NEW DELHI – Theater has been so much a part of Indian culture that it’s where some of the renowned Bollywood names have cut their teeth. However, it is struggling to keep its identity alive in the present-day, tech-driven frenzy, prompting some of the veterans to suggest it be given a cinematic and digital feel to make it more relatable and reachable to the young.
Film and theater actress Sonali Kulkarni feels theater is an important part of “our culture and it is our responsibility to pass on the legacy to the upcoming generations”.
“The generation today is impatient, wants the best quality service, doesn’t want to be stuck in a theater, feeling deprived that they did not get a seat in the front row — televising a play is the best opportunity for everyone to feel that they are in the center seat of the first row,” Kulkarni told IANS in an email.
She also feels that drama is one of the most original forms of art.
“I really like this culture of entertaining each other by story-telling. There are social stories, mythical, political stories, stories about our livelihood, our society, romanticism and poetry — everything can be conveyed through a play.
“I believe this is the basic form of story-telling and it should be preserved. The fact of the matter is that today’s audience is always racing against time. They need convenient and easy options of entertainment and hence it is important to make theater available to them at their convenience,” she said.
Joy Sengupta, another theater veteran, echoed this and also pointed to the limitation of theater.
“Performing art is experienced live and is experienced by several people at any one given time and at one given venue. But a particular performance cannot reach everywhere. That is the limitation of theater as opposed to cinema, which can be showcased, or a serial which can be telecast in multiple mediums, multiple places at the same time.
“Millions of people can experience a film or serial at the same time, but not theater,” Sengupta told IANS.
So, is the emergence of new age Bollywood stories taking away the essence of watching a play?
“I don’t think so,” said Sengupta, adding: “I think Bollywood has actually benefited from theater. The best of actors, the best of writers, best of directors have actually come from theater. Theater serves as a base for introspection of life, psychology, emotions, society, politics, everything.”
“So theater, in that sense, is probably the best vehicle for communicating human truth and the magic of theater will never go out of fashion.”
He disagreed that theater is in any kind of crisis.
“Youngsters in India right now are definitely turning towards theater as an outlet for their expression and are benefiting from it. More and more youngsters are experiencing theater right from their college time, post college, into group theater, into professional theater. Theater is benefiting from it, the youth is benefiting from it and I don’t think theater is in any kind of crisis,” he said.
The cinematic format will give theater a new boost, Mita Vashisht, whose oeuvre spans theater, TV and films, pointed out.
“When it comes to educating the youth about the significance of theater, exposing them to the exemplary performances of theater stalwarts and reviving its glory, the cinematic format of theater is the way to go,” Vashisht told IANS.
She also felt it’s vital to increase theater’s social and cultural space in society.
“It reflects the rich cultural heritage of our country and teaches society about itself, bringing to light the mindsets of current society and educating them about their conditions,” she said.
Aiming to preserving the art of drama and emotions of theater, increasing its reach beyond a few privileged cities and taking it to audiences short of time, Tata Sky has recently launched Tata Sky Theater — a 24-hour dedicated platform to provide an ad-free theater-watching experience on digital devices.
The content is curated with the best plays and performances from the finest theater groups, bringing multiple genres of plays under one platform to be accessible from the comfort and convenience of one’s home.
“We believed that, theater, which is one of the oldest and the most appreciated entertainment art forms of India, should also be given a new stage and reach. That’s when Zee Theater came forward to partner with us with the concept of ‘archiving’ and ‘televising’ popular plays,” Pallavi Puri, Chief Commercial Officer, Tata Sky, told IANS of the venture.
So is televising theater the next big step on the small screen?
“Television viewership is only growing stronger with each passing day and televising India’s most cherished art form is an interesting phase for the small screen.
“The plays have been recreated to suit the sensibilities of today’s viewers and is shot using different techniques and technology. The result gives viewers a refreshing experience of watching excellent content and enjoying acclaimed theater performances from the comfort and convenience of your home and across devices such as mobile, tablet, laptop and desktops,” Puri explained.