‘No amount of VR/AR or live recordings can come close to the live theatre experience’ — V Bala, Theatre Nisha, Chennai

Theatre Nisha is awaiting to stage Girish Karnad's Crossing to Talikota once the lockdown is over and things are back to normal
A still from one of the earlier productions by Theatre Nisha
A still from one of the earlier productions by Theatre Nisha

Theatre Nisha, which has offered us an array of mythology-based productions in the past, had to cancel their adaptation of Girish Karnad’s Crossing To Talikota, which they were supposed to perform in April. V Balakrishnan, the group’s leading director and actor, says that he is confident that the pandemic will not affect the number of plays that the city’s groups were already planning to stage before the pandemic. He also brought attention to the challenges that the online arena will pose to theatre, as plays will have to face stiff competition from movies and series that are available on a wide number of platforms. As we wait for the lockdown to end, Bala talks about the changes that the theatre scene can expect due to the pandemic and what we can expect once the restrictions are lifted. Excerpts: 

Theatre organisations around the world are releasing their content online and making them available to the public. From your point of view, how much digital access does Chennai's audience have to your content, and what more can be done from your side to broaden the scope, with regards to both quantity of your body of work online and its reach among the masses?

If we look at the content available free of cost for theatre aficionados, we come across operas of Andrew Lloyd Webber, plays from the National Theatre, plays from Globe Theatre, plays from Hamstead Theatre, and a lot more content that are freely available. The requirement to watch local plays does not present itself as a choice in this plethora of masterpieces available. 

We must also realise, that with the presence of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other entertainment available, there is no dearth of content. The masses have to work their way through those kinds of content which are available for free only for a limited period of time before they chance upon local work. So, right now there is no imminent need to offer our work online as it will always be available live in a few months. 

In what ways and how much can this pandemic and the lockdown affect the theatre industry? 

It is quite ambitious to call theatre an industry in the Indian context. Theatre at best is patronised, sometimes self-reliant, and mostly sponsored. Artists earning their entire income from theatre are very rare. Yes, the pandemic may have resulted in a few plays not being performed in the months of March-April-May, but in no way is it telling on theatre. 


What are the major changes that you are anticipating in Chennai's theatre scene, once things get better? Will there be a change in approach towards the medium of showcasing your work? Can we expect to see more innovative ways in which you can reach your audience (virtual and augmented reality for example)? 

Once the lockdown is lifted, and the environment is conducive for gatherings, I believe we will be doing exactly the number of plays that we were doing before the pandemic hit. Theatre is a live communion, and no amount of virtual and augmented reality or live recordings can come close to the live experience. Theatre has been and will remain a live interaction. 

Do you have any new productions in the pipeline? And, what will be the first play from your stable once the ball gets rolling again?

We were to perform Girish Karnad's Crossing to Talikota in the month of April, so that play sits on the benches till we can enter the field once again. 

Lastly, how have you been spending your lockdown time at home? Could you share some interesting anecdotes? 

As much as I would love to say that this time is being spent in introspection, writing new plays, reading new books and physical exercises, I must say a lockdown rarely inspires the above. There is an attempt to do all of that, but more often than not, it's spent in silence. 

You can contact the writer at karan.pillai@newindianexpress.com or follow him on Twitter @karan_pillai

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