Don’t be surprised if you find a couple of casino tables a la those found in Nepal or Las Vegas outside a popular Delhi auditorium or Indian period costumes from a performance available for free trials. They are part of a new initiative in theatre, called Aadyam, that seeks to change the perception that plays are a boring cerebral exercise or the domain of a serious few.
Aadyam debuted in February with new works by five popular groups in Mumbai and has been doing shows in Delhi from July through August. The brainchild of the Aditya Birla Group, Aadyam also has ‘off-site activities’ and ‘experiential night-outs’ that are aimed at attracting newer audiences. With the play Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon, for instance, which is set in Bhangwadi—a 19th century musical style popular in Gujarat—viewers can try out costumes of the era outside the auditorium. For The Siddhus of Upper Juhu, a beach-like theme was recreated, and card tables were put up for The Merchant of Venice.
Mainstream theatre in India, it seems, is going the cinema way with corporate funding coming in. “Across the world, theatre-watching isn’t just an intellectual exercise. In India, the way we have the whole popcorn-ice-cream attached to watching a film, the idea is to also make attending theatre fun and an adventure,” says Divya Bhatia, artistic director of the initiative.
Theatre funding has never been big in India. However, that may change now. “Theatre has generally been the poor cousin of cinema. This sort of a large-scale funding will push theatre practitioners to be more professional,” says Vickram Kapadia, director of The Merchant of Venice. “There is fresh, interesting work coming up that should be supported,” adds Bhatia.
Most discussions post performances happen over tea or alcohol. Now, that is being replaced by off-site dinners, which are organised through tie-ups with restaurants in the city wherein ticket holders get a discount at select restaurants on the night of a performance. Special video trailers of the plays are also being shown at cinema halls in Mumbai. The venue in Delhi is Kamani auditorium.
Is there a common theme in the new works being shown? “There is an urban slant to them. All offer insights into Mumbai but those that would be relevant to any city,” says Bhatia.
Is the initiative aimed at ‘democratising’ the theatre-going experience? “I would be careful about using loaded terms such as liberalising because theatre practitioners already consider themselves to be democratic and liberal,” says Bhatia. “Opening up or broadening is better, because the idea is you don’t have to be serious about watching a play.”
* Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon presented by Arpana Theatre company on August 15 and 16 in Delhi. Set in Gujarat and erstwhile Bombay, the play is a Hindi adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play All’s Well That Ends Well.
* The Hound of the Baskervilles, a humorous take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s thriller novel, by AKVarious Productions on August 22 and 23 in Delhi.