On the occasion of World Theatre day came a very exciting announcement. Actor Shreyas Talpade announced the launch date of the world’s first OTT platform dedicated to theatre and performing arts. The platform is named “Nine Rasa” and will be live from April 9th.
Today’s segment of In focus features Shreyas Talpade who shared his views with the viewers and readers of Postbox India.
Here is an in-depth conversation that our correspondent Priya Sathe had with Actor / Producer Shreyas Talpade.
Q : First of all, tell us a little bit about how this idea was born.
A : Basically last year around this time when we had the whole lockdown happening, none of us really knew what was going to happen. After a few days, I started getting calls from a lot of friends friends especially asking me what I thought we should be doing and how we could help out the theatre community. Theatres were shut and no one knew what was going to happen. At that time we had a zoom meeting with the ex-CM, Mr. Devendra Fadanvisji. A lot of Marathi dignitaries, actors, directors, writers were present in that meeting. When I was asked about my views I said the world is going online, why should theatre be different? Most of them had concerns about theatre. This was the time when OTT was at its peek. I suggested that we could start off by shooting one play and putting it up on a platform like zoom and doing a ticketed show. We could distribute the revenue we got amongst the directors, actors and producers.
That is how it started. It started with the intention to help out the theatre community and that intention still remains at the core of our platform. The more we thought about it we figured that the intention obviously was there but also alongside, we felt that there is a bigger need for theatre especially Indian theatre to reach out to a global audience. This global audience is not only Indians living abroad but also international viewers. We felt that they need to experience what even Indian storytelling and theatre is like.
Whenever I’ve traveled out of the country, me being a theatre actor, a lot of people come up to me and this is the one question that they definitely ask me- Are you doing anything in theatre? They ask me if I could take a troop or a band and do something for them in their country. There are a lot of enthusiasts across the world who love theatre, who want to see theatre, want to experience the magic. I felt that when there is so much of a need to reach out why not have a dedicated platform for theatre and performing arts? That’s where the idea was born. We then started working toward this and finally when we are ready to launch the platform. We already have approximately 100 hours of content ready with us which is completely original and exclusively shot for Nine Rasa. It is not a licensed or sourced content but it is original content which we have exclusively shot for the platform. The 100 hours is not going to go all at once. It will come on the platform in phases. We have plays in multiple languages.
To begin with, we have it in English, Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati. Going forward we are also introducing Bengali and Malayalam to the kitty. Apart from that we are full-length plays, one act plays, skits, story reading, stand-ups and chats and obviously there are more shows that will keep coming on the platform as we go further. The idea is to bring whatever happens on stage and whatever can happen on stage will be a part of Nine Rasa.
Q : Digital medium is something that all of us have embraced, especially since the pandemic began. Having said that, live theatre thrives on a live audience. The performers feed off the audience’s energy. A lot of theatre artists say that they get an adrenaline rush when they perform non front of a live audience. How do you think people will respond to your concept of online theatre?
A: There are two major things. First, you cannot replicate the emotion that one experiences during a live performance. Whether it is the actor or the audience. That is just not possible. We can try to go as close to that emotion as possible, but replicating the live experience is not possible. Having said that, the live experience happens only to a limited number of shows and in front of a limited number of people.
Here is the second most important thing. Take cricket for instance. Cricket, as a sport, is played on the ground. There is only a limited number of people who can go and see it in a stadium. If we had not covered cricket using cameras and got it to our television sets at home, on our phone, do you think that cricket would have a amassed the kind of popularity or the religion like status that we have in our country? Take any sport for that matter. It would not have! It is as simple as that. Somehow, we decided to keep theatre limited to the auditorium. Why? It’s a form of entertainment. It’s a medium of entertainment. And like every other form it needs to reach out. Sure, there is a different adrenaline rush when you sit in front of your actors, and the actors perform for you and thrive on live performances. Similarly, cricketers also thrive on the live cheering that happens. That doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy it at home. There are so many people who want to visit different places in the world. Not everybody is able to go there. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t see that place. I rest my case.
