Since the time Ranga Shankara has been launched in Bangalore a few years back, the Indian theatre scene in Bangalore has definitely become more vibrant. But my small ‘Google research’ says that theatre is becoming vibrant across India.
Those of us born before the 80s would remember that in 80s Indian theatre scene was something like this:
1. Everyone associated was a struggling actor, and they kind of took pride in the fact that they are struggling and no one is listening to them
2. They would wear a typical garb of cramped cotton kurta with a jhola, unshaved looks and typically found smoking around the theatre canteen with a tea in their hands, pretending to be intellectuals
3. Plays always portrayed the dark side of life, the inner struggles and an existence without direction, something that probably was the seed for the parallel / art cinema during the same period
4. Very few people turned up for watching the Indian theatre, or rather there was a niche crowd which associated itself with theatre, and every time you go to watch a play you would see the same faces
5. Most of the other people, outside this niche audience, did not understand theatre and there was no effort to induct them into the same
6. There were serious doubts whether the theatre as an art form would survive. Popularity of cinema as a medium with its conveniences and technical correctness was a serious threat
7. Most never made a living out of the theatre, a few exceptions here and there may exist. A few elites did keep the theatre spirit alive.
Leap across to the 21st century and Indian theatre has a new lease of life. The confidence that the youth of the country have when it comes to choosing the career has influenced the theatre space also. Easily affordable ubiquitous technology has helped revive this performing art form that we were almost on the verge of losing out. And what a revival, people are actually choosing it as their careers and making a living out of it. Today the theatre scene is something like this:
1. New theatre groups are being launched by youngsters, and they are not pursuing it as a hobby only. They are launching these groups as professionals with clearly defined milestones.
2. They are weaving their love and passion for Indian theatre with smart marketing and PR tools to ensure that they can make a living out of the theatre.
3. They get sponsorships for all the props that they need for their sets and shows e.g the last play I saw had all the furniture it required sponsored by a leading furniture business in town
4. They get sponsors who promote them, have their own merchandise, which if not adds to the revenues, at least provides free publicity
5. A la multiplexes, they have variable pricing for the various shows, that helps them maximise their revenues while also maximising the reach as the lowest price can be as low as Rs 49/-
6. They use the all possible available communication channels to reach out to every potential person who could turn out for the show
7. They make sure that anyone who has watched them even once, knows of everything that is forthcoming, thanks to the e-mail campaigns and their small corners in the electronic real estate
8. They wear normal clothes and appearances and do not stand out in the crowd.
9. They have their websites that are updated almost on a daily basis. Most of them allow the audience to buy or block tickets online. They provide an interactive platform for the people to feel involved in the movement.
I am not sure how much of this Revival of Indian Theatre is to do with technologies available to the common man and how much of it is because of the economy boom, but whatever it is, it is a welcome change, where people can choose whatever they enjoy doing and be successful there. This is the true independence that a citizen can get, when they can make their own choices and the environment is available to support those choices.
Some of the theatre groups that inspired me to write this are Evam, Pravah, Actor and of course theatres that I have visited, Ranga Shankara in Bangalore, Prithvi in Mumbai and NSD in Delhi.