Saturday, May 18, 2013

New Waves of theatres in Delhi

Gone are the days when Delhi junta had Mandi house as the only option for theatre retreats. Gone are the days when people longed to witness ‘Andha Yug’ at Kamani Auditorium or at Abhimanch in NSD. Delhi has new addresses for theatre lovers and performers- India Habitat Centre, Epicenter Gurgaon or even open air non-traditional venue like Zorba The Buddha.

Delhi theatre was always known for serious Hindi theatre. Theatre groups like Act One gave scintillating performances till late 1990s. NSD repertory had been extremely active and gave few great performances for a long time. But suddenly something has changed and we see a paradigm shift in the theatre culture in Delhi- change in language preference, change in venue preference as well as change in genre preference.

Delhi theatre’s new language

Because of NSD’s presence in Delhi, city always witnessed good Hindi theatre productions. NSD also inspired other theatre groups to perform better. For a long time many epic English plays were adapted in Hindi and also performed at various venues. But in last few years English theatre productions have taken prominence. It will be wrong to understand that Hindi plays are not produced. Hindi plays are being performed in far more number than English productions (bookmyshow will show this as a proof!) but the number of houseful shows are always in favour of English Productions. Saanjha Sapna theatre group recently performed Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple at Alliance Francaise and Stein Auditorium at India Habitat Centre. It witnessed three back to back houseful shows. Similarly, the very new theatre group Zorian Cross Productions witnessed back to back four houseful shows of its debut play Game Night at Akshara theatre.

A houseful show is not a parameter to judge any play’s quality, but it certainly justifies that there is a niche crowd which is willing to buy costlier tickets and is ready for some ‘new theatre’.

New addresses for theatre lovers

It’s an old past when Mandi house used to be the only option for spending an evening with theatre. Now venues are spread all over Delhi. There can be no doubt that Stein Auditorium at India Habitat Centre is the new favourite venue for theatre lovers. Deepak Dhamija, founder of Shoelace Productions, a prominent theatre group in Delhi, says, “As a director and producer, IHC costs me less, at the same time it has better ambiance than most auditoriums in Mandi House area. It is practically impossible to rent Kamani for independent theatre groups in Delhi without the support of sponsors or government. As a recent development, the experience of watching a film in multiplexes has changed the preferences of audience. Now they may not like LTG Auditorium, or Sri Ram Centre, because of the ambiance and facilities. We cannot ignore the fact that there has been a socio-economic change in the society. Sadly theatre is no more ‘people’s art’ in urban India. At the end it is economics which is playing the deciding role.”

Sandeep, a theatre enthusiast, puts forward another viewpoint, associating IHC and Epicentre with status symbol of urban Delhi. “Theatre has now become a fashion symbol. If you go for theatre shows you are progressive, you are elite and you have a better choice than others who go for ‘bollywood’ movies. Theatre is a luxury in Delhi. Mandi house doesn’t go well with ‘luxury’, but India Habitat Centre does and so does Epicenter Gurgaon” he adds.

Delhi loves to laugh

As a recent trend Delhi is witnessing more and more comedy plays, not only in English but also in Hindi. Mohan Rakesh’s Aadhe Adhure has lost its audience it seems; instead Neil Simon has taken over. Recently three theatre groups performed Neil Simon’s plays- Jai and Juliet by Desires Unlimited (adaptation of The Odd Couple), Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Atelier theatre group and The Odd Couple by Saanjha Sapnaa theatre group. Game Night by Zorian Cross Productions is also a comedy. Apart from these we have Hindi plays like Bhelpoori on the platter.
A scene from the play The Odd Couple performed at IHC 

Ishwar Shunya, founder of the theatre group Saanjha Sapna says, “There is a pressure of market. Professional theatre groups have always preferred comedy because the audience which buys tickets and come to witness a performance is not interested ‘serious-intellectual’ drama. They want to have a good time. Also the emergence of television shows like Comedy Circus and others have contributed in bringing comedy shows in focus. “

Creating a new Theatre Culture

Whatever be the change, it is a certain fact that Delhi’s theatre circuit is far more active when compared to the scenario a decade back. This city has witnessed most intense performances by veteran actors, and it is sure to produce some amazing performances in the future too. The change in the scenario is related to the change in socio-economic relevance of arts in the city. Every theatre group has its own audience. An Asmita audience may not like what Zorian Cross Productions will do. But it is only for better. This city, now, has more variety for different kind of audiences and this will only enrich the theatre culture in Delhi.

First published in on May 17th 2013

Post Script:

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