To say that Delhi has a deep-rooted theatre culture is possibly the modest introduction one can give to the theatre scene in the city. Yet Delhi is not exactly the theatre capital of the country — for that matter no other city can claim that title. But its young and restless are too busy setting the stage on fire to care about that.
And they are driven by passion and talent rather than by money. “There is so much of theatre in this city — street, collaborative, musicals — that caters to a wide variety of audience,” says VK (yes, that’s how he’s known), director, Khilona Theatre Group, pioneer in children theatre. “Indeed it is an integral part of Delhi’s culture.”
The prestigious National School of Drama (NSD) stands testimony to that. Big names associated with NSD have surely helped nurture a theatrical tradition in the city. But if theatre today has become an art form practised well and enjoyed widely by Delhiites, it is thanks to the immense contribution by and enthusiastic participation of the youth.
The kind of theatre that is promising in the Capital is what happens at the undergraduate level,” says Sudhanva Deshpande of Jan Natya Manchand, a veteran street theatre group.
Delhi has had a strong college theatre culture. Kirori Mal’s “Players” is just one of the numerous drama societies. Be it St Stephens, IP College, LSR or Gargi, students on all campuses are busy banding together and forming drama groups.
So what is it that is prodding these youngsters onto the stage? “It is a great feeling when you are there on the stage,” say Pratik, Ashish and Nitin, all in their early twenties, who have been doing theatre for three years. Pratik is in Amity Law School and Nitin in Delhi College of Engineering. “It’s butterflies in the stomach, ecstasy, power of expression and a terrific feeling of performing,” they say about their passion. And what is the kind of dialogue these groups like to have with the audience? “I don’t want to create a play that people see, walk out with a smile and say, ‘Ya, that was really nice’. We want them to come out and debate, argue and even criticise what we have done,” says Neel, 25, of the nascent theatre group Wide Aisle.
However, “few carry their hard work from college to a higher level, while a lot of others are into making amateur theatre a sort of substantial platform in Delhi”, says VK. They are doing plays in both Hindi and English. As one of the established actors puts it, “No longer do we say there is a season of theatre in Delhi; it is happening round the clock, 365 days.”
“The amount of theatre done in the schools of NCR is big. There are hundreds of children taking summer workshops and coming up with amazing productions,” says VK. The popularity of theatre has really soared in the past year with Delhi hosting two international performance festivals that saw nearly a thousand children from all over the world. Today five-star hotels, coffee shops and even community centres are holding performances and creating a new sort of entertainment for the culturally active Delhiite.
Apart from veterans like Barry John and Amir Raza Hussain, there are a lot of promising new faces coming into the limelight. Directors such as Zuleikha Chaudhary and Arjun Raina, playwrights Roysten Abel and Nicholas Kharkongor are lending dynamism to the English theatre in Delhi. While critics may point out that mainstream theatre in Delhi lacks original writing, as the GenNext takes the bow on the stage one thing becomes clear: passion is the driving force and entertainment is the way out.