Award-winning critic-coloumnist Piyush Roy talks about his interest in theatre, trends in theatre performances and more
Dr Piyush Roy is the dean of School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at RV University
On the occasion of World Theatre Day, we had the pleasure of chatting with Dr Piyush Roy, an Indian National Film Award-winning critic-columnist, international author, curator, filmmaker, & professor and dean, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, RV University. Dr Roy brings over two decades of work experience in media, publishing, education, and filmmaking. World Theatre Day aims to raise awareness about the importance of theatre arts and its contributions to society, celebrating the power of theatre to bring communities together and inspire positive change through the art of storytelling.
Also read: Classical dancers Preethi Bharadwaj and Priyanka Chandrashekar stage their realistic fictional play, Mad and J
How did your interest in theatre begin and how has it evolved over time?
My interest in theatre began as a film critic, where music, dance and acting played an important role. As a researcher, I looked at the melodramatic forms that are dominant in Indian modes of expression and popular art modes, especially in the context of film. However, to understand what is unique about Indian cinema and why, it was necessary to go back to theatre traditions. As a result, I went from a journalist and critic to an academic looking at theatre as a bedrock from which Indian cinema emerged. Indian cinema's unique style, which emphasises music and drama as a form of storytelling, aimed at evoking rasas, which originates from the tradition of theatre. Over time, my interest in theatre has evolved to focus on its historical and cultural significance in shaping Indian cinema, as well as its continued relevance as an art form.
What is your opinion on the current state of theatre in India, and do you see any trends that could shape the future of Indian theatre?
In my opinion, the current state of theatre in India is evolving and adapting to new mediums and platforms. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a major shift in the consumption of theatre, as it moved from predominantly being an on-stage experience to being consumed on phones and other digital platforms. While it remains to be seen if this shift has been beneficial for the medium, it has opened up new platforms for theatre consumption and given audiences more options. However, the stage remains important and active, with many young theatre groups emerging and theatre becoming an emerging discipline within the study of performing arts. Theatre is also entering new domains such as psychology and psychotherapy. Stand-up comedy is a performance monologue that is being consumed on OTT platforms and YouTube, while recorded theatre performances are also becoming a new trend that could make the medium more viable. Overall, the future of Indian theatre will be shaped by these trends and the ability of the medium to adapt to changing audience preferences and technology.
Do you believe that cinema plays an important role in shaping societal values and bringing about change?
Yes definitely. I believe that cinema plays a significant role in shaping societal values and bringing about change. As a teacher who primarily deals with teenagers, I have observed that they spend a considerable amount of their mindful time in front of screens, and cinema is a fundamental unit of visuals on the screen. With the rise of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, people are becoming more conscious of storytelling and filmmaking, even if subconsciously. Cinema has become a sociological presence that influences our thoughts and ideas far more than before. Back in 1948, Alexandre Astruc predicted in his pathbreaking essay that cinema would become the only form of art by the end of the 20th century, and this prediction has largely come true, Cinema has successfully become one of the most influential forms of art.
As a professor of journalism, film, and the study of aesthetics, how do you incorporate theatre into your teaching and why do you feel studying aesthetics is important for a filmmaker?
I believe that learning about aesthetics is essential for everybody, not just filmmakers. Aesthetics is an important aspect of our society as it moves towards a more developed phase where experience becomes a driver. I incorporate the study of aesthetics into my teaching to help my students understand the importance of appreciating beauty in everything. My teaching is not just limited to film and media, but also includes courses in exercises and expression, where aesthetics appreciation is the bedrock. Many schools have realised the importance of aesthetics and are including it in their curriculum. Appreciating beauty is not just about identifying what is beautiful but developing the capacity to see beauty in everything, which is where education can play a vital role.
Could you tell us about any memorable experiences you’ve had with theatre, or in the journey of filmmaking?
For my first film, a full-length documentary called Pleasures, Prejudice, and Pride, I interacted with various artistes in the film industry, including Rajamouli and Om Puri, as well as artistes from theatre, such as Anupam Kher. Actors with a theatrical background tend to have richer performances and a unique style. One of the most memorable performances I have seen was Bombay Dreams at a theatre in London, where the song Chaiya Chaiya was turned into a theatrical act beautifully. I also remember attending night-long theatre performances during Durga Puja, where people of all ages would come and sit through the entire night watching plays.
What is your perspective on the role of technology in theatre? Do you think it enhances the live experience?
In terms of the role of technology in theatre, filmmaking is storytelling, and a strong story with meaningful characterisation and profound ideas are essential for a film to be successful. Technical embellishments can enhance the presentation, but they cannot change the definition of the story. For instance, classic black-and-white movies from directors like Hitchcock, Bimal Roy, or Satyajit Ray are still considered beautiful today due to their aesthetic core and philosophy, rather than technological brilliance. While technology is beneficial and allows for larger thoughts to be imagined, it can only provide momentary pleasure if the core of the story is not strong enough.
Also read: World Theatre Day: Theatre was. Is. And, always will be!
Can you talk about your upcoming documentary trilogy exploring multi-faith pilgrim journeys and your future projects?
I have a couple of upcoming projects coming up. The first is a documentary trilogy that explores multi-faith pilgrim journeys. The trilogy will delve into the spiritual experiences of people as they make their way to various holy sites. I believe that this project will be able to capture the universal human experience of seeking something beyond ourselves. In addition to this, I have recently completed a film called The Monarch of the Blue Mountain that explores the Jagannath culture and consciousness. The film highlights the importance of music and performance in devotional practices, particularly in the context of the Bhakti movement. One of my academic works is a book, Appreciating Melodrama: Theory and Practice in Indian Cinema and Television. This book talks about distinct theoretical parameters drawn from Indian aesthetic traditions, especially the theory of rasa and bhava, to analyse dramatic performances.
What advice would you give to aspiring theatre artistes and filmmakers?
My advice to aspiring theatre artistes and filmmakers would be to take advantage of the current time we live in, and the most important thing today an artiste has is that there is no one between them and their audience. With the emergence of new and independent platforms, artistes have direct access to their audience without the need for big producers or distributors. This opens up a plethora of opportunities to showcase their creativity and talent. Unlike earlier times, when many talents went unnoticed, today, every art form can find a platform and an audience. So, it is a great time to be in the space of performing arts.