With live theatre under a lockdown still, theatre institutions, groups and the larger community in India have been impacted like never before. Digital theatre, which has emerged as a viable alternative during these times, is picking up pace with major media and entertainment moguls launching digital-only theatre initiatives.
One such initiative by entertainment ticketing platform, Paytm Insider launched in July this year, to deliver theatre experiences digitally with its new initiative, 'Front & Centre'. Created keeping in mind storytellers as well as theatre-lovers, this initiative aims to bring the experience of theatre alive, online. It has already showcased notable plays like 'Every Brilliant Thing' by QTP and 'Iti Ninna Amrita' (Kannada) by Rangashankara Theatre in July, followed in August by 'One on One – Unlocked' by Rage Productions. Its latest 'Timeloss' produced by Akvarious Productions is a well-received production.
In an IANSlife conversation, Varun Khare – Business Head – Live Entertainment (IPs & partnerships) at Paytm Insider, opened up about the backstory. "I remember first calling Nadir Khan (my go-to friend and consultant) and asking him for advice – it was evident we needed to test the medium ourselves and so we went about actually creating a demo piece with scene changes and multiple camera angles using phones and cameras from the actors' homes. We called on Arghya Lahiri and Sukant Goel to help direct the piece and actors like Anu Menon, Zafar Karichiwala, Ashwin Mushraan and Vivek Madan who were gracious enough to help us with this experiment."
Khare says that it was the first time they realized that actors would need to double up as backstage hands, their own tech managers and, well, actors too. "We realized that there was so much to learn but so much that could be achieved as well – this medium could be a great addition to the theatre ecosystem."
"I must first credit the Paytm Insider tech team for allowing us to even come up with tech solutions that make things like Front & Centre possible. Our quick reaction to adopt various tools and platforms actually gave us the confidence that theatre practitioners could resume working and engaging their audiences," asserts Khare.
So far, Khare cites an "amazing response from both creators and consumers".
"From a consumer point of view, at the point of writing this, I'd say 75 percent of the shows we've done have achieved equal or more numbers than they would have at the regular theatres like Prithvi, G5A or even the Experimental theatre at NCPA (all in Mumbai). What's evident though is that it's a great opportunity for theatre people to experiment and innovate and grow audiences because there are no geographical boundaries, at the moment," he shared in an email with IANSlife.
How is the country taking to digital theatre?
"Having crossed hurdles of how and where to produce work, I believe creators have really taken to the form, seeing it for its business potential and more importantly as a great platform to connect and engage with their fans or audiences and use it as a great medium to continue expressing their thoughts and experiences via these stories."
From a consumers' point of view, the adoption numbers are promising, he adds. "With the ability to showcase recorded live performances, we're also being able to allow for audiences to watch shows at their convenience. In the next few weeks, we will also shift to a complete VOD system, which will allow audiences to click, pay and watch at their absolute convenience."
On their plans with Front & Centre in the future, and whether digital theatre will survive after normalcy returns, Khare shares that the platform will continue to flourish.
"I think this period has certainly opened our eyes to the latent demand for entertainment across the country. So, we could be in a place where the best productions on stage could be beamed live to parts of India that may not have access to these shows. Perhaps if they see the show on screen and enjoy it – it may actually make them want to watch the live show even more," he signs off..