Be it Disco Dancer at the NSCI dome, The Great Indian Musical: Civilization to Nation at NMACC, Mughal-e-Azam or The Sound of Music from Broadway which is now performing at NMACC… the theatre in India is definitely seeing a change.
While Delhi had graduated to huge sets and musicals in the earlier decade with Kingdom of Dreams producing large scale productions like Jhumroo and Zangura and a play based on Bollywood songs (name I fail to remember), Mumbai had to wait for their Mugal – e – Azam.
Actually, no… we did witness grandeur in the form of a play based on the Ramayana, directed by Aamir Raza Husain in the mid-’90s. It was a play staged on the rough backdrop of Bandra Fort. The natural landscape was used as the set. The USP of the play was the moving audience. Since the stage was the entire hill and the fort, the audience platform moved left, right and turned to facilitate viewing of the scenes being enacted. The challenge, I am sure, was the lighting. The terrain was not as smooth as today. The ground was very aptly used by the director.
As far the Marathi audience of Mumbai is concerned, it was introduced to grandiosity much earlier. The magnum opus by Babasaheb Purandare, Janata Raja, based on the life of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, was staged on maidans of the state of Maharashtra in the 80s. Real horses and elephants made appearances in this grand musical and enthralled the audience which had never seen something like this. This was the Marathi answer to the Broadway theatre of the West that everyone spoke about intensely.
Then why did we shy away from splendour for more than a decade? There’s no answer for this.
That said, it is good to see things changing. Feroz Abbas Khan, director of two grand productions, had said that he believed that Mugal-e-Azam had all the material for an opulent theatre production from the moment he saw the film in 2004. But it did require an able and willing producer to fund the spectacle. He had also admitted in another interview that Nita Ambani’s idea and backing helped him create Civilization to Nation. He mentioned, “It starts with an idea, then comes the structure and the articulation of a compelling reason for it to be worthy of sharing with an audience. A road map is sketched but the destination is a mystery. Next, we gather excellent collaborators who feel it is worth their time and reputation to invest in the show.”
Most often, I feel, it was the lack of funders that stopped grand productions being showcased in the earlier decades and century. Today, thankfully, we see more coming forward to lend that helping hand.
Also, today, the theatre producers, crew etc are exposed to Broadway in a real sense via social media or real time experience. This has enabled them to think huge without boundaries.
Another thing that’s supporting the majestic productions is the upscaled and upgraded technology. The special effects, the creation of illusions, sets… that helps the grandness of a production. Today, we are on par with any other country when it comes to technology.
I spoke to someone who had seen Civilization to Nation at the Grand Theater NMACC. He was in total awe of the production, especially the technical excellence. I have seen the theatre and I believe that it is fully equipped to showcase a Broadway kind of production in all its glory. The 8400 Swarovski crystals in the ceiling for projections, the sound design, the light design, or the sheer grandeur of the theatre… everything will contribute to the experience of every production that is staged there – Indian or otherwise. It is a state-of-the art theatre.
My own experience of large scale productions is Lion King and Mary Poppins at West End, London. Talking of the coming attraction The Sound of Music, I am looking forward to it. I have grown up on a diet of Christopher Plummer singing Edelweiss while Julie Andrews blushes, on the big screen and small screen. The Broadway version should be a treat.
We are turning a page in theatre production. Broadway productions are visiting us with confidence. Hindi and English theatre have found a platform in NMACC. Will Marathi also find one? Will we see grand productions in Marathi or other regional languages? The stories and the talent are there. The need is to explore and support.
Will we find enough producers, funders who will have enough faith to create magnum opus in all Indian languages?
Will we see Broadway-style productions in all languages?
It’s still anybody’s guess.
Shruti Pandit is Consulting Editor, Features, The Free Press Journal