The Sippy surname is so associated with cinema that one does not actively associate it with theatre. However, filmmaker and producer Rohan Sippy, who has directed movies such as Kuch Naa Kaho, Bluffmaster, Dum Maaro Dum and Nautanki Saala, does have a connection with the stage. Not only has he produced the film The President is Coming based on a play of the same name, but he also directed the musical Fashion Broadway in 2011. His movie Nautanki Saala was an adaptation of the 2003 French film Après Vous. While the original was set against the backdrop of a restaurant, Sippy changed the setting to theatre in his film because he thought it would be more fun. “I keep trying to bring theatre in somehow,” he laughs.
Recently, Sippy directed Admission as part of the Digital Theatre Fest by Rage Productions and EnActe Arts. The comedy about four estranged college friends who reunite on a Zoom call during the Covid pandemic does not turn out to be all fun and games, as dark secrets come tumbling out. We got chatting with the filmmaker about his love for theatre.
Are you an avid theatre-goer?
I can’t claim to be one. I’m sure there are far more avid watchers than me, but I do enjoy theatre. It gives you a chance to work with actors in a more unrestrained way. Writing and performances are at the top of the game in the medium, and those are the two most important facets for me as well. Also, I have a few friends in theatre, so I am in touch with what’s happening.
What prompted you to direct Fashion Broadway in 2011?
Originally, it was more of a fashion showcase, but I wanted to bring a narrative into it to make it more fun for the audience and us as well. It just grew out of that. Ranjit Barot was on board, and we got a chance to do live music in front of an audience with actors like Shahana Goswami and Ali Fazal. It ended up being a great opportunity to work in this medium. In India, one doesn’t often get the kind of budget to put up lavish musical productions, which we got a chance to do. Plus, the setting was Bombay in the 60s, and it was lovely to recreate the jazz era. It was fantastic. Nothing comes close to doing a live performance.
You enjoyed it so much, why haven’t then you done it since?
Good question! (laughs) To be honest, I can’t claim to be even very well-qualified when it comes to directing for theatre. Also, it is a huge commitment. I don’t think it’s easy to handle multiple mediums, and that’s probably the biggest reason you don’t often see it happening that way. With OTT shows, you are getting to use the principles of playwrighting and drama more than even cinema. When you look at the west, shows are being written by playwrights. Hopefully, that will happen here, too, as more and more shows get made.
How did Admission happen?
Rage Theatre and EnActe Arts were introduced to each other, and they decided to work together. Anuvab Pal called me and said that one of his plays had been selected for it. It sounded like a fun concept. Again, the greed is always to work with actors whom one has always wanted to work with. Things also fell into place with the timing of the second lockdown. I got to work with Rasika Dugal, Tilottama Shome, Kunaal Roy Kapur and Noah Luce. Anuvab had written the first or second draft of it. After that, we got into rehearsals which was a lot of fun — to hear the actors saying those lines, tweaking them, and that’s how we got to the final performance. It came out of a lot of back and forth and improvisations on the part of the actors. We had something productive to do in the middle of the lockdown.
Is this your first tryst with digital theatre?
About a year ago, when the first lockdown happened, Anuvab and I were chatting, and I gave him the germ of an idea which became Wakaalat From Home. It is a show on Amazon Prime Video about a divorce taking place over a series of Zoom calls. That show, in a sense, gave us the background to work on for material like Admission.
Are you keen on doing more theatre work, or are you planning another long break?
I would love to do it. I'm not a writer — so I have to rely on someone else for the material — neither am I in touch with many theatre producers. It would be great to do something again for the stage. The real joy of theatre is performing it live. The digital form is a nice innovation, but it can never substitute for the real thing.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)