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All the world's a stage

Indian plays are drawing houseful audiences in countries like Australia and New Zealand, reports Deepa Gahlot.
Hindustan Times | By Deepa Gahlot, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUL 18, 2007 03:11 PM IST

Okay at the risk of raising the hackles of word quibblers today it has become apparent that if there's Bollywood, there's also a Dramawood out there. Our movies are hot in the US, the UK and other countries with a distinct NRI population.

Of late though, plays in different languages, with or without a former film star are drawing house full audiences even in Australia and New Zealand. Deepa Gahlot reports.

Over the last few years, Bollywood has been extending its boundaries outside India.

A growing trend sees Mumbai theatre doing the same too, traveling across the globe with their homegrown productions. The itinerary of a Mumbai play no longer lists just auditoria in the city.

A play today, can open in the US or Dubai, and then come down to local audiences. The theatre map includes not just territories like the US, UK and Canada, but Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Muscat, Bahrain, Kenya.

Of late, Australia and New Zealand have stared inviting Mumbai's stage plays too.

Lillete Dubey is on her way to perform Sammy there. And Jayadev Hattangady has just returned after staging two of his plays there. So the world - or at least those parts of the world where homesick NRIs reside - is now open to the city's theatrewallas.

Who leads the travelling troupes? As always, it's the ultraprofessional Gujarati theatre, which takes its successful productions wherever the diaspora calls.

Dandiya, weddings and plays
Producer-actor Sanjay Goradia comments, "Wherever five Gujaratis gather, they do four things: they set up a samaj, organise garba for navratri, watch Gujarati plays and build a temple.

Next they build a multi-purpose community hall, where they have dandiya, weddings and plays."

Goradia, whose Ba Retire Thay Chhe was a blockbuster, has no qualms about admitting that audiences abroad love plays in their mother-tongue, the louder and more clichéd the better.

"They don't care for stylised plays. Most of the families migrated over 25 years ago, and haven't evolved much culturally. They still speak the way they did 25 years ago. So we take the plays they like over there."

Gujarati theatre is a well-organised industry; they even have promoters abroad who invite plays to perform at local theatres in consonance with the demand.

So when a team travels, say to the US, they perform at the big cities on weekends and at small towns on weekdays. As a result, no time is wasted and collections are maximised.

Crossover audience

Mumbai theatre abroad is not confined to just small community groups, going by the experience of producer Ashvin Gidwani. He shepherds his English language productions (

Funny Thing Called Love


Mad About Money



) to the west.

The aim is not only to tap the NRI market, but seek a 'crossover' audience too, something which Hindi films have been attempting to achieve since the last decade.

"We don't perform only at small fringe theatres but at the mainstream auditoria too. It's very gratifying to see the kind of audiences we get."

"They are the sophisticated, well-read, well-travelled, culturally-evolved people, for whom a play from India is like a different flavour of cuisine."

Gidwani manages sponsors both in India and abroad and plans his tours with corporate efficiency. "In the US and Europe, we do English plays".

"In the Gulf countries, we take Hindi plays. In Singapore we target a mixed audience. In Hong Kong and Bangkok, we target a primarily Indian audience. Let me tell you, India is really big now."

First priority
He recognises the NRI contribution to this new wave of theatre overseas: "People of Indian origin in the UK for instance are no longer connected to India - except through Bollywood films, the Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi kind of serials and Indian restaurants in Southhall."

"Hindi theatre, for them, connects all these things. They find a play with TV or film stars easy to identify with."

"Dubai is the first stop for every production," says producer Manhar Gadhia. "They are so hungry for plays that they don't bother too much about quality. Sometimes groups do plays for Dubai just to recover their production costs. Star names do help, but ultimately, of course, quality counts."

Repeat value
Indeed, the excellent Tumhari Amrita with Farouque Shaikh and Shabana Azmi still packs them in whenever and wherever it is staged.

Its follow-up Aapki Soniya, too, with Shaikh and Sonali Bendre, travelled extensively around the globe, but with less success.

Paresh Rawal does theatre only for fans abroad and gets full houses.

So have a range of dramas featuring Jaya Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Padmini Kolhapure and Poonam Dhillon. How about acknowledging the export of Indian theatre yet.. with a standing ovation, please?

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