Mumbai gets short play festival by six Delhi theatre enthusiasts
With an aim to create a strong theatre fraternity across India, six enthusiasts from Delhi bring a festival of short plays to Mumbai for the first time
Scenes from the plays performed at the Delhi edition of the festival earlier this month
A career in theatre isn't for the faint-hearted. From Naseeruddin Shah's tell-all memoir of his days as a struggling actor to a conversation with a young artiste in Prithvi Cafe, the one trope that seldom changes in the life of a theatrewallah is how money is the biggest casualty in the bid to pursue one's passion. The stark difference in the financial prospects of a career in films over theatre doesn't make it easier.
With the intent to create a strong pan-Indian theatre fraternity - a safety net of sorts - a group of young theatre enthusiasts from Delhi founded a performing arts society called The Roots in 2016. In July last year, the society organised the first edition of The Roots Short Play Festival in Delhi, with the idea of including one new city in its fold every six months. With its upcoming debut Mumbai edition spread across two days, the festival will see 11 short plays (most of them of no more than 25 minutes) by the alumni of Delhi's National School of Drama, Delhi University Theatre Circuit, Lucknow's Bharatendu Academy of Dramatic Arts, Mumbai's St Xavier's College and The Drama School, and city-based professional groups like The Actor's Truth.
The plays will delve into diverse topics, from the diminishing space for nuanced discourse, a story based in an asylum in Israel to Draupadi's candid conversation with her mother on her way to heaven. The festival also includes interactive sessions with veteran theatre personalities Atul Kumar and Jeff Goldberg.
Short and sweet
"Many of our friends and colleagues write short-length plays, but staging them is not easy. Booking a venue for theatre is as it is very expensive, especially for groups that are not well established. And even if you do manage to find one, the audience doesn't consider it feasible to come and watch a performance that doesn't go beyond 20-odd minutes. So, we felt a festival of short plays would give artistes a platform to showcase their work, without having to worry about the venue and audience," shares festival director and creative head Prabhjot Singh.
The choice of venues, he continues, is a conscious one. "Since the whole idea is to build a community of theatre people, we decided to host the festival in alternative spaces only. With commercial venues charging a hefty rent, we understand that running an alternative performance space is a struggle in itself," says Singh, 25, who is a theatre faculty member for various colleges in Delhi, and also does theatre-based corporate training to keep the initiative going.
Before bringing the festival to Mumbai, Singh and other founder-members came to the city in December to meet professionals from the field and understand the essence of theatre in Mumbai. "The difference between Delhi and Mumbai is that people love attending plays in Mumbai. And it's easier for an actor to get his due here. The monetary returns of doing theatre in Delhi are far more limited," he says. Which is why, one important part of the group's mission is to expose theatre groups to audiences across India through the biannual travelling festival.
While providing for travelling expenses is a concern that the group hopes to address in the future as they work towards getting sponsors, the members provide logistical support and other guidance to travelling groups through their network of theatrewallahs across India. "Recently, a fledgling theatre group from Mumbai was in Delhi to perform at JNU. We got publicity material like posters done for them and gave them backstage assistance," shares Singh. Similarly, if groups from Delhi arrive in Mumbai, they arrange for accommodation through home stays, which helps cut down the expenses considerably. "We cut corners wherever possible. We don't mind rehearsing in parks or bringing home-cooked food instead of ordering in, so that artistes can get paid," he elaborates.
"Theatre is often seen as a launch pad for a career in films. Why I find this initiative by this young bunch of people important is because they are not stuck in proscenium performances only," says senior artiste and alternative theatre practitioner Parnab Mukherjee, whose solo act Our Smells: Our Madness, based on poetry improvised with 40 schoolchildren from Pune, will open the festival after the release of his book on the subject. "The number of 60- to 80-seater venues in Mumbai has increased manifold, and making use of such spaces is an important effort."
A resource-strapped community it may be, but there is no want of good intent. As Singh gets back to the preparations for the festival, he signs off with this thought: "Mumbai is full of talented actors in search of work. If creating a play for our festival gives them motivation to stay back in the city and keep going, what else can we ask for?"
On: January 20 and 21, 6 pm to 7 pm (interactive sessions); 7.30 pm onwards (short plays)
At: OverAct Alternative Theatre Space, Aram Nagar, Versova
Entry: Rs 200 for plays; Rs 300 for plays and interactive sessions
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