Bringing theatre on multiple platforms

What usually an idea-starved Indian television industry does is that it bluntly copies the format of a popular show in the West and comes up with an Indian version. It is a matter of convenience for all – production houses and consumers, who happily become slaves of a popular concept which doesn’t need a formal introduction and can be followed easily. It was this lack of originality that started bothering Shailja Kejriwal who is the chief creative - special projects at Zee Entertainment Enterprise Limited, and during one brainstorming session she thought “why don’t we look into our own plays?”

And this is how the entertainment channel’s ambitious project “Zee Theatre” was born. This new content vertical has partnered with playwrights and theatre stalwarts to produce over 100 plays over the next three years. The initiative will make theatrical content available on multiple platforms (online, on-air and on-ground) for audiences to consume at their convenience.

“It so happened that one of my nieces asked me who Habib Tanwar is and it struck me then that if we don’t document these people now and their legacy, it will be too late for the younger generation to know about the great theatre culture we have,” Shailja tells Metrolife.

“As an entertainment brand we have television and films... so now theatre becomes our third vertical of storytelling,” she adds.

 According to Shailja, the company is investing in theatre productions and is expecting to roll them on the stage by March this year. Live plays have been recorded before, but they have never been filmed. Since these are two different verticals of creativity, their confluence did pose challenge for the channel to chalk out a strategy that would ensure smooth sailing.

“We have directors from National School of Drama for the plays, but for filming these plays we have roped in people like Sapna Joshi, Ishan Trivedi and Suman Mukhopadhyay who are armed with theatre and filmmaking background. They understand the nuances and hence there is a synergy between the two,” she says.

These plays will first be staged across the world as the channel has a strong presence in several countries and then they plan to put them in the digital space. Big names from theatre like Mohan Rakesh, Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Ranjit Kapoor and Shafaat Khan have been roped in for this initiative.

Shailja also hopes that these plays will create a benchmark in the entertainment space. Thus, they are paying utmost importance to the script.

“The content is interesting. We have plays on child abuse of a girl and how we discount the fact that a housewife is also a full-time worker. We, as a society, don’t acknowledge that a housewife works. So, we hope our plays push people to think,” she says.
“It is important to make children and society understand the importance of these pertinent issues and theatre is the best way to do that,”
 she says.

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