'There is a poverty of imagination in theatre'

The blinding notion that theatre is a medium for elite and literary has limited its reach to selected audience, feels Delhi Belly actor Divya Bhatia, adding that the blurring lines between commercial and art cinema highlight that the audience is ready to explore the world of live magic.

“Earlier it was believed that the art cinema was limited to a certain section of the society, but it opened up… it took time though. For 15 years there was a distinction between the art and commercial cinema, but now it is all inclusive,” Bhatia tells Metrolife.

“This is one of the signs that the industry (Bollywood) has developed. Now we have a Rohit Shetty, a Vishal Bhardwaj and films like Margarita with a Straw as well,” he adds.

The audiences’ reluctance to shell out money for a theatre production is nothing new, but what, according to Bhatia, defeats the whole idea of promoting theatre among masses is its association with its literary-ness.

“In our culture the word theatre is somewhat related to a highly literate audience who are very well-educated. For many of these people, theatre has always been a part of literature,” he points out. So people think those who are in some way more “literary”, are more appropriate for theatre. Yet, many can get to know Shakespeare because of watching theatre and not reading it as literature,” he points out.

“We have put theatre on a pedestal – this attitude needs to change to develop this industry,” adds the 48-year-old who was the festival director of Prithvi Theatre Festival for eight years and headed the Kala Ghoda festival for five years.

It is this disparity he seeks to help overcome in his role as the artistic director of Aadyam, a theatre initiative under which 45 performances of five well-crafted productions will be staged at Delhi and Mumbai respectively.

And Aadyam’s first target is to develop the code for “theatre-ticket” buying attitude in India.

“Even though theatre is a live medium and a performer’s medium, people are less willing to buy tickets. It is because the market is developed differently. Through this initiative, we want to help build the box office culture for theatre (as opposed to “complimentary” culture) and its hold in the world of live entertainment,” he says.

The patronage for this initiative comes from a well-known corporate conglomerate which has invested in these large canvas productions that offer a diverse set of themes to generate interest among the audience.

“Films have industry status. They have distributors, producers, cinema halls, investors….so there is a profusion of work. But this hasn’t happened in theatre so far. It is difficult because you don’t have many professional producers and hence it is the director on whose shoulders often lies the financial burden,” he says.

“And this is why there is poverty of imagination in theatre as directors can only think of an audience of 200-300 to watch. So, the culture becomes introvert... and we plan to change this,” he concludes.

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