The stage is set, lights are rigged, the actors ready, and with the sound of the first bell, the audience crawls in with bated breaths…this is what theatre artistes have been yearning for the last two years.
Since March 2020, when the world was witnessing lockdowns due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, theatre artistes have also been witnessing empty seats and a silent stage. As the artistes took their last bows, smudged off their last show’s make up and put aside their costumes and props, in the hope of going on stage again in a few weeks or months, little did they know that the curtains would drop and stay that way for the next two years. Performing artistes across the globe were severely affected by the pandemic and the restrictions that came with it.
Bengaluru, which has seen numerous theatre groups and the theatre community thriving in the last few years also witnessed this lull. Even as offline shows were not allowed, many did not give up and tried in many indigenous ways to make sure that the shows go on. But even as some artistes tried their best to keep their hopes up, it has been challenging to try and sustain the art form and many even predicted that this would be the final death knell to the ‘already dying industry’.
Ever since the lockdowns have been lifted, and with theatre halls opening once again, many groups have got their act together and have started staging shows this year. With World Theatre Day approaching on Sunday, 27 March, each theatre hall in the city has been booked for the weekend. This is the biggest ever comeback of theatre that the city has witnessed since the pandemic. With around 20 plays that are ready to be staged and with the many theatre artistes ready and rearing to go once again, it is safe to say that theatre and theatre artistes in the city are back in the game.
‘Equally Thrilled and Nervous to be Back’
The Quint spoke to some thespians in Bengaluru who will be staging and attending plays in the city this weekend. Speaking to some of the known theatre groups and those who are performing in some of the well-known spaces in the city, we found two commonalities. For the first time, Bengaluru is witnessing a variety of plays in Hindi as well, apart from some Kannada, English, Tamil and even Bengali plays. The other line of commonality is that all these plays are introspective in nature, exploring themes like power, greed, the psychological impact of living in totalitarian regimes, and political inaction.
One such artiste is Amit Sharma, who will be staging a play after four years. Manveey Kudedaan (Human Trashcan), which is being directed by him was to be staged in May 2021 but has been delayed ever since due to the pandemic.
“For staged performances, rehearsals are important, and it is difficult to maintain social distancing during offline rehearsals. This art form involves people from different walks of life, and it needs physical presence. We were not being able to meet and stage plays due to the lockdowns, now after two years we are coming back. Personally, staging after four years, I did feel nervous and felt like I was out of touch. But thanks to the team, we finally got back to the momentum. Now I’m more charged than before and feel like I’m back.”Amit Sharma
Another known actor in the city, Sagnik Sinha, who staged his directorial debut this year with Chalo Raja Se Milein, will be staging his fifth and sixth shows on Saturday, 26 March.
“As if theater didn't have enough challenges already. Had I not been so adamant about taking 'Chalo Raja Se Milein' to stage, I would surely have not chosen such a magnum opus. We rehearsed through the second and third waves, switching between online and physical rehearsals depending on the situation. Sometimes it would be difficult to coordinate with actors in different parts of the country. Even with such a big cast and the challenges it brought forth, we always let actors prioritise their mental health in these difficult times. The idea was to build a safe and sensitive rehearsal space where people would be able to express and open up about their challenges. That built a certain degree of trust and sanctity among the members of the troupe, which is what has held this cast of 20 together through all these months.”Sagnik Sinha, Actor, Director
While Manveey Kudedaan, which was originally written in French and has been translated to Hindi, explores the psychological trauma of living under totalitarianism. Chalo Raja Se Milein, which is a political satire, is a Hindi translation of Manoj Mitra's Rajdarshan. It is a comedy with an alternative historical set up, which takes you to 2nd CE India while holding up a mirror to issues that plague 21st CE modern society.
‘This Art Form is Like Water’
A theatre group in Bengaluru, LebedaProduction was one of the many groups that was 'hit very badly during the pandemic'.
"We did not know what to do initially. We did not want to do online plays as it does not have the same essence as live theatre. We later started using theatre to help the IT industry and their employees, where it helped them break out of their comfort zones. That helped us sustain ourselves. Now that things are opening up, we are planning to stage the shows we had planned pre-COVID. I will be watching a play this weekend after two and half years and am very excited that theatre is back on stage."Raakhee Bose, co-founder, LebedaProduction
Director Devanand Mahakud, co-founder of Lebeda further adds saying, "Theatre is like water, it always finds its way, it changes its form to adapt but never stops."
Unlike the above experiences, where artistes have not been able to do much in the last two years, Vivek Vijaykumaran has braved all odds and worked on his projects and staged around 14 shows in Maharashtra and Karnataka. He explored how performances can be staged challenging norms of using lights, sets, and props. The play traverses through a number of themes like migration of the middle class, political inaction among today’s youth and the dark realities of data security.
Ahead of Theatre Day, Vivek will be performing at Ranga Shankara on 26 March.
"Since I was a solo performer I could do it. I would got to the studio myself and rehearse. ‘Adhura’ is a contemplation on the shifts that happen between an individual’s place in the world and his thoughts."Vivek Vijaykumaran
Will Theatre As a Performance Art Ever Cease To Exist?
"Ever since the invention of the radio, people have been calling theatre a dying art. This pandemic has been witness to many innovations and path breaking, genre defining works of art in the last two years. I think one can say it with certainty that although the form of theatre may evolve and diversify, the art form itself will never die."Sagnik Sinha, Actor, Director
Plays to Watch This Weekend in Bengaluru
Chalo Raja se Milein: March 26, (3:30 PM & 7 PM), Koramangala Club
Manveey Kudedaan: March 25 (8 PM) & March 26 (3 PM & 6.30 PM), Jagriti
Adhura: March 26 (3:30 PM & 7:30 PM), Ranga Shankara
Antarikkhe, Kaktarua and Telenapota Abishkar: March 27 (3:30 PM), Bangalore International Center
Pukkate Salahe: March 26 (7 PM), Seva Sadan
Shmashaana Kurukshetram: March 26 (7 PM), KH Kalasouda
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