Holding the stage: Exploring the theatre scene in Mumbai

  • Arundhati Chatterjee, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Mar 09, 2015 19:21 IST

As we meet them in their rehearsal space in Bandra, we're informed about a series of common, and bizarre incidents: actor Rajit Kapoor is still stuck in a jam, we're told, while director Rahul DaCunha has been informed to not to return home before midnight since the road outside his Colaba apartment has been dug up. On to the bizarre, and a couple of days earlier, actor Shernaz Patel says two monkeys showed up at her Bandra flat. While monkeys in apartments may not be common, dug up roads and traffic jams are the reality.

This daily chaos that Mumbai endures forms the premise of Rage Theatre Productions' upcoming play, The Sidhus Of Upper Juhu. We speak to Rage founders - Rahul DaCunha, Shernaz Patel and Rajit Kapoor- about all things drama -unconventional spaces, critics and festivals.

Is there a part of you in The Sidhus Of Upper Juhu?
Rahul: Of course. The growing problems of traffic and pollution are part of our lives. What worries me is that we are okay living like this. And the government is busy banning beef. It hurts to see that the wonderful city we grew up in is not here anymore.
Shernaz: Properties are being promoted with statements like "Venice in Virar". You put in all your life's savings to buy a home in the city and then what do you get ultimately?
Rahul: Mumbai is supposed to be the next Shanghai. I wonder if they mean Shanghai during war.

Like the city's landscape, the theatre scene has also evolved. Is that chaotic too?
Shernaz: Theatre has evolved, but not all the changes are great. There are newer venues, but they are not really theatre spaces. There's no proper backstage or make-up rooms.
Rahul: But where do we go? There's no aid from the government. I would be lying if I say it's easy to raise money for theatre productions.
Rajit: Places used to be almost free earlier. Rage literally grew up in Experimental Theatre (NCPA). But where's the theatre in Experimental Theatre today?
Shernaz: Besides, today, the audience is happy with mediocrity. Every other play gets a standing ovation. But at the same time, there's some fabulous young talent out there too, for whom good theatre is a priority.

The environment is not exactly conducive for theatre companies to survive nowadays because of lack of adequate funds, promotion, etc. But Rage has flourished…
Shernaz: We survived because we never compromised on our content. We didn't bring in TV actors or film stars to play parts.
Rajit: We came at a good time. The '90s was good for theatre. Plays don't give you immediate results, and today, everything is about instant gratification.
Rahul: The audience has Attention Deficit Disorder. A play is only an hour long or so. But they still cannot stay away from their phones. On the other hand, social media has helped theatre a great deal. Today, hardly any bookings are made at the box office, but we know there are online reservations being made, and there will be an audience.
Shernaz: Back then, we would wait for the reviews as the critics understood theatre.
Rajit: Today, the reviews are few, and the ones reviewing plays don't know much about theatre.

All of you have separate careers. How do you still manage to work together so often?
Rahul: On WhatsApp (laughs)
Rajit: It's all about time-management.
Shernaz: Commitment is important. If I am working on a play, and a film offer comes by, I will reject the movie.
Rajit: Yes, I would reschedule my [film] shoots for my shows.

Are there differences of creative opinion?
Shernaz: There have been instances when we have banged down phones, but nothing has been blown out of proportion. It's like you fight in a family, but you are still together.
Rajit: Sometimes, it's good to disagree. A different approach allows us to rethink.

There are several theatre festivals now promoting premiering productions. Do you think quality suffers in the hurry to put up a new play?
Rajit: Of course quality is bound to suffer…
Shernaz: …but at least there's a platform where you can showcase your productions. Though, I agree there should be quality checks from time to time.

Note: The Sidhus Of Upper Juhu will be staged on March 14 at 7.30 pm, and on March 15 at 4 pm and 7.30 pm, at Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.

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