Live theater is limited only to the auditorium. People perform. That is how it all began. People started performing in front of people under a tree. And then they wanted a dedicated place so we came up with auditorium. Then people started going to auditoriums and started enjoying the performance.
But later on, we had big screens, we had television, we had OTT, we had phones. Now the whole thing probably is going to come on your watches as well. So when things are changing, why should they not let theatre change and generally take a form, which is compatible with the ongoing century.
Q: You’re right. YouTube has a lot of plays that were watched by theater lovers in the past year. You have a lot of fresh content. That is definitely a plus point. Given the large amount of existing material on the multiple OTT platforms what kind of viewership are you expecting? Are you expecting a niche viewership online theater?
A: Yes. This is not a Friday release. It is not aa though 10 lakh people are going to watch it all at once.
So, it will take its own sweet time for it to reach out to people and for people to start relating with the whole thing.
But people are already used to watching plays online. In most of the plays that I have also seen on YouTube, some people have just shot the play with a single camera or maybe two cameras. The visuals are not clear and the sound is not clear. So it takes away the experience of watching that particular play. Especially because it is only one set where they are performing. There are no different visuals like you have in films or TV serials.
There has to be something that holds your attention. And that is exactly what we are trying to give people wherein we not only shoot with multi cameras, but we also do sound mixing, background score, your grading and VI and then we come out with the final product. We treat it like a film. And it happens on stage. We’re not taking away the feel of stage or shooting it in a studio. We are shooting it on stage in an auditorium so when people see it, when they see visual, they know that it is happening on stage. As though they’re inside the theatre and are watching that play.
We’re trying to reach as close to the expression and emotion as possible. But at the same time, we felt that nowadays people are used to watching watching everything on their phone in a particular manner. So let’s not take it away from them. Let’s not try to be very, very radical and say theek hai, achha ye dekho! They’re used to particular thing we’ll give them that, but at the same time, maintain the sanctity of the theatre and stage in its purest form possible. So that where the differentiator is the Nine Rasa and the other platforms where things are available. And like you said, it is all original content which is exclusively shot. People have not seen this content anywhere. And I suppose they would love to see this. There would be a niche audience to begin with. Because theatre has a certain kind of audience. There are a lot of people who say “Theatre hai pataa nahi kaisa hoga, or theatre hai live dekhna chaeve ” but there are also a lot of people who feel ” theatre hai dekh lete hain.” My idea is to make sure that theatre deserves to reach out to maximum number of people. For example, someone like me, when I started watching theater, I was in seventh standard. And til seventh standard, I was of this very strong opinion that theatre is one of the most boring things!
It was only when I saw theatre that I felt that it was so fascinating, and why were they not doing this earlier. I surrendered myself.
So there are going to be millions of people like me, who have a certain perception. And the idea is to reach out to them and tell them that boss look at theater, look at the writing, look at the performances, because that is all that these guys have.
And they will enthrall you with their performance, they will enthrall you with the writing. And just check what it is what kind of magic it is. There are certain chat shows where certain senior actors and other actors have spoken about their experience in theatre. There was a time earlier when theatre was compulsory for all of us. We had do theatre and then probably move on. At that time there was only Door Darshan.
They were they weren’t in satellite channels. We had to do theater and probably try for films The satellite channels started coming in. So then we got opportunities in TV. But then all those actors of that generation had done theatre. Then later on, what started happening is because TV became so overpowering, someone would either do theatre for a month or two or six months or not do it at all thinking “TV mein chance mil rahaa hai, iski kya zaroorat hai.”
But the kind of foundation that theatre gives an actor, director or even producer for that matter, isn’t unbeatable. And that is what needs to reach out to mass number of people. So the idea is not only to show the plays that have won accolades but also promote theatre in general so that it becomes a medium, which deserves to be at par with other mediums of entertainment.
Q: Theatres have opened recently to limited capacity. We don’t know when our life will be completely back to normal but it eventually will be. Do you believe that online theatre and live theatre will coexist when that happens. Are you hoping that online theatre will mark its own audience?
You have film theaters running to full capacity, right? There are certain people who go to theaters and then there are people who watch it online or they watch it on satellite channels.
