‘It was almost as if it was a real horse! But in a close-up, I realized everything was created by actors and we were watching magic onstage’

This was my reaction when I watched War Horse an acclaimed production of The National Theatre while sitting in a classroom in Drama School Mumbai. This was also one of my firsts, wherein I had watched a play on a screen, not live on stage and was quite amazed!

Source: The National Theatre

The idea of filming a play and presenting it as digital content may seem new but has existed for a while now. Companies like Metropolitan Opera, New York and National Theatre (NT Live), London have an extensive library of operas and plays available online.

In India, this idea that many call a ‘hybrid of cinema and theatre’ was the brainchild of Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das as they co-founded CinePlay. Launched in February 2014, CinePlay aimed at taking theatre to newer audiences, exploring a unique form of storytelling with cinematic shots, zoom-ins and pan-outs. The concept was soon picked up by big names like Hotstar, TataSky, Zee Entertainment and Netflix.

 

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Digitization of theatre has been a subject of interesting debate and discussion. On the one hand, theatre is a shared experience! There is something very powerful about watching a live performance in a room full of strangers. It is almost like we create something together- the actors and the audience.

The essence of that experience is surely lost with the recording of a play. Today we consume entertainment on our cellphones, we have recommendations thrown in, we don’t even need to scan through options because everything is presented as per our preferences. In the era of instant, pop entertainment the charm of going for a play to an actual auditorium is being lost!

On the other hand, if we don’t make technology look like a villain, there are many ways digital plays can benefit the ever-evolving theatre ecosystem of our country. 

Building Audiences

CinePlay has streamed Indian plays in diverse venues like Museum of Moving Images (New York), Yale University and India Development Centre, Chicago along with NCPA Mumbai and Inox Cinemas. The format certainly allows to take Indian theatre around the world and create newer audiences. It also makes theatre more accessible by introducing plays to smaller towns where a performance may not always be feasible.

Generate Revenue

Thanks to the support of established OTT platforms and production houses, digital theatre has generated considerable revenue for the community. Big budgets and high production values have ensured lucrative opportunities and higher remuneration for actors, directors, playwrights and technicians. PlayMyPlay, an interesting startup, brings regional theatre to global audiences and shares 50% of revenue with the featured theatre groups! Check it out.

Documentation

Due to the lack of documentation and accessibility, we have been unable to preserve many of our excellent performances, and this can be a step in that direction. For many years, Ninasam, a cultural organization from Karnataka has partnered with Sanchi Foundation, a not for profit organization working for the documentation of audio-visual heritage and has documented many productions of Ninasam in a multi-camera setup and state of the art audio-visual standards.

Celebrating Legacy

Theatre has always been a space for alternate powerful voices. With the advent of cine-plays, the phenomenal work of Girish Karnad, Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Vijaya Mehta, Mohan Rakesh and Badal Circar has reached more homes. Its almost like a time-capsule of invaluable theatre that we can open any time!

Love and Fame

Perhaps because of the scope (and reach) of the medium, theatre actors often get less recognition when compared to their counterparts working in films and television. Cine-plays are a great opportunity for wonderful theatre artists to get their due of fame, adulation and become household names.

The question of digital theatre is beyond a yay or nay! While there is room for exciting prospects, it is important to not undermine the sensibilities and the conscience with which we make theatre. Our art has never lost its magic and always been the voice of change without giving into the pressures of earning profits and running businesses. We need to remember that!

Imagine what the first broadcast of audio recording would have been like? Gauahar Jaan tasted the wonders of fame when her music travelled away from private baithaks of the patrons and reached the common man through a transistor. A lot would have been lost even then- the serene ‘mahaul of the mehfil’, taste of the paan and the smoke from the hookah. But what stayed with us was the voice of an artist that spanned generations.

Source: CinePlay

Digital theatre is a promising possibility for theatre makers and entrepreneurs to come together and explore a new form with which we can celebrate theatre, create new opportunities and build new audiences.

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