Celebrating theatre through films

A still from Jayesh Jain's Brain Surgeon
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In the first few months of lockdown and even now, as we head into unlocking the many aspects of our lives, the action shifted online – from schools, to theatre, to music concerts, book clubs and so on.  Taking it one step ahead, especially as a responsibility to keep the artist community engaged, is the Kamshet-based The Company Theatre (TCT) group’s ‘Theatre Film Theatre – A Festival of Shorts’.

Curated by artistic director of TCT, Atul Kumar, artists Vara Raturi, Mallika Singh, Sonal Gupta, Baani Singh and filmmaker Anupam Barve, the festival has premiered on the group’s YouTube channel on August 30. The month long festival will screen 15 shorts every 48 hours.

Getting everyone together

“The ongoing pandemic and severe lockdown in India brought an abrupt closure of all our performance activities and theatre organisations. In most parts of the world, theatre-makers were announced as ‘non-essential’ entities along with many other artists and art forms. And it is precisely this challenge that pressed upon many artists around the world to come up with newer ways to be productive and essential to human endeavour,” says senior director-actor Atul Kumar.

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The festival circuit is pretty damp because of the pandemic.

Anupam Barve

He and his team began discussing ideas and out of which emerged Theatre Film Theatre – A Festival of Shorts, bringing together theatre actors and young filmmakers across the country for pro bono work. Vara Raturi, one of the curators of the online theatre festival, says, “We tried to reach out to as many young people as possible. Atul sent out the message to his contacts, Anupam Barve, a film instructor in Pune, reached out to his students.”

The film-makers had about two months time frame to complete their work, starting from June. “We had a few guidelines for the filmmakers. One was that the script had to be from theatre, but it should be told cinematically. We gave them a bank of copyright free scripts in English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati. If they wanted other scripts then they were told about the rules and procedures on securing them. We also created a bank of theatre actors because the idea was to generate work for the artists from all age groups, of all languages, spread across the country. And the directors could select them on the basis of what they were looking for,” adds Raturi.

When asked if there was any selection process for the films, Mallika Singh, co-curator of the festival replies in negative. “The filmmakers started off together and we were with them through the process. We had formed a WhatsApp group, where the filmmakers would send their first cuts. Anupam would then suggest some technical changes if necessary. Everybody was aware what the other filmmaker was making. There was no competition,” says Singh.

A still from Chitrangada

From stage to screen

Currently, many artists have been putting out videos, going live with dramatised readings and so on. But it gets tiring and that’s precisely what the organisers of Theatre Film Theatre wanted to avoid.

Barve, who is the film mentor for the project, says, “Most theatre pieces are two-three hours long. But the Theatre Film Theatre festival had a short timeline, besides the films had to be shot following the precautionary measures in view of the pandemic and with limited equipment. Therefore, we kept a range of 5-12 minutes for the shorts. The biggest hurdle before the filmmakers was which part of the text to retain and how to convert it into a smaller canvas. Some filmmakers sent us drafts and wanted to know how to dynamise a particular scene. A lot of people shot at home, some shot with skeleton crews, many of them used their mobile phones. We did a lot of overseeing to see that the filmmakers were on the right path.”

Jayesh Jain, a young filmmaker, who has directed Brain Surgeon for the shorts festival, adds, “There were few challenges like we were shooting on a tight budget and with only eight people on the set.”

Jain decided to work on theatre veteran Pradeep Vaiddya’s Marathi script, Brain Surgeon because it had cinematic elements of suspense and a thriller. “The plot was surreal and when you factor that in, you can go anywhere with the script – you can imagine the script as a comedy, a suspense drama or a horror. It gave away very few plot points,” says Jain, who has earlier co-written and co-directed a film titled, Façade.

What next?

Once the online festival concludes, will the films be archived or will they travel to other festivals? Raturi says, “We have given the filmmakers complete right of their films; they are free to do whatever they want to with it.”

Barve adds, “The festival circuit is pretty damp because of the pandemic. We are strategising on what should be the best approach so that the films’ reach can be widened.”

And when asked how does the filmmaker see the art scene evolving in current times, he says, “I think the people have to be inventive, and little more flexible with how they do with what they do. The goal posts are changing so fast. What we discussed in March, April is redundant now.”

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