eNatya Sodh, a collaborative online one-act-play competition by Mumbai Theatre Guide and Astitva, has recently closed registrations with 47 entries across India. The initiative aims to give plays that do not become full-fledged commercial productions a platform: while three final plays, one each in English, Hindi and Marathi, will be given an opportunity for performances, all the rest too will be uploaded on eNatya Shodh's YouTube channel.
"You can even enable the feature on YouTube where downloads will be charged. This can act as a source of revenue for the troupes, and the plays will be available for others for reference — for groups that can't afford a well-established playwright or director," says Mumbai Theatre Guide's co-founder Bhavik Shah.
So the question arises, since most production houses and theatre groups do shoot either their rehearsals or the shows, can they also be made accessible for public viewing? "Technology has made it all the easier for us, not only does something like YouTube make it easier to access theatre from across the world, it also helps preserve it. When you have recordings on CDs or DVDs, they can be damaged, here they can't," he adds.
However, many practitioners in the field disagree, especially when it comes to watching a play online as opposed to live. "That's the whole beauty of theatre — that it's a live art form," says Nimi Ravindran from Bangalore's Sandbox Collective.
She continues, "If you watch the video of a play, it's actually very, very boring. You have to understand that if you've missed a play, you've missed the experience."
Rajat Kapoor, actor, theatre and film director, also echoes the same opinion. "You have to make the effort to travel and watch a play if it isn't coming to your town," says the director of Nothing Like Lear, rehearsals of which were released online as an experiment.
"Like most of the other plays that I've done, this too is a devised play, so from almost nothing, you come up with the entire play. I thought that the process would be exciting for people to watch," he says.
Bangalore-based WeMove Theatre has a special digital team, but the content they create is mostly for trailers or other promotional activities. "Mainly to send them to festivals," founder Abhishek Iyengar adds.
Evam, on the other hand, which uploaded Ali J online after it was abruptly cancelled at the Kala Ghoda festival, has started recording final performances of productions. "If we want to look back at the productions of our first two years, we have no documentation of it. Our last production Bollywood Kee Ma onwards, we have started recording the last show," Karthik Kumar, Evam's co-founder says.
But because their latest production has gained much notoriety, archiving isn't yet part of the plan. "Even what we have uploaded is from the rehearsal footage — we were lucky to have it then. We want to do more shows now; we're moving the Court too as we want to do it lawfully," Karthik tells us.
According to him, most theatre groups record their plays for self-analysis rather than for archival. "When you watch it, you notice things that you've missed out earlier," he says.
Theatre actor, director and film maker Sudipto Chatterjee has been archiving plays, albeit on a small scale. "Mainly my plays for a few friends' when they've asked me," he says, adding that he always uses two cameras to ensure there's no flatness.
But while one is watching it, one has to keep in mind that it's a poor substitute for the live performance, he cautions. "It's like you order milkshake and you get lassi — both are dairy products, but very different from each other," he says. ather than looking at archival as an alternative to catching a live performance or even merely as a means of preservation, Subodh Maskara, entrepreneur of Mumbai's Chhoti Production Company, looks at it as a hybrid of the two — plays shot, not as films, but with the intent of being viewed on screen, which has translated into his initiative Cineplay.
"We've done it for five plays so far —Dance Like A Man, which has completed about 500 shows, Adhe Adhure, Between the Lines, Bombay Talkies and Interview, and we've had a full house for every screening," says Subodh.
At a time when theatre is struggling, rather than steal its audience, Cineplay hopes to be a 'friend, not a competitor'. "People who have watched live shows of the plays have come up and said that they understood things at the screening that they'd missed earlier. And for those who haven't watched a live performance yet, they form a bond, an affinity with the characters and the play and would like to see them in flesh and blood," he says, drawing a parallel with how cinema star performances draw a fan regardless of how many times he/she has watched their films. "NCPA, Mumbai too is excited, and we might collaborate for creating a theatre archive," he shares.