Even though we’ve had multiple avenues coming up, like when we had VCR coming in and VHS cassettes and CDs and all coming in, but yet, we always had theaters running. So I don’t see any reason why both of the things cannot coexist together. Okay, in fact, the plays that we are doing the idea, like I said, the intention still remains at the core. The goal is to help out the fraternity. That’s the reason that when we do a play on our platform, we are also giving them permission to do ground show if they want to do. okay. While we set up a particular play and actors perform, we give them an option that if you want do ground shows then you’re free to do that. It is completely their production. So they can earn from it. So whenever they’ve earned out of the platform, that is one part of it. But if they want they can do ground shows and they can keep earning out of it for as long as they want. And we are not going to stop that.
So we are not here to just say Abhi hamnein kar liya, ab hamaaraa ho gaya, ab bhaad mein jao. Main theatre dikhaoonga. Main theatre dikhaoonga hi, lekin aap bhi apne tareeke se theater promote karo. We’ll set this up for you. Whatever 10-15 lakhs needs to be spent on a play, I’ll spend it. After that, if you want to take it to the ground offline, you do it. You want more money out of it, you just have to basically get the team together and perform. Anything else is pretty much provided. Your costumes, your sets and your properties.
So that is the idea. I’m very happy to say that we, in this whole pandemic, we’ve created jobs for almost 1500 people from the community, whether it is actors, writers directors or technicians. You wouldn’t believe the amount of blessings that we got from so many people because we shot content, and they said, you know, what, six months, eight months, there was nothing and we didn’t know what to do.
And we finally got something that we love to do. Thank you so much. So I think that is that is something that will stay with me for life.
Mark Twain has said that there are two most important days in your life, one is the day you’re born and the other is the day when you know the reason why you’re born.
So probably this is the reason, this is the purpose of my life. And it has taken immense effort, immense amount of money, and a lot of team work to get it to this particular stage. Because we thought of it and then to execute the whole thing too along time. All of us have been working relentlessly, to get the platform for people.
And I believe that it is a platform of the community. I’m just the person who started it, but otherwise it belongs to everyone. And all of us together have to make sure that it reaches out to more number of people.
Q: Usually, whenever you try to introduce something new, it is met with resistance. Did you have to face any obstacles?
A: Yeah, I mean, like you said, that is the first thing that happens when someone says I’m trying to do something new. I was no different, or this idea was no different. The first thing was theatre toh live hai, tu ye kya kar raha hai,You’re trying to kill it.
So initially, I was also a little bogged down.
And especially when it happens from people that you work with, or people that you’ve known. You feel what am I doing? I’m trying to really help out and this is going to be the attitude, how do I take this away? But then luckily, there are people who support you also and stand by you and tell you to just believe in your conviction and believe in yourself and do whatever you’re doing.
So that is what I did. I thankfully listened to my friends who supported me in this wholeheartedly.
But is there was resistance. But that resistance also leads to something nicer. There was resistance in people giving us plays. So we decided if we can’t do plays we’ll do one act plays.
And we started collecting a lot of content, which is one act play content. From newish content to something that was performed earlier by stalwarts and things like that. So some of the plays, we’ve got the same set of actors performing that play, which they have performed, maybe, 20 years ago.
So we got that, and I kid you not, but when you see that content is like a 20/20 format. 20, 30, 40, 50 minutes content, and you start watching it, you don’t even know when it gets over. It is like that. So we are very happy. If they would have not resisted, I would have not thought of this content.
This content is so huge, the library is immense. And people will love to see that. Because when we see the content now after editing and background scorel, or mixing and DI, it looks so fresh. It’s like ” shuru ho gaya aur 30, 40 minutes mein khatam ho gaya, hamnein itna enjoy kiya. Baat khatam ho gayi.” Having said that, of course we have normal format plays also, like regular two act plays. But we love this whole one act thing actually. And it happened only because of the whole resistance that happened initially. Otherwise, we would have probably got stuck.
Q : Have you acted or will you be acting in any of the plays that will be streamed on this platform? Or not yet?
