An Interview With Rajkumar Thiagaras, Playwright Of Ashes, Ashes
Where did you get your inspiration for this play?
I was reading an article in the Straits Times back in 2017 about an old property in Kovan called "Lakshmi Villa" that was sold off by the family for re-development, and I remember feeling sad about the loss of historical and cultural heritage. That was when I decided to write a play based on my interpretation of personal history vs national history. Personal stories are complicated, messy, and difficult to comprehend but there is also a beauty in peeling the layers behind them and valuing them for their truth.
Have you hidden any Easter Eggs in your play that only few will find out?
Well, keep a lookout for the rituals and see whether you can recognise them, especially if you are a Tamilian. Also, a certain popular children's book keeps popping up, can you guess it before the protagonist reveals it?
Does writing plays for an intended audience change the way you write?
The content and integrity of what I was writing didn't necessarily change, but I had to take into consideration the way we packaged the information for a non-Indian audience to make the rituals and cultural references easier to understand. Also, I had to personally learn to cut my verbal diarrhea and to be succinct with my words. Audiences are smarter than we think so I had to trust that they will be able to pick up on the subtext instead of me revealing everything outright.
As a young playwright entering a scene with so many before you, do you face the pressure of saying something original or unique?
Of course I do, who doesn't? But then again, there is no such thing as anything being original anymore, everything has been said and done. It is the presentation and perspective that should aim to be unique and challenging for the audience. I seek to re-orientate their viewpoint so that they are able to see more than one perspective at once. Also, I believe in my unique position as a young Tamilian Singaporean and the stories I have to share so I think I have something different to offer that has not been seen till date in the scene.
Did you start writing knowing that you wanted to write plays or have you dabbled in other forms such as prose or poetry writing? What do you feel are the differences?
I have dabbled in poetry and short stories before as part of my creative writing exploration and even thought I would write a novel some day (although that effort bit the dust haha). I actually have a short story being published in an anthology called In This Desert, There Were Seeds by Ethos Books later this year. But I found my real love to be playwriting, because it is the medium that allows me to visualise and indulge in the magic of the stage. Plays are always written with the intention of being staged at some point, so it is exciting to envision characters coming to life and breathing life into these characters through dialogues and theatrical intentions. I am currently a freelance theatre actor, so I see this as a natural growth in my creative explorations as well.
In closing, what can we hope to see from you in the future?
I will definitely endeavour to write more plays exploring my personal stories and experiences involving the Indian diaspora in Singapore, and to explore Indian mythology and motifs in a contemporary fashion. So watch out for my brown voice, cause it ain't keeping quiet anytime soon!
Ashes, Ashes runs from 17 – 20 October 2019 at NAFA Studio Theatre. Tickets available here.