Kamal Sunavala’s Under the Influence is coloured by Bollywood. Aniruddha Guha speaks to her
Rang De Basanti combined a plot with a strong social message and a dose of Bollywood masala to achieve cult status. Now an under-production play, Under the Influence, uses it as a catalyst in the lives of its characters.
“My play touches on the Rang De Basanti (RDB) phenomenon. The story revolves around a young boy from an affluent South Mumbai family living in England, who watches RDB during a visit to India and it changes his life forever,” explains writer/director Kamal Sunavala.
After the release of RDB, Sunavala met Indians who were deeply influenced by the movie, some of whom quit high paying jobs abroad to earn a living in India.
“One close acquaintance was deeply influenced and couldn’t reconcile with a life of luxury. He chose to work in India,” she says. The boy faced opposition from his family; the play is loosely based on the conflict between father and son and its resolution.
Can a film have that kind of real-life impact? “It was just an entertaining story at the end of the day,” she argues. “A lot of people I know, especially those from the older generation, didn’t agree with the violent ending. But they missed the big picture.
A movie has no impact on people unless it has some drama, even if it’s unreal at times. What’s important is to understand the message conveyed.”
The topic of repatriation features in Swades and Yuva too, points out Sunavala, but without RDB’s effect. “My aim is to reflect the fact that young India has woken up to its responsibilities.
RDB in itself may not have brought about a revolution in the country, but what it has done is initiate a conversation. My play aims to do that,” she insists.
RDB is said to be inspired by the French Jesus de Montreal, about a group of actors hired to recreate a part of Christ’s life on stage.
“I have seen Jesus de Montreal and also a stage version of it,” says Sunavala. “While RDB finds a parallel with it, my play does not –– neither with Jesus de Montreal nor RDB. My young protagonist is merely inspired by the core philosophy of RDB; that’s where it stops.”
A lawyer by profession, and a one-time teacher and journalist, Sunavala finds that Indian theatre today is evolving, addressing social issues. “It is this change that makes me want to dabble in theatre now and then,” she concludes.