Pune-based Swatantra Theatre is set for a big virtual experiment from June 4 when it unveils Rang-e-Dastaan: Season 2, a 13-day virtual theatre festival. Produced by Yuwaraj Shah and directed by Abhijeet Choudhary, the festival features 13 plays enacted by 70 actors across India, all from their homes. The group’s mentor, Dhanashree Heblikar, sounds confident over the phone but confesses that she is nervous, too.

“Season 1 of Rang-e-Dastaan was India’s first virtual live play festival showcasing plays based on works of Manto, Gulzar, and Harishankar Parsai. With interesting backdrops created inside their homes, the artists were directed by Abhijeet Choudhary,” says Dhanashree.

Drama every day

Dealing with human interest stories, Season 2 brings a new play every day with actors changing costumes for different scenes, and even locations in their houses. “They have three locations, including an outdoor location,” adds Dhanashree. The first play, The Bicycle Girl, performed on June 4, is based on the true story of Jyoti Kumari, who cycled 1200 kilometers with her injured father. “Two actors ride on two cycles and have to make sure that the lighting is adequate and that they are both visible in the frame. Exploring how to merge the look, design, and writing was a challenge; the team has also included a scene showing Ivanka Trump praising Jyoti Kumari,” she says.

While there is also Vijeta Kaun, a family drama that highlights the importance of work done by everyone after lockdown, Shadifurr (the “Red Zone Bride”) is a satirical comedy on how marriages will take place in a few months of the COVID-19 phase — for instance, an inquiry of the background of the bridegroom will include his zone — does he hail from a red zone or green.

Screenshot of artists during a rehearsal. Photo Credit: Original Article.

Honing skills

The lockdown posed many challenges to the team — would a virtual show communicate the story’s essence; how does one show different scenes in a home; how to handle technical disturbances (the “screen freeze”) — the team pondered over these and many other issues. “The actors, with their zeal, transformed hurdles into opportunities,” shares Dhanashree, giving an example of an actor who used corn silk for a long beard in a play. “Now that artist is a one-man team handling costumes, make-up, lighting, and cinematography.”

An artist during rehearsal. Photo Credit: Original article.

During the festival, artists will log in from across India — Odisha, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Bengaluru, and Maharashtra, as well as rural areas. She says, “Since the situation was worrying, most parents asked their wards to come back home. The actors have been logging in from their homes to keep the actor in them alive. We meet online every day and have long rehearsals on Zoom.”

In fact, Swatantra has been one of the first production houses to make a quick digital switch. Their virtual theatrical sessions began with a street play on COVID-19, and went on with YouTube sessions and play readings. “We miss the stage so much. It is wonderful to be on stage and interact with the audience; we wait eagerly for the audience to applaud.”

Rang-e-Dastaan, a virtual play festival, can be viewed live on Swatantra Theatre’s Facebook page from June 4 at 8:30 pm onwards to June 16.

This article was originally posted on The Hindu on Thursday, June 4, 2020. To read the full article, click here

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