Theatre kisse banta hain? Actors, Director, Audience, Technicians aur sabka favorite dost- Jugaad! 

One couldn’t argue that one of the most fascinating qualities of the Indian theatre is that we have used our limitations to our strength. Over the years, our theatre has adapted to almost everything- space, tech, time, audiences and our beloved theatrewallahs have used their imagination and creativity (even offstage) to make sure that ‘The Show Goes On’.

To uncover the many not-so-talked-about yet important aspects of what goes behind making a play, Break a Leg! brings for you a series of articles that talk of the many jugaads that happen in the making of our theatre. Here we spoke to people who literally make sure a play is ‘lit’! Well yes, you got the pun right… Presenting to you 9 Light Designers with their most unforgettable jugaad stories.

Asmit Pathare – When I became an Orchestra Conductor 

“This was during a show of Bandish at Kalidas Rangalaya in Patna. The lighting console was spread over ten feet. And unlike programmable consoles where one uses the fingers to fade up/down, here we had giant dimmers which required a whole hand to fade. A dimmer here, could only control 2 lights whereas the design required one dimmer to control 20 lights/cue.

My jugaad was that I asked a friend to operate the lights with me…But he had no idea of lights! So a third friend stood by a small opening in the wall to put on a single light which couldn’t be accessed from the console and throughout the show, I was like an orchestra conductor giving out instructions while operating half the lights myself!”

Asmit Pathare is a screenwriter, filmmaker, actor and a stage lighting designer. He has designed for theatre productions in English, Hindi and Gujarati. He won the META Award for Best Light Design, 2017 for the play Elephant in the Room.

Still from Bandish
Hidayat Sami – A truly Electrifying performance

“The most jugaad I have used was for a show of Contrapositions by Astad Deboo in Jamshedpur. They had all the light fixtures but no proper lighting desk. What they had was a contraption made by one of the local electricians. It was made up of two perpendicular rods with a horizontal slider across it that you had to move up to fade in and move down to fade out. This slider had a plastic knob on it- to prevent the operator from getting a shock. They had a total of eight of these contraptions and the show had to be run on these.

Anyone who has operated lights for a dance show with a manual board knows that most of the cues are on music and visual. During the show, I was looking out for the cues and I ended up invariably missing the little plastic knob and touching the metal rods. Result- electric shocks! I must have gotten more electric shocks on that particular day than I had in my entire life. It was truly an electrifying performance for me.”

Hidayat Sami is a Mumbai based theatre professional who has been working as a director, actor and a lighting designer since 1991. He has trained with veteran theatre guru Satyadev Dubey, Naseeruddin Shah and Sunil Shanbag and has been a part of over 175 theatre productions in English, Hindi and Marathi. He has designed lights for productions like Hamlet, Sir Sir Sarla, Dear Liar, Vagina Monologues, Stories In A Song, Dreams Of Taleem among a host of others. He also helps regularly with the planning, programming and running of the Prithvi Theatre Festival in Mumbai.

Still from Contrapositions
Anuj Chopra – The DIY Lights Plan

“I was lighting for Toye directed by Jyoti Dogra and we were doing a special performance of the show in a small city named Indri in Haryana, where till far and wide- there was no trace of an actual theater! The light design of the show was minimal with many top lights and floor lights and the performance was supposed to happen in the playground of a government school. We had no budget and I had to find a jugaad to light the show!

With the help of the cast and the team, I drew ropes (galvanised wires) from different buildings surrounding the playground across 60-80 feet and made nets that eventually became the lighting grid. For the actual lights, I went all DIY and used domestic bulbs and snoots with cardboard and paper. The cherry on the cake was the absence of a dimmer board which I created using a fan regulator.”

Anuj Chopra is a lights designer based in New Delhi. His work expands over theatre, music, opera and installation art. He has worked with artists like Maya Krishna Rao, Jyoti Dogra, Navtej Singh Johar, Neel Chaudhari, Anirudh Nair and many more exploring the diversity in performance making and form.

Still from Toye
Arghya Lahiri – The curious case of surreal hues and black chart papers

“In 2006, I was asked to design for Girish Karnad’s Flowers, directed by Roysten Abel, performed by Rajit Kapur and jointly produced by Rage and Ranga Shankara. Roy had conceived of an extraordinary set. Everything about the lighting screamed isolation. And Ranga Shankara had six profile lights- all of which were already dedicated to a series of tasks. I had a profusion of PC lights, but they were very far removed from the precision that profiles afford. We rigged it all and the design worked but what to do with the spill? I asked for a lot of black chart paper.

And then Kumarswamy, the lighting second-in-command at RS at the time, and I spent about three hours the next day, armed with a pair of scissors each, trying to turn PCs into profiles. Something strange happened! Because we needed to mask so much of the spill, the amount of masking before every light had a curious quality of suppressing it- the whole thing took on a surreal hue. I’ve spent a lot of the intervening years trying to recreate that same dream-like quality, only to find that it was almost impossible.”

