One visit to the Props Department at National School of Drama (NSD) will leave you feeling that you have entered a mini art museum. From the age old wooden tools to the modern day crafts made from paper, thermocol or rubber etc, the department houses an eclectic mix of properties.
My Theater Café interacted with Arun Kumar Mallick, Head of Property Department at NSD to further understand the importance of props in a play and what interested him to choose a non-conventional career like this. It is also said about Mallick that he is capable of making a craft out of any idea or concept that is suggested to him.
What interested you in creating crafts?
A: After pursuing Masters in Fine Arts from B.K. Arts College in Orissa, I opted to study at National School of Drama (NSD), from where I completed my diploma in acting. There is lot of commonality between fine arts and acting.
Aspects like composition, costumes, emotions and colours are important in the field of fine arts as they are in acting. The field of fine arts allows an artist to put his expression on any medium like paper, canvas etc but as an actor; your body is your medium. I came to NSD to add a new dimension to my creative specialization in sculptures.
You have also been associated with theatre in the past. Tell us more about it.
A: Back in Orissa, I was very active in Geet-Natya performances, where an actor almost has to do everything. It was quite a learning experience for me. I was also involved with Mukti Theatre and learnt under the guidance of Surya Mahanti in Bhubaneswar.
I used to do this during my college days. From 10 am to 6 pm, I would attend college and then post that till midnight, there used to be theatre related work. Though, I was learning a lot, but still I wanted to learn more. So, I thought, NSD would be the best place.
How and when did you start working with NSD?
A: I passed out of NSD in 2007. Post that, I started taking workshops throughout the country. I took around 100-150 workshops in Assam, Sikkim, Bengaluru, Tripura, Delhi and many other states. During the same time, I was approached by NSD to teach the same art and craft to their students. So, around 2010, I did an exhibition here at NSD, displaying various crafts or properties, which received a tremendous response. Since then, I got associated with NSD and started imparting skills related to craft creation and prosthetic makeup.
From where do you draw inspiration for creating crafts or properties that are used in any play? Is it a collaborative effort or your personal interpretation?
A: The whole play works on a certain ideology. I try to understand that first. Then, the director also gives his perspective. I take into account that as well. This helps me develop my own of understanding of what is required on the stage.
On the basis of this, I conceptualize an idea for the prop, which is later discussed with the director for his approval. Also, it is important to note that a prop is not made merely to beautify the stage. It has its own innate purpose, which adds value to a certain scene and takes the story ahead.
Any inclination towards acting?
A: No. I am happy with what I am doing.
What is the most intriguing part of your job?
A: Every director has a certain style of thinking. So, every play is like a new challenge for me to do something innovative and interesting. At times, I am really amazed with the results I get after a prop is made. It is a very satisfying experience. However, at times, I am so engrossed in my work for months regularly that I end up realizing that I haven’t given enough time to myself and a year or so has passed like this.
Any favourite prop of yours?
A: During Bal Sangam, TIE company festival in 2011, I created a huge installation for a friend. It was a monastery that stood 30-35 ft tall, depicting sculptures, tribal life and their rituals.
Tell us about your recent work.
A: I recently worked on a play titled Ajab Judge, Gajab Insaaf (based on the play Caucasian Chalk Circle) that was staged by students of NSD repe1rtory. The various props in the play like puppets, soldiers’ armours etc were all done by me. It is always a great experience to work with Robin Das, who is the director of this play. Along with him, I had a good time working with Bangladeshi director Jameel Ahmed.
Besides this, these days, I am making a 3 x 3 ft tall thermocol bull.