raising show in association with MCC,Pune and “Theatron” which was helpful. In addition, on individual level, some theatre practitioners and artists did help us and now we are almost ready to fly.

6. Do you think that there should be better infrastructure for experimental theatre in Pune? If yes, why?

Abhishek: Yes, of course. In Pune, we have very few auditoriums to perform experimental plays. There are very few places for rehearsals. Very selected audience follows experimental theatre. So, considering all these facts, we need to generate funds by gearing up experimental activity which will produce audience for the same. There has to be collaborative productions by Experimental Theatre groups. Only one or two groups are currently working outside Pune in all over Maharashtra. We need to find out and create some places like amphitheaters with rehearsal halls where experimental theatre should rise and which will generate more audience.

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7. Have you performed in a solo act play format before?

Krutika: No, I had never performed a solo play earlier. It has both its plus points and minus points. The biggest strength is you get total liberty as an actor because you are alone on stage as well as it is very challenging because you have to sustain solely throughout the play. But I must say, every actor should experiment with this format for once, for it helps you evaluate your skills. O! Frida is an hour long solo act play. Performing for a whole hour and being there alone on stage is a very great feeling. It always creates positive pressure in my mind every time the first bell is heard before the show. Though being a solo act, we have made all efforts to make this play a theatrical production having all the technical aspects of lights, music, set design, costumes, etc. like any other product. There are certain costume changes in the play, which are done in few blackouts and for which I have to take care of time management.

8. What preparations did you go through for performing this role?

Krutika: Frida Kahlo was one of the most influential personalities of her time. Portraying her character was very challenging. For this matter, knowledge about her times, her origin, and in what circumstances she was brought up was very essential. I read a lot of things about her, and tried to internalize her personality. She had a very dynamic personality including her involvement in politics, communist parties, medical challenges she faced and endured since the age of 5, her breath taking accident at the age of 18 and injuries it brought, her relationship with her muralist husband, and how all these affected her painting style is very interesting!

To get used to with painting I started to try out my hand on canvas and observed mannerisms of few of my artist friends. I also learned little bit of Spanish, as the play opens with a Spanish monologue. Portraying a revolutionary lady in her various stages of life throughout the play was really challenging.

9. According to you, what feature of Pune or Punekar audience drives young theatre artists like you to conceive and perform your art here?

Krutika: Pune audience is very receptive, I must say. They are ready to sit back and watch what we are trying to experiment. I am thankful to Abhishek Deshmukh & Expression Lab who gave me opportunity to perform my solo act in the competition. Winning awards for ‘outstanding performance’, ‘best direction’ and ‘best costume’ was great encouragement for me and my team.

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