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Cinema meets theatre on the web

Bikas Mishra transfers Badal Sarkar's iconic play to streaming video, marrying the best of both forms

A still from Bikas Mishra’s ‘Pagla Ghoda’.
A still from Bikas Mishra’s ‘Pagla Ghoda’.

Award-winning writer-director Bikas Mishra’s new film, Pagla Ghoda, for CinePlay, isn’t an adaptation of Badal Sircar’s play of the same name in the strict sense of the term. That would involve a transfer of the material from one art form to another—perhaps padding up the minimalist premise with richer visual information. Instead, Mishra’s version retains the artifice of a staged play.

The story is the same. Four men at the funeral of a woman talk about themselves. The film talks about patriarchy. This is punctuated by brief flashback episodes set in generic drawing rooms in nondescript houses. We don’t see the sky, only hear the birds in the morning and the dogs at night. It was shot on a set and it is meant to look like one. “I had to remind the audience that they are watching a play," says Mishra whose debut feature Chauranga (2016) was declared Best Indian Feature at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2014.

CinePlay, which has been producing theatre-meets-cinema video content since 2014, tied up with Hotstar in February and has roped in film-makers to create their own cineplays.

Mishra’s film, like other content in the series, isn’t a recorded play where multiple cameras capture the action on stage. It is a hybrid form which exploits the best of both worlds: For instance, in Pagla Ghoda, when Himadri (Anshuman Jha) and Mili (Chitrangada Chakraborty) speak, their faces close to each other’s, Himadri says he is able to smell alcohol from her mouth, and the effect is achieved by the camera gradually closing in on the couple. “I tried to find a cinematic language to keep it as close to the original as I could. Badal Sircar was known to perform his plays in courtyards: I wanted to create a feeling as if viewers are sitting around the characters and experiencing the play," says Mishra.

With a running time of almost 2 hours, Pagla Ghoda could be a somewhat difficult watch. Film-makers such as Mishra are figuring out the grammar of a cineplay, learning on the go. “Where else will I get the chance to show four morose, not even good-looking men sitting at a shamshan ghat talking about losing the woman they loved?" he says about the new possibilities that have opened up with video-streaming platforms.

Mishra is now working on another cineplay: his version of a Kannada play, Scapegoat, about the aspirations of a Communist leader in 1980s Bengaluru, which will air on 13 June.

Pagla Ghoda will be available for streaming in Hotstar Originals from 30 May.

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