Now streaming: Theatrical plays
Standing tall for the last 48 years in the heart of the country’s capital, the Akshara Theatre is an iconic hub. As artistes battle the economic consequences of the cancellation of live performances, the co-founders of Akshara, Jalabala Vaidya and her daughter Anasuya Vaidya, are launching a #SaveTheStage campaign. Run by Akshara actor Lubhanshi Jain, it aims to help artistes to stay connected with audiences and highlight the changes necessary for the arts to survive: specifically, the digitisation of theatre.
“We focus on theatre, but all artistes are in the same boat right now,” says Anasuya. Whatever money is raised will not only help Akshara Theatre survive but also other artistes. Besides financial help, they will also provide a platform for artistes to create something or even just get advice!
The first thing to keep in mind when going digital is that the content will be competing with content on streaming platforms like Netflix. And on a much smaller budget. Which means even iconic plays would need to be remoulded for the camera.
“The way the dialogues are delivered, the fact that it’s happening in more than one location – it will have to be a combination of technical and artistic work,” says Anasuya. This will be a learning process for the tech group, writers, performers and even the audience.
“We’ve had audiences for theatre in India for thousands of years. The culture is still alive. But I don’t think its value has been understood by the government,” adds Jalabala.
This means they will have to make shorter content. Or make two versions – a full length version (like The Ramayana, which is two-and-a-half-hours long), or a series, which is not possible for a live performance. With Ramayana season coming up, the mother-daughter duo is hoping to do a small performance with limited audience – their signature annual performance.
The biggest pro of going digital is that they will now be able to reach a much larger audience, says 60-year-old Anasuya, who has now joined Instagram. Though Jalabala doesn’t have an account, she uses the theatre group account. The 84-year-old is learning to use sound effects, visuals, and filter, all with a little help from the third generation of Akshara Theatre – Anasuya’s kids Nisa, Dhruv and Yashna.
“I have never failed to exploit my kids for technical support, and I have three, so if one is busy the other one fills in. My mom agrees,” Anasuya laughs.
What about acting on screen? “I never imagined doing theatre for the screen! But today, to perform, we will have to take certain risks, go on without a mask and use props. If we can replicate theatre effectively on screen, there’s nothing like it,” says Jalabala.
A big ‘if’ considering that the charm of theatre also lies in the evolution of the bond between the artistes.
“Of course, you express yourself via voice, expressions and movement, but you communicate through silences, or just a well-timed look. And you build on the reaction of the audience. It’s like a journey the actor and audience make together – they both respond to each other and feed off each other,” says Anasuya.
They are hoping to replicate this magic on screen. “It’s the magic that communicates with the audience – you can say so much through expression and variations that it touches your audience,” says Jalabala.
Five years ago, when Jalabala performed The Cabuliwala, her husband and actor, and co-founder of Akshara Theatre, Gopal, was in the audience. “When I asked him to come up on stage at the end, he sang Ae Mere Pyaare Vatan. The audience joined him and it was beautiful,” she says.
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From HT Brunch, August 30, 2020
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