A: Not yet, but we are part of the chat shows. But going forward, I am definitely looking forward to performing one of the plays. That is something that cannot keep me away. And this was only because we were setting up the whole thing. So I didn’t want to shift my focus on something else. And there was a reason that I decided to stay away. But having seen all these performances, and having seen all of them to come on stage, the actor in me will not stop at just watching it, I will definitely want to be a part of this.
Q: The promo video is really well made. How was the experience of shooting it on a theatre stage. What did that feel like?
A: It was wonderful shooting it. It was shot on stage. As an actor, my grooming has been to learn my lines by heart and so my even my director, who’s the creative director of our platform said just learn your lines. I’m going to take it from multiple angles, multiple shots. Just learn your lines, and we’ll keep doing it one after the other. So it was wonderful. Also the way the lines were written is something that all of us have always felt but we never said it. So I really thank him for writing those lines for me, because a lot of people connected with them. I got a lot of calls saying that it is was so apt. I mean, to connect with the darkness beyond the the lights is not easy. Sometimes the actor must have lost someone. I’ve had this experience with me as well. My dad was hospitalized. And I was just told before the show that he is hospitalized but he is fine. And I had to go there and make people laugh. And I was out of town. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I had no clue. That is the reason we say that the the show must go on, the show must go online .
Q: What kind of plays do you like watching the most? Commercial, experimental or the one that is constantly going on at home starring your daughter Aadya?
A: She takes up a lot of time now. She’s becoming very demanding now as she grows. But I think in general, I like performances. So I love experimental theatre. I love comedy plays, I love drama. Drama as a genre. But even though I’m a sucker for films and performances and entertainment, so whether it’s an art film, I can just sit through and keep watching it. There’s something or the other that I take out of it. I’ve seen quite a few plays, which technically made no sense at all. But someone thought of saying something out of it.
I still remember NaseerJi had taken me for a film right after we shot for Iqbal and when we got out of the film, he said – Kaisa laga? So I said – Sach bataoon Sir. He said – Haan haan. And I said – Maine enjoy kiya but mere samajh mein kuch nahi ayaa. Woh hansne lag gaye. He said- Yeh film kisiko samajh mein nahi aati. But enjoy karte hain log. Somehow woh dekhte rahte hain ki kuch hoga, aage kuch hoga, kya hoga.
So I guess, as theatre guys we are used to some stuff, but also experimental theater. There are multiple reasons. An actor feels ke yeh performance matlab solid performance. And also judges also at that point in time I’ve seen feel ki samajh mein nahi ayaa lekin bahot gehri baat bolkar gaya hoga. Toh isko prize de do. Prize ke liye bhi ham kabhi kabhi aisa karte the! These things used to happen, but we used to enjoy it.
I remember my first play that I did. A one act play in college, I had no clue what we were doing, initially, but somehow, because I was given one of the lead parts, dialogues were intense. I still remember those lines. I had rated them so much that I still remember the entire soliloquy of mine. So I said ” yeh mast hai, main bolunga, main aage khadey rehkar baat karoonga. But it was fun.”
In fact, at that point in time, I remember when we had to do some thing which made sense, like a normal college one act play, where there are college kids and there’s some fight happening between them and things like that. I used to feel this is okay, you know, can be done. This is no big deal. Yeh toh, isko ham do din mein bitha ke perform kar sakte hain. But the other things we did like Premchand’s stories or Marathi stories, that would give us the required tick as an actor.
Q: Out of all the directors you’ve worked with so far, who would you like to work with again?
A: I would love to technically work with all my directors. I’ve had such a great rapport with all of them starting with Rohit Shetty, Nagesh Kukunoor, Farah Khan, Shyam Babu, Sangeet Sivan. All of these guys that had a great rapport working with. So I would love to work with them over and over again.
Q: Is there a dream director that you haven’t worked with yet? And you would love to?
Yes, I’ve loved Raju Sir’s work. Somehow, I also tend to connect more with the kind of work that he does. And I feel that given an opportunity I would enjoy working with him. But to be honest, there are also a lot of these new age directors who are coming up with some phenomenal stories, really classy stories so that is also something that I’m looking forward to working with.
