Siddharth Kumar is an actor and writer who has worked in the theatre for over 15 years. He has acted in over 20 productions including the META award-winning Dhumrapaan, What Planet Are You On? and A Few Good Men for Aadyam. His first full-length play as a playwright – The Interview, won several awards at Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards and was selected for the Hotink festival at the Lark, New York. Sananda Mukhopadhyaya is a theatre maker and arts-based educator. She has been working extensively with children in both the context of the classroom and the theatre since 2009. She is an accomplished lighting designer, director and an occasional actor. They have been together for almost 15 years now and we are glad to have a chance to do a candid chat.
How did theatre come into your lives?
Sananda: Theatre happened to me in my college days at St. Xavier’s. I had been training in dance all my life so performance and stage was a familiar space. When the opportunity presented itself in college to be part of a play that was being created for Thespo, it just seemed right. I started off backstage, went on to do lighting, then direct and very recently have ventured into performing.
Sid: I also went to Xavier’s, but I did not know Sananda at the time. Again, for me it was a production in Xavier’s which I auditioned for, got cast and the play made it to Thespo. From there the ball just started rolling. I auditioned for Atul Kumar, I met Akarsh Khurana at the festival and have worked with Akvarious ever since.
How did you end up meeting each other?!
Sananda: Ah! We have Thespo to thank for that as well. By my graduation, I was very much involved with Thespo. I remember I was asked, “Oh, you don’t know Sid Kumar?”, because by then he was a Thespo veteran of sorts. So then I met Sid Kumar who did many things for Thespo. In those days, rehearsal spaces were very few. So through my contacts I had found this hall in Dadar where Sid also used to rehearse for one of the plays he was working on. I also worked as the lighting designer for the two plays he was in at Thespo 8. So we kept bumping into each other at rehearsals and that led to some more rehearsals at Worli Sea Face and things like that!
Sid: I just want to say that the first time she said she met me, this whole talk about “Oh you haven’t met Sid Kumar” was nonsense. Because for a long string of years I was trying to wiggle my way into someone’s Thespo play and would not get cast and ended up writing or doing backstage. I honestly don’t remember a lot from back then, but I remember how Sananda had become a sort of lifeline. She found us a rehearsal space. And that year all the plays that came to Thespo wanted a lighting designer, so she ended up lighting the entire festival! So yeah, that was something.
What has working together in the theatre been like?
Sid: For me, one of the more memorable productions we worked together on was Under the Chestnut Tree. It was a stressful process for me anyway, as I was co-writing the play and performing in it at the same time. We were opening the show at Jagriti theatre in Bangalore, so we had travelled as a couple. It was work obviously, but it also turned into a nice small getaway at that time. So now, there was a kiss in the play between me and Shweta Tripathi. We kept telling the director we will get to it or we will do it later, until we were two days to the show and he went, “Just kiss!” It was awkward. I mean my girlfriend was sitting in the tech booth lighting this. We tried it a few times until I remember thinking okay, this is good enough. It’s a good on-stage kiss. And suddenly Sananda shouts from the tech booth, “Arrey kiss her properly!”
Sananda: (laughs) Those were the early days. I’d like to talk about a play called In the Cat House, which is quite memorable for us. I directed the piece and Sid wrote it.
Sid: Wait! I want to explain how I ended up writing this play. So Sananda had been working with and teaching children then, and Sanjana Kapoor had called her to Prithvi theatre to talk about directing a children’s play. She comes back from the meeting and I ask her how it went. She looks at me and calmly says “So you are writing a play for me” and my reaction was “What?!”
Sananda: (laughs) Yes, that sounds accurate. And it’s not the only time I’ve done that. But the play ended up being a really nice piece. It was a play that we grew up with. We settled into the rigour of going in and out of rehearsal, we knew the language and we had identified ourselves with a tribe. I felt like we had created a difference for the first time.
Sid: I think being part of the theatre community helps us define ourselves as a couple. Like Sananda said, what tribe are we from? We are not very particularly rooted towards our religious community, so for us our grounding came from the theatre community. I mean we are a lot more aware of when the Prithvi festival is than when Diwali is! People we look up to, people we respect, people we work with and our social circles are all tied to the theatre community and it’s always great as we all speak the same language.
You have worked together for so many years. If you can, could you point out one thing you find endearing about the other while working?
Sid: I’m in awe of her every time she is works. I know her so well, we have been together now for almost 15 years, but when she is working on the technical side of things it’s a completely different world. It’s a world where she is specialised and she is speaking a different language. And she is wonderful with the people she works with. She has such a deep connection with all the technicians she works with. Usually when I go to Prithvi or NCPA I always think the technicians must be thinking, oh that is Sananda’s husband. Seeing her in that avatar, even after so many years, always makes me go “Wow! Who is this mysterious person?”
Sananda: For me, till date, seeing Sid on stage is one of my favourite things. It’s just one of those things! Every time I see him on stage, I feel like this giddy happy child. I always tell him that you are so lovely to see and it is such an experience watching you perform. I really love it when I don’t know the piece very well. He may have talked about it, but might not have shared the inner workings of his character. To then see that on stage and notice small things he does to bring out an aspect of the character’s personality opens a whole new flow of conversation. That is very exciting!