A rotating stage with sets at four corners for each scene, a lift to drop characters on stage, a dance sequence on a moving train: When students of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-B) put up a show, the technical expertise is stunning.
With the scale matching a show on Broadway, the institute’s ongoing Performing Arts Festival (PAF) is an attempt to bring together an original screenplay with sets that will showcase their technical know-how. PAF marks the end of the year at the institute. Four performances are put up by teams from three or four hostels.
“PAF is the pride of the institute. To call it a drama or a play would be to undermine it, so though it is a misnomer we call each performance a PAF,” said Uttam Sikaria, a third year student who has done set production for three performances over the past three years.
A PAF is typically a 75-minute long performance on a theme, performed on a set that is made entirely by students and has elements of acting, accompanied by voiceovers, music and dance. ‘To pull off a PAF’, as it is known in IIT, takes an original script, good acting supplemented with engaging voice-overs, original music which compliments the storyline, choreography which delves deep into the theme, a prod (the sets) which at first glance leaves you awestruck and which often incorporates a special element (such as rotating sets, moving trains, moving escalators), and flawless execution.
“PAF is performed in the institute’s Open Air Theatre (OAT), which is packed with an audience of over 3000 people. For students who are part of a PAF team, it is their chance to showcase an extravagant event to their peers and that makes it an experience they treasure,” said Harsh Jhaveri, general secretary, cultural affairs.
PAF initially started as EP — Entertainment Program — about 35 years ago. It got renamed PAF in mid 1980’s and was shifted to the OAT from the Convocation Hall in 1999.
While technology is the highlight of the festival, a lot of thought goes into the themes as well. For example, the performance on March 29 was based on IIT alumnus and whistleblower Satyendra Dubey who was murdered in 2003.
Dubey was project director at the National Highways Authority of India and wrote to the then Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee about corruption during the Golden Quadrilateral highway construction project in Bihar. Called Golden Quadrilateral, the script was the story of the lawyer who took up the Dubey case and fought his father in court. “We drew parallels between the Dubey’s situation and the lawyer’s and the struggle they went through,” said Rahul Gaur, who was part of the performance.
The hard work also has a whole set of rewards. “The whole festival has awards for ten categories and an overall PAF trophy. Awards include screenplay for music, screenplay and sets. More than 150 students have worked day and night for the past few weeks to ensure that each PAF is outstanding,” said Anirudh Srinivasraghavan, a final year dual degree student.