Covid brought a dramatic pause, but theatre is drawing crowds again

- June 30, 2022
| By : Rohan Chauhan |

As cinema and TV became popular in our country, the art form that gave birth to these forms of entertainment lost its lustre. So what explains the continuing relevance of theatre today? Patriot interviews some artists to find out

A still from the Play Abhimanyu / Photo: Theatre Leela Acting

“Theatre is the essence of acting,” declares Rishav Nidhi Lakra, an artist working with the group Theatreleela for the last two years. “I don’t think it’s ever going to fade away.”

One reason of course is that aspiring actors are well aware that stars on the big and small screens originally learnt their craft in theatre. Lakra points out that when on stage, you have to react spontaneously; there are no edits or retakes. Theatre is live action and ‘the purest form of acting.’

A still of Nidhi Rishav Lakra acting in the play Aurangzeb Image credit - Leela Theatre Acting
A still of Rishav Nidhi Lakra acting in the play Aurangzeb / Photo: Theatreleela

Great foundation

Most actors would agree with her that theatre strengthens one’s fundamentals. Even in the pauses you take, you get to live the character. An added benefit, says Lakra, is that acting in a play gives you a sense of calm and centredness.

“Theatre does help you understand the principles of acting very firmly and prepares you for the camera,” agrees Gautam, a theatre artist who began performing in plays in the ninth grade and has been connected with drama for the past six years.

Theatre artist Gautam is working in this field for six years
Theatre artist Gautam is working in this field for six years

He says theatre provides you with the confidence to create your own acting identity. It helps you develop patience, which is essential for performers, especially in college plays. You don’t just perform; you communicate with others and feel connected in any creative field.

Anindya Kalra, Director and founder of Takhleeq Theatre Group, has been in the profession for the last six years. Kalra recalls, “My journey has been wonderful. There have been ups and downs, but I’m grateful for the fact that I get to perform drama and act every day.”

It all started in 2016 when his group of friends started the group Takhleeq, which means starting something new.

Anindya Kalra with his team from a still of their act Pagla Ghoda Photo Credit- Takhleeq Theatre Group
Anindya Kalra with his team from a still of their act Pagla Ghoda / Photo: Takhleeq Theatre Group

Covid a big dampener

Even before Covid, the theatre community never found the going smooth. Lakra says, “Financial crunch is a regular occurrence. Sometimes, the whole setup has to change because the studio isn’t available, but the creative satisfaction that you get after a standing ovation is worth all that hassle.”

However, Covid-19 posed the biggest challenge. Namrata Pathak, another artist, states, “In a play, every character needs you to change in a certain way, but the major change that I faced was during the pandemic.”

She learned a lot while performing online, such as the nuances that were missed earlier. She says, “It was believed that plays could not be performed online because you needed your co-actors with you, but while performing in boxes, everything changed.”

Pathak recalls, “There was no eye contact, no physical touch, but you somehow had to convey the story, and we learnt all of that in Covid times.”

“The transition from stage acting to online acting did not come as easily as we used to discuss.” She continues, “Situations were extremely difficult at times, but with time and practice, things became easier.”

A still of Namrata pathak acting in a play called Chandragupta Maurya Image credit - Leela Theatre Acting
A still of Namrata Pathak acting in a play titled Chandragupta / Photo: Theatreleela

Years of physical performance did play a great part in helping through the tough times and making them better actors.

For Kalra and his team, Covid came at the worst possible time. In 2019, they had decided to formalise their hobby, got their group registered and set up their own space. Just when their venture was supposed to take off, Covid-19 hit them hard.

All the scheduled plays were cancelled and huge losses were incurred, as they had invested their own money. The major setback was losing a fair share of their audience, but somehow the whole team managed to keep their spirits up and make a shift to the online space.

“There also came a time when we did not have the money to pay the rent during the second wave,” says Kalra. “We had to let go of our rehearsal space and operate from my house. The situations were sometimes uncomfortable.”

Kalra is worried due to the upsurge in Covid cases and has stopped renting spaces on a monthly basis, only for the dates when they perform.

Broadening reach

When asked if the art of theatre has lost its shine due to the online accessibility of content and the glamour of movies, Kalra says, “Online content has affected our space a bit. There’s no denying that, but over the years, the scale of drama is also expanding, especially as the younger generation is turning up in good numbers.”

Recently, he says, he has seen an upward trend with slow and steady growth, and at Takhleeq, in order to make sure that theatre reaches a wider audience, they started an event called ‘The Reader’.
At this event, someone narrates the story in a theatrical manner, and then there is a discussion of the story with the audience, where Kalra and fellow artists interact and learn about the audience’s perspective on the story. This makes it more enjoyable for both parties.

Kalra says, “So far, it’s going well, and we’ve managed to perform 7-8 such readings.” The focus is to narrate a different perspective of popular stories and present them in a manner like never before, like we did a reading with the feminine perspective of the book Red Riding Hood, which turned out to be a success.”

Eternal magnet

So what do veteran actors advise newcomers? Is acting in theatre a good career choice? Can it lead you on the path of stardom? Gautam responds, “I don’t think there’s an increase in opportunities, but it prepares you better.”

It can’t be denied that there are actors in the film and TV industry who have never done theatre but are still going strong. Nevertheless, years of practice and play prepare you in a better way so that when opportunities present themselves, you stand out.


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