And the stage is set

And the stage is set

She is a visionary of sorts in the theatre circuits. Actor, producer, director and co-founder of Peninsula Studios, Sita Raina is a multi-tasker to the core. Sunday Herald catches up with the theatre personality, who is known for generating riveting content for her stage productions and getting the best out of her actors

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How did you get involved in theatre? Has your corporate career (advertising) influenced your choice of plays?

I loved imitating people when I was young, and I first learned the technique of mime as a theatre form from the eminent Zarine Choudhry and then moved on to proscenium theatre. In advertising, you learn the art of presentation, to communicate effectively, and market your product. Theatre techniques have helped me immensely to do the above, but it’s been vice versa too, as I have also used corporate knowledge to promote theatre.

Which has been your favourite genre, and why?

Comedy has been my favourite genre, because it requires a sense of timing and the ability to laugh at oneself. Rehearsals are thoroughly enjoyable; it brings the team together. Theatre is a collaboration. Also, improvisation opportunities are huge in comedy.

What was your experience working with Satyajit Ray on Shatranj Ke Khiladi?

I was young then; I just remembered him as a towering personality who knew exactly what he wanted. Prime Time was one of the most dynamic theatre groups in Delhi, run jointly by Lillette Dubey and you. Dubey moved to Mumbai and now runs the company from there.

Does that mean your partnership has ended?

Prime Time was a first mover in making theatre upmarket and using Hinglish as a language in Delhi. When Lillette moved to Mumbai, we decided to work independently. Today, I have started the Chamber Theatre @ The Peninsula Studios series. Tell us something about The Peninsula Studios.

The Peninsula Studios, as an idea, is an oasis where singers, musicians, lyricists, poets, composers and technicians, who are the soul of the creative process, are given an environment that enables them to express their creativity. The vision is to spread joy by nurturing and sharing music from the easternmost borders of India in Mizoram right up to Mazhar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan, from Gilgit, Hunza to Kandy in Sri Lanka, where poets, saints, fakirs have travelled over centuries to create a wonderful body of work. The studio focuses on genres including folk, classical (Carnatic and Hindustani), spiritual music, ghazals, nazms and poetry in all the languages of the peninsula.

The journey started by creating a state-of-the-art recording studio-cum-performance space envisioned by one of India’s leading architects and a serious music connoisseur Ratan J Batliboi. The intention was to revive the romance of a traditional baithak, where musicians and aficionados came together in an intimate setting like chamber music. For this, we created the programme ‘Sounds of the Peninsula’.

What is unique is that live performances by quality artistes are recorded in a single take in the presence of music cognoscenti who form a part of the feel and sound of the recorded works. This demands outstanding capability from the artists since few agree to be recorded live.

Who are the artistes that you have worked with?

Outstanding artistes including classical pianist Anil Srinivasan, and vocalists Sikkil Gurucharan and Supratik Das, who have brought their superlative musical talents to be recorded live in a single take and showcase the music to wider audiences.

Our output is world class, and the ensemble ‘Mast Qalandars of The Peninsula Studios’ performed live, and the album and videos are popular on YouTube. Musicians like Kutle Khan and Nathoo Solanki are now on Coke Studio rounds, steadily progressing in their musical careers.

The Studio received an award for ‘Best Recording/Mixing Studio for Live Recording’ at the 8th Indian Recording Arts Awards 2014 for the production of the 3 series album Live @ The Peninsula Studios.

Does this initiative mean you’ve moved away from theatre and acting?

Well, it has taken us five years to put The Peninsula Studios together and these are early days, so I had little time for anything else. But in 2014, I went back to theatre. We have launched The Chamber Theatre @ The Peninsula Studios series. It was inaugurated with M K Raina’s award winning Punjabi play Buhe Bariyan, which was extremely well-received. We plan to present quality productions under the series. Maybe capture it on video, and let’s see how to take it forward. I have recently acted in a movie directed by Muzzafar Ali, which will be released this year. He is a master of his medium and a gentle director who inspires you to understand the role and deliver his vision.

What new creative idea have you in store for 2015?

We have some great music production ideas that are ever evolving. We are expanding into socialising our bands The Rangley Punjabis and The Mast Qalandars of The Peninsula Studios. They are now performing in India and abroad. We are also curating a music festival in Rajasthan. There are also a few exciting ideas in the internet space in connection with music that we are exploring.

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