'Theatre still throws up surprises'
Renowned critic Deepa Gahlot talks about how risk-taking groups and appreciative audiences have made Mumbai the hot bed of performing arts
What kind of changes have you seen in Indian theatre over the years?
There is a lot more original writing in English and the audiences have increased for English plays. Marathi theatre has been the most innovative in terms of experimenting with content and form, but Gujarati theatre is most sorted commercially. The one suffering the most is Hindi theatre, for want of dedicated venues.
So is Mumbai the new theatre capital?
It is thriving most in Mumbai because there is a paying audience for all kinds of theatre. There is also corporate support trickling in and the media coverage is good.
What are the new trends that you have seen in recent English plays here?
As less risk is involved and appreciation is guaranteed, a lot of groups are doing works by playwrights, and are able to experiment with themes that mainstream theatre or cinema won’t tackle. For instance, there have been plays on Kashmir such as Djinns of Eidgah and Gasha or QTP’s So Many Socks that was based on Tibet’s struggle for freedom. Theatre still throws up surprises, unlike films or tv shows.
After you became the head of programming of theatre in the NCPA, you have introduced many initiatives...
The idea was to make space for audiences of all ages. So we not just promote new plays through our festivals, we also do a lot of work with children and young people.
Any that stand out in your mind?
Centrestage is an event that provides a platform to new plays, which are then staged across the country. Summer Fiesta, is another one. It is challenging to work with children and groom them into appreciating performing art.
What’s next on the agenda?
I would like to do a lot more productions of original Indian plays; ideally have our own repertory and eventually find ways and means of doing world-class theatre in Mumbai and taking it to the world.