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'Theatre-Film-Theatre': A festival that blurs the line between film and theatre

This experimental festival brings together hundreds of filmmakers and theatre practitioners to create 15 short films based on scripts from the world of drama

'The Unbearable Gaze' by Priyanshi Vasani with Mia Maelzar as Sukoon and Shakuntala
'The Unbearable Gaze' by Priyanshi Vasani with Mia Maelzar as Sukoon and Shakuntala

Ever since the first lockdown was announced in March, in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, bringing with it an abrupt closure of performance spaces across the country, actor-director Atul Kumar has been contemplating newer creative outlets for theatre practitioners. “In most parts of the world, theatre-makers were announced as ‘non-essential’ entities, along with many other artists and art forms," states the founder member of The Company Theatre, which has performed plays like The Chairs, The Blue Mug, Noises Off and Piya Behrupiya. “It is this mindset that began to break the spirit of live art forms in the recent past. And it is this challenge that pressed upon many artists to come up with newer ways of being productive and essential to human endeavour."

In the past couple of months, theatre practitioners have adapted to the changing times by taking to digital platforms such as Zoom. One has seen dramatised readings and solo acts being performed to a virtual audience. This is a new experience for actors and directors, when instead of performing on stage, they are performing to a web camera, thus blurring the lines between theatre and film.

'Shakkar ke Paanch Daane' by Chinmaya Sharma
'Shakkar ke Paanch Daane' by Chinmaya Sharma

But The Company Theatre has ventured further into the realm of experimentation through the upcoming ‘Theatre-Film-Theatre, Festival of Shorts’. Nearly hundreds of theatre practitioners and filmmakers from across the country have come together to create 15 short films based on the scripts from the world of drama. Most of these films in the festival, curated by Vara Raturi, Mallika Singh, Sonal Gupta, Baani Singh, Anupam Barve and Kumar, have been created pro bono and will be available on the YouTube channel of The Company Theatre for free.

“In the recent past, we have seen actors resorting to performing monologues to a static camera and then uploading them," says Raturi. “Even if Benedict Cumberbatch is doing it, people’s attention spans are so low that they switch to watching a film on Netflix. So, we thought of looking at a third language, somewhere between theatre and film that would hold people’s attention."

Initially, it was just Raturi, Singh and Kumar, who got together to work on the idea. “When the lockdown started, things were very difficult and uncertain. We started talking about bringing a sense of community—after all theatre is about that, about being physically together in rehearsals, and more. That was not possible for the time being, so we started thinking of what else could we do," says Singh.

The team started looking at some of the innovative work being done by video artists, particularly from Germany, who were creating interactive plays online. They started sending out invites to young filmmakers and to various filmmaking schools. Then Anupam Barve, a filmmaker and film educator based in Pune, came on board and more and more people joined in. “The festival doesn’t just focus on theatre or film but all performing arts to truly make this an experiment. Participants have used animation and visual effects. Someone has used a shampoo bottle as a puppet," elaborates Raturi.

Word was spread to theatre actors across the country, as geographical boundaries were no longer a constraint. A database of actors was created as was a bank of scripts of plays. “These scripts were copyright free. But we also gave access to directors to websites with scripts and also taught them how to acquire copyrights through the proper processes and regulations," she adds.

Actors then had to fill up a Google form about the languages they speak, the devices they have at home, so on and so forth. The filmmakers went through these details and took the process further through auditions and discussions. For instance, for the film, The Unbearable Gaze, director Priyanshi Vasani wanted an actor who could also dance. “She chose an actor and cinematographer from Jaipur, while she directed remotely," says Raturi. The film looks at the female gaze through the prism of Shakuntala, who was not completely human or nymph, nor completely of the forest or the city. Vasani looks at such dualities that exist in every woman today.

Then, some like Mohit Aggarwal got together a set of theatre actors, who lived nearby, in a safe space with all the precautions in place in Madh Island for the film, Aab-e-Zamzami, which is an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Starting 30 August, a film will release every alternate day and will be available for viewing for 24 hours. “A lot of people have done abstract films. It breaks from the idea of the recorded play. As theatre practitioners, we have also got to witness the process that goes into the making of a short film. Moreover, we hope through many more experiments like this to keep the performance alive," says Singh.

The festival will premiere on 30 August 2020. A new film will be released every alternate day on The Company Theatre’s Youtube channel

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