Screen time

Veteran theatre director Lillete Dubey’s directorial teleplay Womanly Voices, an anthology of three diverse short stories from women writers, is now available in Kannada and Telugu
Stills from the teleplay
Stills from the teleplay

BENGALURU: Whether it is bringing the life of the illustrious artiste Gauhar Jaan, one of the first Indian singers whose voice was recorded on the gramophone in her play Gauhar or adapting pieces from Shobhaa De’s Lockdown Liaisons for stage with Vodka and No Tonic, veteran theatre artiste and director Lillete Dubey is drawn to powerful stories, often with strong female characters or writers.

The same is the case for her directorial teleplay Womanly Voices, which will now be available in Kannada and Telugu on Zee Theatre. “Without realising it, I am drawn to stories where the characters are strong women or the writers are women,” shares Dubey, adding, “I’m not on a mission to do plays about women empowerment, it is all very subconscious for me. I do stories that appeal to me at that point in my life, depending on where I am.”

Looking forward to sharing these powerful stories with a broader audience with the translated versions, she says, “I have friends who are Kannadigas and Telugu speaking and it would be fun for me to have them watch it.” The teleplay features stories of some of the finest women writers of their time, Wajida Tabassum’s Utran; Mahasweta Devi’s Shishu and Gita Mehta’s The Teacher’s Story. “One day, I was reading Katha, an anthology of short stories written by women, and came across Utran. People told me that there has been a famous series on it as well but I did not want to do that so I decided on an anthology,” she says.

The three stories, Dubey notes, were different from each other when it came to their themes which made it extremely fun to direct. “They were not love stories and we had a lot of fun bringing it to the stage as a drama, like improvising the dialogues and working with actors. I wanted the audience to see how well women write, especially because they were not writing about what people would expect women to write,” says Dubey. Tabassum’s Utran addresses class division, Devi’s tale delves into the resilience and struggles of India’s tribal communities, and Mehta’s story revolves around a music teacher who finds meaning by teaching a blind child.

“Utran is such a strong statement on class division and the story says so much in only two and a half pages,” observes Dubey, adding that it is one of the most enjoyable productions that she has directed to date. “Now that I’m talking about it, I’m getting inspired to go back and think of three to four more stories,” laughs Dubey. Transforming these stories from stage to screen brought a different vibe.

Dubey shares the increased richness and visual enhancement possible in a teleplay. “On stage, everything was simpler. In the teleplay, there was more richness, and more props, and we could use lighting in a very different way. It was like cinema,” she explains. This adaptation allowed for more detailed imagery, adding to the overall experience.

The actor-director sees immense potential in digital adaptations of theatre and believes that – when done right – digital platforms can capture the immediacy and essence of live theatre. “Some people have managed to crack it like the National Theatre in England and the Metropolitan Opera in America and it’s doing very well because they are so well recorded. So there’s a lot of scope in that... It’s all about getting it right and having fun,” says Dubey, who is currently working on Jaya, a rock musical adaptation of the Mahabharata which is set to debut in Bengaluru soon.

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