• September 30, 2020 2:42 am

Reporting From Delhi

Keeping the show going

ByShruti Das

Aug 22, 2020

META 2020, a first-of-its kind virtual awards ceremony for theatre in the country, is all set to make its mark

We all are aware of the “new normal” amid the global pandemic. And it goes without saying that the theatre industry is among the worst hit. But as the famous saying goes, “The show must go on.”

And thus to keep up with its legacy, the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) and Festival 2020 will be held on August 30. But keeping in mind the norms of social distancing, it will be a first-of-its-kind virtual awards ceremony. The ceremony will feature leading theatre personalities including past and present nominees and META awardees.

Promoted by the Mahindra Group as part of its cultural outreach programme and produced by Teamwork Arts, META rewards and recognizes the best theatrical productions and performances of the year, along with their makers and facilitators, providing a major boost to the country’s theatre industry, with the aim of increasing not just awareness but also appreciation of theatre across India.

In the light of the global Covid-19 outbreak, as India went into lockdown, the META 2020 Festival, which was earlier scheduled to be held in New Delhi on March 2020, was postponed. Since then, the world has witnessed a paradigm shift in what were “normal” and the performing arts space has been impacted significantly. But embracing the new normal with grit, the Mahindra Group has once again led the charge in its commitment towards Indian theatre with a first-ever virtual theatre awards ceremony.

A glimpse from the play “Maze”

“The show must go on. We rise to the challenges thrown up by the pandemic and I applaud the entire theatre community for coming together at this difficult time. META 2020 is going to be a first-of-its kind virtual awards ceremony for theatre in the country. Innovation and progress have been at the core of our legacy and I am proud to see META taking on these unprecedented times with courage and imagination. My humble appeal to everyone is to support theatre and theatre artistes by logging on to events online, as this year, the rules for the ‘new normal’ are all in a digital idiom,” said Jay Shah, Vice President, Head – Cultural Outreach at the Mahindra Group.

META has also announced a slew of special initiatives in its 15th year, highlighting its commitment to the Indian theatre fraternity. This three-week-long celebration began with a Theatre Critics Conference on August 10, focusing on critical discourse on theatre in the country; the launch of the first-ever published edition of the ‘META Best Original Script’ on August 18, giving an impetus to scriptwriting in contemporary Indian theatre.

The META 2020 Red Carpet and Award Ceremony will take place on August 30 in a curated virtual environment where the physical boundaries of an auditorium will be replaced by the boundless powers of the internet. An esteemed jury will be announcing the winners online.

Over the years, the META Lifetime Achievement Award has become a prestigious accolade to reward a vast body of theatrical work. Past awardees have included many theatrical maestros including the late Ebrahim Alkazi, credited for revolutionizing theatre in India. As Alkazi recently passed away at 95, META pays homage to the legend. This year META will extend a tribute to theatre veteran Barry John with the META 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award on August 23.

“Covid 19 has devastated the world of artists and artisans. META is one of many initiatives to help rebuild these communities and create new platforms and avenues for theater artists,” said Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director at Teamwork Arts.

The jury for the 15th edition of the awards comprises renowned playwright, stage director and filmmaker Mahesh Dattani, acclaimed  playwright and novelist Makarand Sathe, versatile veteran actress and a teacher of speech and drama Sushma Seth, actor-writer Vinay Pathak who’s been actively involved in Indian cinema and theatre for over two decades, and well-known film, television and theatre actor and director Lillete Dubey.

The event will have well-known actor Lillete Dubey

META 2020 embodies India’s indomitable multicultural spirit, and her vitality. In every aspect of the festival – across themes, regions, languages, forms, and people – two things stand out – a grand and eclectic sweep in the range of the performances and a steadfast pursuit of excellence.

Earlier in the year, META 2020 received over 385 entries which were scrutinized by the Selection Committee and was pruned to a final list of 10 nominations. The nominated plays give a diverse flavour of India’s eclectic theatre scene and include plays in multiple languages such as Hindi, English, Hindustani, Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam, Assamese (blended with gibberish) and a non-verbal play. Nominations feature five productions from Maharashtra, two from Kerala and one each from Assam, Delhi and West Bengal.

The nominated plays, like every year, explore several complex themes and issues. Chaheta (Hindostani) deals with the psychological scars of a survivor of a traumatic event. Ekadashavtar (Marathi) is a political satire with a mythological backdrop while  Mickey (Marathi) is a modern Shakespearean tragedy and a character study of what happens to the best and worst among us when pressures are high and morals low. Bhaskara Pattelarum Thommiyude Jeevithavum (Malayalam) deals with tyranny, social struggles, love and freedom.

 Every Brilliant Thing (English) is an uplifting play about love, life, family, mental health and all the wonderful things that make life worthwhile. For The Record (English and Hindi) recreates the deliberations, disputes and the drama of a 1971 incident when a tribunal was tasked with selecting three artefacts to represent India to the world. It questions the ideas of representation and ‘Indianness’.

Gagan Damama Bajyo (A Musical on the life & times of ‘Sardar Bhagat Singh’, Hindi) showcases the inspiring life story of one of India’s most celebrated freedom fighters and revolutionaries, Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Ghoom Nei (Bengali) is a working-class manifesto which runs through the highway of a dark and broken society reaching towards light. The Old Man (Assamese and Gibberish) brings out the eternal conflict between human society and nature. Maze (Non-Verbal) depicts the relationship between a servant and an old man who are connected through a web of memory and reality.

META 2020 will present awards in 14 categories including the Lifetime Achievement Award as well as 13 competitive categories of Best Play, Best Director, Best Stage Design, Best Light Design, Best Innovative Sound Design, Best Costume Design, Best Actor in a Lead Role (Male), Best Actor in a Lead Role (Female), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Male), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Female), Best Original Script, Best Ensemble and Best Choreography.

(Cover: A glimpse from the play “Gagan Damam Bajyo”)