Arghya Lahiri is a writer, director, lighting designer and filmmaker. He is also a founder member of QTP. He’s been involved in the theatre, in every capacity that he can get away with, for over twenty years.

Still from Flowers
Deepa Dharmadhikari – The one where actors didn’t have to find their spot

“I had designed a play called the Unexpected Man which had a really tight, precise and complicated design. The show was invited to a festival in Jaipur. When we reached Jaipur we found out that the venue wasn’t available until night and there were not enough dimmers, cables, nor lights. I stayed up until the organizers kicked us out trying to get the lights up. The next day, an hour before the show, I was told that they had no console to give me to run all the lights I’d managed to hang! I went to the green room and told the actors that we were going to be doing the show with six lights and they shouldn’t look for their spots and gobos. Surprisingly, I felt like I had managed to capture the emotional centre of my lighting design, even without any of the actual vocabulary to convey it with.”

Deepa Dharmadhikari studied lighting design at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, while pursuing a BFA in Dance. She has worked with several artists in the US and India including José Limón, Trisha Brown, Nathan Trice, Preeti Vasudevan, Sonal Mansingh, Dadi Padamjee, Lilette Dubey, Rama Vaidyanathan and many more. Fellow Drama School Mumbai instructor, she has traveled the world as a lighting designer, and toured India as associate designer for several international productions.

Still from Unexpected Man
Niranjan Gokhale – The Magic of illusions

“The jugaad was in Manjula Padmanabhan’s Lights Out. I wanted to mimic the effect of an area in front of a building that was lit up by floodlights. To get this, I spread a fairly large piece of white flex on the floor (behind the window) and lit the flex (bounced the light off the flex) with a very strong light! This created the illusion that the light was coming from somewhere below the window, though in fact the lighting fixture was located above it! The jugaad worked out really well for the play.”

Niranjan Gokhale received BA and MA in Theatre from University of Pune after which he studied Lighting Design at University of Georgia. Niranjan has designed lights for plays, ballets, dance productions and performance art installations. He currently works as a Light Designer with Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, a Contemporary Dance company based out of Bangalore.

Still from Lights Out
Yael Crishna – Lighting a candle

“We were traveling to Bangalore for a performance of Bombay Jazz produced by Stagesmith Productions. A day before the show, we were informed that there was a bandh on the show day so our setup would have to happen after the venue shut down. We got to the venue in the night and when the Production Manager opened the production bag, she was shocked to see that the specially made candles (an important part of the show) were missing! This was around 1.30 AM, with no shops open the next day (owing to the bandh, plus it was a Sunday) so we needed to come up with a solution. Fortunately, Nikhil Barua (the amazing man who runs the venue) and his electrician arranged two miniature LED bulbs which we wired up… we had the lights ready but we needed to find the look to make them seem like candles…so I cut paper and stuck it inside (where the bulb sat) and wrapped it about to make it look like a real candle!”

A graduate from the National Institute of Dramatic Art (B.D.A. Technical Production), Sydney, Yael has been an active part of theatre in Mumbai for over two decades. As a freelancer and one of a handful of women light designers, she has possibly worked with every theatre company in Mumbai: AKVarious, Motley, BookMyShow Live, Rage Productions, QTP, Patchworks Ensemble, NCPA Productions, Dur Se Brothers and more.

Still from Bombay Jazz
Rahul Rai – A show of many jugaads

“It was a performance of a play called Taramandal, written and directed by Neel Chaudhari. The performance was happening in a basement of Hauz Khas, New Delhi. To light the show we had to come up with many jugaads…Starting from making a grid using a window frame and attaching a tube light to it, fixing a comptalux bulb in a flower pot and using foil paper as a reflector and the dimmer board was made using a fan regulator! The result was simply amazing because it complimented well with the space.”

Rahul Rai is a poet, playwright, director and lighting designer. He works as a freelance lighting designer in Mumbai. His plays include Kaali Ghadi, Shoony Batta Sannata, Daalmoth, Virah, Outer Dilli, #Supernova and Kebab.

Still from Taramandal
Gurleen Judge – The tale of three Monkeys

“My jugaad story is that of this show of Mahadev Bhai in IDC, IIT Campus, Borivali. We had asked for a dimmer board and instead we got two box dimmers, old time, rotating ones. The load was so heavy that the power did not support it so every time we would switch on the dimmer, the whole thing would trip! To fix this, I came up with an idea- there were these three big switches at the end of the stage so two other production people and I sat there like three monkeys (throughout the show) and kept putting wires into the sockets and taking them out…exchanging sockets and plugging them in! It was quite a strange experience. Other times while lighting in this country, my console has flooded in rains, I have seen wires go underwater whilst I sit on top of my chair lighting the last scene of a play.”

Gurleen is a writer, director, lights designer, drama facilitator and the recipient of the Vinod Doshi Tendulkar Dubey Fellowship Award 2020. Her lighting credits include Postcards from Bardoli, Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi, Chuhal, Lucrece, Water Games and Whirlpool amongst others.

Still from Mahadev Bhai

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