It won't be an exaggeration to say that Mumbai has one of the most, if not the most, thriving theatre circuits in the country. But how often does one get to witness the who's who of the community together, on one stage? Almost never. This month-end promises to change the idea in a manner which even veteran theatrewallahs would call ambitious. As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of their theatre group Rage, Shernaz Patel, Rahul daCunha and Rajit Kapur are reviving their initiative, 36 Ghante, which was staged in 2005. A creative marathon, it invites 60 artistes to create 10 short plays on a given theme — all within 36 hours. Proceeds from the evening will go towards honouring the unsung heroes of theatre. "This happens around the world, often as a charity event. I had read about it and we tried it out at the Prithvi Festival, 12 years ago. It's incredible bringing all the theatre people together for one night," says Patel when we catch up with her and Kapur at Prithvi Theatre.

Rahul daCunha, Shernaz Patel and Rajit Kapur (seated) are organising the initiative after 12 years. Pics/Sneha Kharabe
Rahul daCunha, Shernaz Patel and Rajit Kapur (seated) are organising the initiative after 12 years. Pics/Sneha Kharabe

The concept
The process kicks off on the evening of October 25, when 10 playwrights (five each from the Hindi and English languages) will be invited and given a theme to write a script, for a 10-minute play. Apart from having to turn in their plays by 5 pm the following day, the other condition is to include two male and two female parts in their writing. The playwrights include Rajat Kapoor, Ramu Ramanathan, Saurabh Shukla and Purva Naresh, among other well-known names. At 6 pm on October 26, 10 directors, including Atul Kumar, Nadir Khan, Quasar Padamsee and Sheena Khalid, will be invited for a blind pick of the scripts. Next, they will pick chits to know the names of the two actors and two actresses they will direct.

Once the casting is done, the actors (40 in all including Ila Arun, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Anu Menon, Sonali Kulkarni, Kunaal Roy Kapoor, Neil Bhoopalam, and Ranvir Shorey) will be mailed their scripts that evening, so they can start learning their lines. But the entire crew for each play will meet only on the morning of the final staging to literally get their act together within 12 hours. Isn't this a mammoth task? "It is! Which is why all those who are a part of 36 Ghante are people whose work we admire. They are artistes who can think on their feet and act under pressure. A lot of improvisation comes into play here," says daCunha. "Even if I wasn't a part of Rage, I would never have been selected for this," he chuckles.

"The role of the director is very important. A lot of it rides on his ability to take quick decisions. It's also a great experience for an actor because it demands a lot of focus to get things right," shares Kapur. "The excitement is also about the unpredictability of it all," he adds, referring to the comfort zone that artistes need to step out of as they may be working with someone whose work they have only seen as audience members.

Zafar Karachiwala
Zafar Karachiwala

The finale
On the final morning, when 10 groups of diverse backgrounds and sensibilities come together, the energy, in the words of Patel, will be electric. "I remember how the last time around someone would go take a peek to see what others were up to," recalls Kapur. "The fun and joy of it aside, you want the show to be as professional as possible," adds Patel. Actor Zafar Karachiwala, who was part of the earlier edition, recalls, "It's like manufactured chaos. I was nervous as hell. But this kind of a project also keeps you truthful to your work. There's no room for embellishments." Sheena Khalid, who is directing a play for 36 Ghante for the first time, says, "I am nervous and excited. But with such an incredible team of people, I am sure we'll have a blast."

Sheena Khalid
Sheena Khalid

But what makes the evening special is the thought of celebrating those behind the scenes. "There are so many who have been offering their services to theatre for over 25 years. Whether it's the lighting technician, make-up artist, usher or ironing person, they have been supporting theatre unflinchingly. And these are the people we would like to honour," says Kapur. "So many people have taken theatre to villages. There are those who contribute silently to the props," adds daCunha. "We would also be honouring a few artistes from the next generation. These are young artistes who have rebelled against parents who'd like to see them in a nine-to-five job. We have been there, so we understand what it is like," shares Patel.

But the biggest joy, the trio concurs, is seeing the theatre community come together on one platform. "In 2005, the show went on for five hours. And as one group would finish, they'd come and join the audience to watch others perform," recalls Patel. "A hundred people taking the curtain call together — that doesn't happen often."

ON: October 27, 7.30 pm
AT: Tata Theatre, NCPA.
CALL: 22824567
COST: Rs 300 onwards (plus GST)