INDIAN INK by Tom Stoppard, directed by Richard Cottrell, with Fiona Reid, Sanjay Talwar, Hazel Desbarats, Vik Sahay, Steve Ross, Zaib Shaikh, Geoffrey Pounsett and Errol Sitahal. Presented by Canadian Stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Opens tonight (Thursday, April 4) and runs to April 27, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $20-$75. 416-368-3110.
actor sanjay talwar knows what
it feels like to straddle two cultures, but not in the way you might think.
His father came to Canada from India in the late 50s, and his Nova Scotia mother's family goes back several generations.
"I was born in Halifax, went to Dalhousie and identify as a Maritimer," says the tall performer with an easy-going smile. "For some reason, I'm expected to know all about India, but apart from some family ideas about the country and its culture, I'm still finding the flavour of Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink."
The play is Stoppard's look at Anglo-Indian relations in the 1930s -- near the end of the period of British colonial rule in India known as the Raj -- and 80s. The Canadian Stage production is a rare show that features almost as many South Asian as Caucasian actors on the usually very white Bluma Appel stage.
Talwar plays Nirad Das, a painter in 30s India who befriends the poet Flora Crewe (Fiona Reid), an independent spirit who knows H.G. Wells, the painter Modigliani and Charlie Chaplin. Their initially tentative but growing relationship seeds the events of the rest of the play, which involve -- in England and India 50 years later -- Flora's sister, Das's anglicized son and an American scholar intent on making a reputation based on Flora's life and work.
It's a typical Stoppard blend of clever what-ifs and time shifts. A room can become the setting for actions decades apart but contemporary in stage time.
"Nirad is an anglophile -- not embarrassed about being Indian, but more comfortable identifying with things English.
"He feels he has to adopt an 'Indian' persona, a thick mask, which the independent and frank Flora asks him to put off."
Talwar experienced the remnants of the British Raj on his one trip to Asia, when he was part of a theatre exchange in Bangladesh and worked on a project about Bengali women.
"The former British men's clubs are still there, complete with all the rules: members must sign in and wear a jacket and tie; women are only allowed in at certain times."
Back in Canada, Talwar's stage work has ranged from Shakespeare to contemporary pieces by Jason Sherman and Joan MacLeod. He even manages to mix directing with performing, though not during his busy acting schedule last August. Then, he kept up a hectic pace for two weeks, travelling across town from Shakespeare in the Rough's outdoor Measure For Measure to SummerWorks' The Wait Room at Factory Theatre.
""After a matinee and a 7 pm show in the park, I had to get to Factory in about 12 minutes," he recalls. "One night the stage manager from The Wait Room had her car engine gunning. I did the last scene in Measure, skipped the curtain call, leaped into the car, changed into my business suit costume and got to Factory -- travelling through clubland on a Friday night! -- one minute before the curtain went up."
Indian Ink isn't quite that taxing, though Talwar admits he sometimes has "a 900-pound mind at the end of a rehearsal day."
Talwar's also been taking painting lessons from the show's talented set designer, Susan Benson. He plays a painter, remember, and part of the plot revolves around several portraits he does of Flora Crewe.
But the left-hander had to learn to paint with his right hand. Naively, I ask why. Talwar smiles.
"Back in 30s India, a person used the left hand for only one thing. And it wasn't polite to talk about it or use that hand for any other purpose."
2002 Indian Ink
2001 Measure For Measure; The Wait Room
2000 Titus Andronicus
1997 The League Of Nathans
1996/7 Romeo And Juliet; End Of Season
1994 Little Sister