They say art never dies and artists always find a way around absurdities! Yet, the current times brought with it an absolute lockdown, an ambiguous future and an inability to engage with performance art.

We are all waiting for a miraculous solution that allows us to effectively create theatre while we are in the confines of our homes. As I dwelled deeper into the alternate forms of engagement, I discovered a way of theatre that has become more accessible, all thanks to the arrival of newer audio platforms. In other words, if every bone in your body wants to perform during the pandemic, read on because you’re in for a surprise!

“While recording for a radio play, they often want us to wear the right costumes. Not that they show but because of the sound of a costume. A woman wearing a saree and bangles has a unique sound that you can’t get from a woman wearing jeans. Similarly for men, different costumes have different sounds which is of utmost importance for a radio play” reveals Sohrab Ardeshi, an immensely talented stage actor who has also voiced the award winning audio drama Q&A. 

Still from the recording of Six Suspects | Source: Goldhawk Productions

Radio or Audio Plays are one of the most initial forms of theatre but took a backseat with onset of audio-visual mediums. A fairly lost form of art, it seems to slowly and steadily making a comeback. Vividh Bharati, an extension of All India Radio spearheaded the trend of broadcasting radio plays with Hawa Mahal. While in the UK, BBC has been one of the very few platforms that never gave up on producing radio plays.

One of the finest theatre makers of our times, Nadir Khan is also a gifted voice-actor. He has been actively involved with the production of several radio dramas for BBC. Nadir talks to us in great detail about his long association with John Dryden and breaks down the very process of recording a radio play.

Nadir Khan

He says “In the early 2000s, John Dryden who’s the pioneer of a certain style of recording audio drama was adapting Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy for BBC. A Suitable Boy came very early in his career of recording in a specific way- recording on live location, not in a studio. It allows for a much richer, organic and accurate sound picture to be built.”

“Audio drama is all about world building. You have to build the world purely in the audio format and then allow the listeners’ imagination to fill in the blanks.”

“Seth’s A Suitable Boy is an Indian Play, set in India with Indian characters. One could easily get British Asian actors in the UK, get into a studio and record with them. But John chose to come to India, cast from the Indian theatre community and recorded it at a live location in Pune.”

John Dryden captured at a recording

Voice plays the most crucial role in an audio play as it makes up for the absence of art direction, costume design, expressions, body movement and many other visual delights.

Vivek Madan a prolific stage and voice actor further elaborates, “I play ensemble parts which is fun because I get to put on different voices, accents and speak different languages. That’s the most exciting part of audio drama- as long as you can play with your voice, you can get away with playing multiple characters. And of course my background in theatre helps because I am required to modulate my voice, project and convey all emotions using only voice.”

It becomes particularly interesting to understand the process of an actor, the learning and unlearning when working for an audio play.

“When we were working with BBC the constant instruction to all actors was, “pull it back, pull it
back!” and they were absolutely right. Most of us as stage actors are used to reaching out to an
audience that is further away and here we had to be subtle and keep pulling back to give every nuance in the voice” Sohrab adds as he reminisces the pure joys of performing a radio play.

Still from the recording of Tumanbay | Source: Goldhawk Productions

As for the future of audio drama in India, Sohrab does give us some food for thought- “There certainly is a large listening audience, but audio drama hasn’t been explored enough in India. Our country also has the advantage of so many languages. If you walk down the street, you’d see watchmen outside their respective buildings on their phones, listening to music, watching videos. Now imagine if radio plays were a part of this culture! They’d be listening to it all the time, in their very own language!”

As we continue to find alternatives like Zoom-plays, Insta-lives and virtual writer’s rooms, maybe we should lend a ear to audio drama as well. A good place to begin would be as follows:

– Vivek Madan recommends Tumanbay. “It’s very extensive in terms of world building, sound
design, vocal performances and number of characters.”

– Nadir Khan also recommends Tumanbay. It’s like the Game Of Thrones for radio, it’s set in a fantastical world in olden times and each location has its own audio signature.”

Find it here-

– Sohrab Ardeshir recommends Q&A. “It is one of my favourite radio plays based on the book
Q&A which was the inspiration for Slumdog Millionaire. I played the lead in it, the quiz master.
It also won the Sony Award that year, which is equivalent to an Oscar for a radio play.” Find it here-

We also recommend The Speak Softly Shop, Tales of Covid from around the World and Bhoot Kaal a 30 episode series, inspired by supernatural stories from rural and urban India, narrated by Neelesh Misra.

But this is not all. If you wish to make your own radio play we’ve got you covered. Frederick Greenhalgh, a veteran of audio drama, is conducting a series of online workshops that give you a wholesome understanding of the craft. From learning the basics to acting and directing to sound design and even marketing the plays, Frederick’s modules offer both foundational and in depth understanding of audio drama.

This is not only timely but also tailored for Indian theatre makers, who wish to tell stories through sound and engage a global audience despite the pandemic. We highly recommend that you grab this opportunity to Learn All About Audio Drama and register right away.

Follow this link for further details:

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