I think what has happened is OTT has given a lot more confidence to directors like how multiplexes gave a certain section of directors in order to come up with their own stories. Similarly OTT has now given a different kind of confidence to directors and storytellers. Even now, when we select some some content there are a lot of things which are completely offbeat. There’s a team of selectors to select some content and then they ask me – Shreyas, yeh thoda Offbeat lag raha hai, kya karein? And I tell them – Select kar lo. There’s one play that we have done called Harush Marush. It’s a completely experimental play with a lot of songs and dance. When you see the play you really enjoy it. Plays need to be innovative. Talking about theater there are different forms. Some have sets, some have costumes, some don’t have anything to support, but their performance. So it is live music, live songs and all new guys. We really enjoyed doing that. Some said no it’s it’s a chance that you’re taking but I said that’s alright, someone has taken the chance on me at some point in time. So it is only fair.
Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received? Acting or otherwise.
A: I think one of the best components that I received was. a series of 10 paintings by Mr. M. F. Hussain on Iqbal. When he saw it, he decided to do a series of 10 paintings. It is, of course, a limited series. There’s only one original copy and five prints in the entire world. He sold the original painting and whatever money he received he distributed within the team plus he gave us a print of those paintings so when it you come to my house you’ll see that all those paintings are very proudly displayed.
Q: Do you binge watch web series like the rest of us do? And do you have a favorite?
A: Yes, many of them. In the past six months, I’ve caught them on and off. Like Patal Lok. Otherwise, me and my wife love binging on them at night. Once she’s also done with everything, I’m also done with everything, we quietly sit and watch our series. Especially when Aadya goes off to sleep, because otherwise we don’t get time.
Q: Which emoji do you use the most?
A: Probably the smiley and the hug.
Q: Are you texting kind of guy or a phone call kind of guy? What do you prefer?
A: I am a phone call kind of guy. Not much of a texting kind of fellow. On messages I end up sending a lot of voice notes because I find it very boring to keep texting continuously. I find it easier ke seedha phone karo aur baat karo.
Q: Facebook or Instagram?
A: My social media team takes care of both.
Q: Acting or directing, what do you enjoy more?
A: Acting! Yes, without a doubt But I won’t lie. I have directed only one film and I had loved that process. It is it is a lot more stressful.
But to just be the captain and do the entire thing. You tell your actors also how you want the performance. And then you’re part of the story, you’re part of the mixing and post production. I think it’s a different kick altogether. But yeah, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep repeating it like an actor. It’s more a one off for me and I enjoyed doing that. In fact, I’m directing one more film now. But if you ask me between the two, I think i think acting.
Q: Which is your favorite vacation destination?
Q: What is your favorite comfort food?
A: Home cooked food. Prawns. Anything in prawns.
Q: Are you a morning or a night person?
Q: Do you listen to music? Which is your favorite song these days? The one that you’ve been listening to a lot.
A: The one that I’m listening to right now is actually from…I am a huge A.R. Rahman and Ajay-Atul fan. R.D.Burman, A.R. Rahman and Ajay-Atul, in that order. So I keep listening to their songs pretty much in loop.
But I’ve been listening to Khwaja Mere Khwaja and Mauli Mauli. One song that I have also bene listening to is from Main Hoon Na, Tumse Milke.
Q: Are you a spiritual person?
A: Little bit. Yes.
Q: Coming back to your brand new baby. Are you excited, more excited or more nervous about the launch of Nine Rasa?
A: I’m excited to be very honest, and not honestly, so nervous about it.
But I’m excited because like I said, it is not a Friday release. You know, it is not like ” kya hoga pataa nahi, Friday jaane ke baad. Aisa nahi hai. ” Of course, there is content. We had like the content and we’re hoping that people will love the content.
But there are going to be some who’ll say Aur better chahiye tha. So then it gives us some more purpose to create some more better content, we will look for a better content and try and present it to them on the platter. It’s an ongoing growth. And it is pretty much a journey now that we have started on to. I’m excited with this whole journey. I’m not so nervous because I believe in theatre. And I believe that if theatre can make someone like me reach here then theater has, in itself, has a lot of potential to go places.
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