Artist of the Month: Afreen Gandhi ’15

Photo by Kyle Kaplan '15 | Artist of the Month Afreen Gandhi

Photo by Kyle Kaplan ’15 | Artist of the Month Afreen Gandhi

Kyle Kaplan ’15
Arts Editor

KK: When did you start to work on your most recent play, Mehru, and why? I’m assuming that, since your mother wrote a collection of short stories, you had a number to choose from. What about the one you produced for this weekend appealed to you? Was there a specific experience?

AG: I started working on Mehru in January of Spring 2012 in Professor Andrea Hairston’s Screenwriting class. Yes, my mother Nighat M. Gandhi wrote a collection of short stories in Ghalib at Dusk & Other Stories, but I really liked this one because I could closely identify with it. It is based in my hometown Allahabad, where I grew up, and many of the visuals described in the screenplay come from what I have seen and experienced while growing up. I thought it would be a great short telefilm to write about. The traffic, the fields and bullock carts are all a part of my upbringing. I also know who this story is based on, so I could visualize everything clearly while writing it.

KK: How long have you been writing plays? Do you identify as a creative writer who likes to write in a number of different forms, or do you specifically prefer to write for theatre?

AG: I have been writing plays since my senior year of high school in 2010. I do identify as a creative writer, but my focus is on adaptations. Taking an idea or inspiration from one source and transforming it into another or giving it a completely different flavor that I most identify with is what I am really passionate about. I prefer to write for theater and film but would also like to gradually drift towards short stories.

KK: Do you act as well as write plays?

AG: Yes, I do act, but haven’t had much of an opportunity since I came to Smith. After I tried out for many auditions [during] my [first] two years at Smith and didn’t get in, I just firmly chose directing as a focus and created opportunities for myself to direct plays and films. Since fall 2012, I have directed two documentaries and three plays here at Smith and several back home during the summer. I am very happy that through support from EKTA, the South Asia Concentration and STC, I could direct Family Duty last fall, which was centered on women’s mental health care and the joint family system in India. It was Smith’s first South Asian play.

KK: Could you describe your creative process? When do you realize there’s something you have to write, and why must you write it? How long does the completion of a project usually take you, and have you ever collaborated with another playwright?

AG: My creative writing process begins once I read something I really like; then I begin adapting it or visualizing it on stage or on camera and start writing. Usually my mother or someone like Professor Hairston guides me through my work, helping with editing and developing ideas.

KK: How much of your work has to do with cross-cultural narratives? Do you specifically focus on the culture you grew up with and its values, or do you like to explore the similarities and differences between what you grew up with and other cultures?

AG: Almost all of my work has to do with cross-cultural narratives. And yes, I do specifically identify with the South Asian culture that I have grown up with. It’s very close to my heart and my social upbringing always impacts my work. The values, languages and dialects – even things like the seasons – add to my written and performance work. But, on the other hand, I have explored how issues in South Asia are universal and how one can create performance pieces that not just South Asians, but people from across the globe will identify with. I strongly feel that the issues are the same, no matter which culture, religion or class you delve deep into.

KK: Seeing as you’re a junior, what other projects can we look forward to?

AG: Well, currently I am adapting and directing Vjiay Tendulkar’s Kamala, which will be staged at Smith College in Hallie Flanagan Studio in [the] Mendenhall [Center for the Performing Arts] on Feb. 28 and March 1 and 6–8, 2014. This is a directing project advised by Ellen Kaplan and Andrea Hairston in the Theater department. I have adapted this play, which is inspired by a real journalism scandal in India that occurred in 1981.

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