‘Barff’: That night in a wintry hamlet…

Barff, a thriller set in Kashmir, urges the audience to reflect on the many shades of truth

Ghulam Rasool, a cabbie, his wife Nafisa and an oncologist are caught in a life-threatening situation. The doctor is journeying into a snow-laden hamlet caught in cross-border fires only to realise that the cabbie and his family are the sole occupants of this volatile village. The events that unfold after the doctor reaches the village form the crux of Barff, a thriller that explores the conflicting questions of truth, belief and reality through the genre.

Here’s an excerpt of a telephone interview with director, Saurabh Shukla.

What led to the inception of this script which was based on a short story by Ranjeet Kapur? What does the play primarily focus on?

The idea was born out of a conversation with Ranjeet Kapur. So I asked him if I could make it into a film script to which he agreed and this was later made into a play. The play primarily focusses on the concept of truth. In fact, the problem I have always had with truth is the multiplicity of it. What right do we have to claim that our truth is the truth? This is an ongoing debate that is present throughout the play. The title Barff which means snow or ice is again connotative of the multiplicity of truth because of its ambivalent physical nature.

What are the challenges of exploring a genre like thriller on stage and adapting it to a play?

The biggest challenge in a thriller is to build the moment. In cinema, it is easier because you have all the tools with you; you can enhance the mood in a situation through the movement of camera, lighting, multiple frames, close-up shots and so on. These are the essential tools to create drama. Whereas on stage, the activity is fixed. But audience have their own way of interpreting a scene as a close-up once you initiate the situation. Their eyes start doing the trick. This should govern the technique that you follow to build the scene.

What kind of visual vocabulary have you employed to make this an effective thriller?

Sometimes, you have to reinvent tools on stage. For instance, if the lighting design is done in such a way that it renders to drama, it would enhance the emotion of the scene. I strongly believe that what you can’t see is what contributes to the imagination of the audience. In terms of movement— how do you compose a scene wherein there is an inherent stress on a situation which demands it; the actors themselves contribute largely to this aspect. In addition to this, music plays a significant part in a production—for instance, making sure it sounds sublime and doesn’tsimply stick to the fade-in, fade-out format .

You cannot create an absolute realistic image on stage. But, what theatre amazingly does is that it gives you a chance to suggest. I wanted to suggest that the scene is set in a lonely place, on a wintry night in the middle of nowhere. So, we created snowfall, mountains, clouds rising out of mountains and the moon coming out of the clouds and so on. But as I mentioned earlier, the audience is capable of imagination and with the right kind of light, you can create an illusion. And the glimpse is more than enough to fire the audience’s imagination.

The play, you had mentioned, is set in Kashmir. Did you want to delve into the political aspects that the setting demanded?

When the story started, it had no political angle to it whatsoever. It still doesn’t. Seclusion, mistrust and normalcy — these three things were the primary themes of the script. Initially, when I had started writing, it was set in Maharashtra. The story was still working but I felt something amiss. It was not coming alive. That is when I had happened to visit Kashmir for shooting a film. The place was visually beautiful, the people were soft-spoken and I was having a wonderful time. But, in the back of my head, there was always the feeling of knowing about an impending danger. This creates a very eerie feeling that my script demanded. Having said that, the script can be completely non-political, but it is not free from the politics of that land either.

(The play will be staged at Sir Mutha Venkatasubbarao Concert Hall, Chetpet on August 12, 7.30 pm)

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