Lights, camera, theatre

Updated: 05 August, 2020 12:11 IST | Sukanya Datta | Mumbai

An upcoming virtual festival will see around 16 filmmakers create shorts based on play scripts from across the world

Scene from The Unbearable Gaze
Scene from The Unbearable Gaze

With black drapes covering the walls and sets made of everything from old liquor bottles to shampoo containers, writer and filmmaker Neha Singh has turned her Madh Island home into a studio since the past few days, while shooting her new film, Chitrangada 2020, based on Rabindranath Tagore's play. "I have chosen that bit from Tagore's Chitrangada where she undergoes a transformation from a not-so-feminine warrior princess to a beautiful woman in her love for Arjun, and given it a contemporary twist which includes Instagram chats. There are elements of dastangoi, puppetry and theatre, all in a 12-minute film," says the filmmaker. Like Singh, around 15 other filmmakers from across India are also currently in the thick of their shoots for short films based on play scripts for The Company Theatre's (TCT) festival, TheatreFilmTheatre.

Chitrangada 2020
Scene from Chitrangada 2020

Actor, director and TCT's founder member Atul Kumar tells us that the festival of shorts, slated to go live later this month, has brought back the positive jitters, the kind you get before you go on stage. "The basic aim was to keep artistes busy creatively, and give them a platform to create and cope with these times," he shares. So, Kumar, who's curating the festival with Mallika Singh, Vara Raturi, Anupam Barve and Sonal Gupta, reached out to filmmakers and over 500 theatre actors, about a month ago. The brief was simple: make a film based on a play, and cast theatrewallahs in it.

Actors from the film Aab-e-Zam Zam during rehearsals
Actors from the film Aab-e-Zam Zam during rehearsals

The next step was to procure copyright clearances for each script. "We want the filmmakers to use the language of cinema to tell the story of the play; it shouldn't be a mere recording. This has given rise to experimental shorts," Kumar shares, pointing to Mohit Agarwal's Aab-e-Zam Zam, a new-age take on William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream; Trap Door by Nikhil Chaudhary, which is inspired by Hamlet and Mahabharata's Ashwathama; and The Nation I.E People Precedes Citizens by Avinash Sapkal who took a leaf out of Anuj Deshpande's Marathi play The Nation, among others. "Since, they can't move around much, they are shooting and collaborating remotely. For instance, Priyanshi Vasani, who's in Mumbai, is directing her actor for The Unbearable Gaze, an adaptation of Kalidasa's The Recognition of Shakuntala, in Jaipur. We also have a team of mentors to help out the directors," Kumar elaborates.

Atul Kumar
Atul Kumar

It's this marriage of cinema and theatre that's got Agarwal, who's positioned Shakespeare's comedy in a half-real, half-fantastical world, excited. "It's a four-way love story that gets chaotic because of the love tonic called Aab-e-Zam Zam. The film's a mix of the drama and music from Bollywood of the fifties, that meets the Chaplin style, but has the speed of Tom and Jerry," he adds.

This excitement was what TCT wanted to bring alive to sail through these times. "Some of the best art has been produced in times of trouble and so, I'm hopeful that people will find new means to tell their stories," Kumar wishes.

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First Published: 05 August, 2020 09:39 IST

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