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Young voices of Mumbai's theatre

Ahead of World Theatre Day tomorrow, six young turks of Mumbai stage speak of their passion for drama in today’s times

As the fourth edition of RAGE’s Writer’s Bloc gets underway, fresh talent, new playwrights and bright sparks will be introduced to city audiences. However, India’s theatre-scape is already a breeding ground for young talent that is giving the scene a much-needed makeover.

Mansi Multani in Piya Behrupiya. Pic courtesy/Gorky M
Mansi Multani in Piya Behrupiya. Pic courtesy/Gorky M

From composing original soundtracks and designing costumes, to managing lights, production and set design, there’s plenty to look forward to as the curtains rise. While most agree that the biggest challenge of theatre remains the inability to generate funding, they are optimistic about finding alternate ways to deal with it.

Maxima Basu designed the costumes for Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon (in pic)
Maxima Basu designed the costumes for Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon (in pic)

Dressing the part
One of the fallouts of having limited budgets is that many contemporary plays do not engage professional costume designers and instead rely on the team. Thirty-three-year-old Maxima Basu, who designs for cinema and popular plays including Sunil Shanbag’s Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon and Nayantara Kotian’s Satellite City, shares that designing for theatre is a different ball game. “A play runs continuously, at times, for 100 shows. Costumes need to last, be packed and carried around, so high-maintenance fabrics are a no-no, no matter how pretty they look,” shares Basu. “Unlike cinema, the actor has to be aware of the physicality of the costume. It has to be easy to use for changes. After I design the costume, I attend the first two shows to help organise everything. Post that, the production company takes over,” informs Basu, adding that actors choose their corners in the green room to hang their costumes, so that they can access them without wasting time. “Once familiar with the scenes, we use tricks like creating openings in unlikely places, using wraps etc. I enjoy the challenge of this medium,” she reveals.

Kaizad Gherda composing for a play
Kaizad Gherda composing for a play

A sound stage
Like costumes, original background score for theatre also works differently from how it would for cinema and other live acts. Composer and performer, Kaizad Gherda, who creates music in the Western Classical genre, tells us that he gets involved with a production about 14 to 20 days before the play is going to be staged. “I like to see rehearsals; it helps me compose and also, suggest interludes where I think music can lift a scene,” says the thirty-year-old, who has composed for Mahesh Dattani’s The Alchemist and Rehan Engineer’s A House Of Correction among others. “I also perform live for some plays where I play the piano on stage. I enjoy this because it’s a live interaction with the actors and the audience. At venues like Prithvi, I can play around a lot. The lighting and the music can create different moods,” he suggests.

Nishna Mehta handled light design for Gulabo Aur Parizaad
Nishna Mehta handled light design for Gulabo Aur Parizaad

Behind the scenes
Not necessarily keen to be in the limelight, 20-year-old Nishna Mehta, who handles lighting and stage management with plays for Gillo, a Mumbai-based theatre repertory that works exclusively in theatre for young audiences, had an early start. “I was bitten by the theatre bug as a 10-year-old in 2006, when I attended my first theatre workshop, Gadbad Ghotala by Shaili Sathyu as part of Summertime@Prithvi. It was based on Hindi poetry and puppetry. We made puppets out of waste and by the end of the workshop, staged a performance based on the poem. It was a hobby then but I am looking at ways to make it financially sustainable. I did not start as a stage manager or a light designer but seeing everyone in the team doing his/her part, I wanted to do everything. So, after I completed my SSC board exams, I worked on props for Gillo’s Kyun Kyun Ladki in 2011,” she adds. Mehta tells us that lights fascinated her whenever she watched a play. “I observed Manjari Makhijany, Arghya Lahiri and Sananda Mukhopadhyaya in plays. Finally, in 2015, I designed and executed lights for Gillo’s play, Gulabo Aur Parizaad. While I was working with Thespo, I would shoot stills for every play that was performed there which gave me a better understanding of how it works,” shares Mehta, who adds that many directors prefer to handle lighting their plays.

Saudamini Kalra
Saudamini Kalra

Director’s cut
Director Saudamini Kalra, who came to Mumbai to pursue a course at The Drama School, has started a group called The Meat Puppet Company with a few friends. She looks to source stories from her personal experiences. “Women’s issues, especially ones related to their sexuality, are not discussed often. I like working with such topics.” She also highlights the importance of experimenting with venues, lighting and seating techniques. “It is important that we work at alternate venues where people are not just sitting in the audience and clapping but are also involved. Intimate theatre moves the audience around for certain scenes,” shares Kalra. She is excited that Mumbai has professional, young groups, who are doing original work, without waiting for veterans or big production houses to create opportunities for them. “We need to pay rent and fund ourselves but if you love the medium, it needs all your time. If you use it as a stepping stone to get to cinema, you are not likely to get anywhere,” says Kalra.

A still from EQ directed by Amatya Goradia
A still from EQ directed by Amatya Goradia

Acting matters
Twenty-eight-year-old Mansi Multani, who is part of the recent AIB videos, has a different take. Currently shooting for ads and cine plays, she also plays the lead in Sunil Shanbag’s Stories In A Song and Atul Kumar’s Piya Behrupiya, both of which have completed over 100 shows. While she has to make her buck with taking up alternate projects, theatre is her first love. “The Bombay stage is my biggest teacher. I try to choose projects on other mediums keeping my sensibilities in mind. I enjoy those but I never intend to leave theatre,” says Multani. “Here, you have an opportunity to create something new in each show, even if it is the same play that has run a million times,” Multani adds.

Amatya Goradia
Amatya Goradia

The written word
Writer/director Amatya Goradia who directed EQ (2013), about Albert Einstein’s life and work, believes that fresh content is the need of the hour and each play should have a shelf life. “A few classic plays that I saw recently were underwhelming. I realised these plays were created about 15 years ago and so much has changed since then,” says 24-year-old Goradia. Having been part of initiatives like Thespo, Goradia is now part of AmyGo Productions, a group of theatre enthusiasts formed from a college-level drama team. “We have to find ways to convert our passion for theatre into commercially viable projects without having to do commercial work that we may not enjoy,” sums up Goradia.

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