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Couple trouble

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LIFE IN A BOX: In 'Between the Lines', Nandita Das and her real and stage husband Subodh Maskara squabble over issues of equality

Nandita Das makes her theatre debut along with her husband Subodh Maskara in a play that is about contemporary urban Indian couples and how they face up to new social realities.

Vihaan is feeling excitable and after some running and screaming, he settles down to play a boardgame. At no point is he hushed and ushered out of the room by a doting nanny. It's clear that his mother, actress-director Nandita Das, and her entrepreneur husband, Subodh Maskara, are comfortable in their lives together. They married in their 40s, had a child and don't think that it is necessary to pretend that their life is glossy smooth.

The couple have also launched a new company, Chhoti Production Company (both wanted a daughter and decided she would be called Chotti). They hope to produce a variety of cultural experiences but their first initiative is a play titled Between the Lines. It is set in contemporary India and focuses on an educated and affluent lawyer couple, who appear "equal" but in reality are struggling with several inequalities woven into their seemingly impeccable upper class lives. These inequalities come tumbling out when they find themselves on the opposite sides of a murder case.

Given Das' extensive involvement with films, a theatrical production seems like a curious choice. "Theatre allows us to experiment with smaller budgets, so we decided to begin with it. Furthermore, Subodh has experience in business and we felt that we could do what we wanted to do and make it commercially viable without compromising. So in that sense, it's a good marriage, " says Das.

In a career spanning two decades, Maskara, an entrepreneur, has started several businesses, including making television sets for leading brands, a dot com company, a publishing venture and an event management company.

With the acting, writing, direction all getting done, more or less, inhouse, Between the Lines does seem like a truly a choti production. While Das makes her debut as theatre writer and director, she and Maskara play the lead characters in the two-actor play.

"A couple of years ago, I was looking through some of my old stuff when I came across a script by Prof Purushottam Agarwal, an academician and writer. I was taken in by the script but I wanted to update it as it were and Purushottam gave me a free hand for this. Earlier this year, I invited Divya Jagdale, who also played a role in Firaaq, 2008, my feature film directorial debut, to come on board as cowriter. " A familiar acting presence on the theatre circuit, Jagdale has written two plays in the past. "It was good to have Divya join in, it gave the process some discipline. Although technically the script is done I feel the writing process is never complete. I for one continue to tweak things around. "

Das feels that she's constantly adding to and subtracting from the 'original' script. "People have to be really careful about what they say in front of me these days, " she says laughing and then adds, "This evolution is also one of the great advantages theatre has over film. We hope that the production can keep evolving with each staging. "

Maskara says he gives her the freedom to write. "That said, a similar spirit of improvisation can also be found when we're together on stage, " he adds.

Das' artistic preoccupations have been overwhelmingly political. Although this has been the case with films she has been part of, her earliest experiences in theatre are greatly responsible for her politicisation. For approximately five years, Das was involved with Jana Natya Manch (People's Theatre Front). Founded in Delhi in 1973, the group seeks to take theatre and politics to the people.

As a quick segue to this Maskara states, "I prefer theatre. It is more intimate, more grounded. You don't need big budgets, it isn't all about the glamour and it is definitely more feasible. Nandita and I disagree on this. " Das adds weakly, "There are a lot of people who use theatre as a stepping stone to films. " To which Maskara, says wistfully, "Truth is I'd rather be friends with theatrewallas than filmwallas. " Das agrees, "Well, that really is why I chose to continue living in Delhi. I moved to Mumbai for love not films. "

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