Theatre and Theatre Artist of Delhi by Rajat Sharma (2014)

About the writer: This work is the subject of 6 weeks research (of Rajat Sharma). I am presently doing my MBA.

My research journey was really enlightening. Why I chose this topic was not because I loved theater… but because I knew nothing about it. Please consider this work as a work of an amateur… who has just set his foot in trying to understand Theater.

I visited several institutions and platforms that are considered the hub of theater in Delhi and also met a few exponents of the art. There is a drastic transformation from my perceptions on the theater and the city by the time I was concluding my work. Initially like many of my friends I wondered, ‘ who goes to see a theater…’ But after a few visits I realized that the audience for theater was much larger than I have ever imagined….

Theater and Delhi are deeply connected to each other… the theater of Delhi is like the city itself- multi-cultural and diverse and cannot be reduced to a single homogeneous trend. Theater in Delhi is also supplemented by the booming Television and Film Industry- both regional and National.

Like me, many artists who took to theater, initially, were unaware about the depth of the theater world. Most of the young Artist who I met realized gradually that it’s not easy to survive here unless you have the kind of passion, patience and hard work. Hundreds and hundreds of people join theater in Delhi every year… but only a few sustain it. Like any other form of art and unconventional life … theater needs sheer passion to survive.

Colleges of Delhi University also provides a very lucrative ground for students to join Theater Clubs and explore their talent. Shakespeare Society of St. Stephens, Anukriti of Miranda House, The Players of Kirori Mal College and many more theater societies in many more colleges…. These Theater societies have not just remained a place of acting… but a place where students learn to think, question and debate and internalize the world around them.  

Speaking about the lifestyle of theater people, Mr. Mayur Gupta (Asmita group, 24) says that he was very shocked at the starting of his journey when he saw most of the artists spend their whole days on cups of tea-biscuit.

Mr. Saurabh Pal (student NSD, 26) recalls how his fascination for theater introduced him to the world of theater. He says that his brother was in theater and he always from very young onward felt that the right place for him was in theater. And he says that ‘the trademark of theater artist wearing a black kurta or having several cups of tea is not because people don’t have money … it shows the culture they carry and we enjoy that, it differs us among all… and has become one of our many identity symbols.’. Any theater place is surrounded by tea-cookie stalls. It is flooded by theater arts who surrounds these stalls to take small ‘chai’ breaks and have important discussions. These tea-stalls have become the real platform for meetings,discussions, philosophy and what not…

Delhi is called the hub of theater and rightly so. This also echoes from every other theater artist. Delhi as a place of cultural heterogeneity gives theater the right elements to breed. People from all regions, states and different cultures come together and share the common medium of theater as an outlet of their creative expressions.

Delhi also houses many theater institutes and platforms…like the NSD- National School of Drama and the likes. And so provides the right kind of mix- of opportunity and talent.

Though other places have theater but facilities in Delhi as compared to elsewhere remain unmatched. Mr. Abhishek  Malik (asmita group,24) says ‘we have done many street shows all over the country. In one such trip, we went to Bihar. Our play received great response from the people there. But we were surprised to know that there were no facilities for theaters there. Many were keen to join theater but hardly had any scope of growth.

There is pretty common grievance that a career in theater cannot be opted as a full time profession, as it does not pay well. Nitisha Kashyap in Times of India wrote “Even though Delhi has a very active theater scene, its theater actors have often complained about getting a raw deal. Most television or film actors who come from theater say that "they do theater for the love of it, but films for money."Actor Kabir Bedi had said recently, "I am essentially someone who comes from theater. I love theater, but unfortunately, it doesn't pay the bills. Only in theater abroad, I get a wage." Actor and director Barry John, after living in Delhi for more than three decades, moved to Mumbai because, he said, "Theater activity has sunk to an all-time low."

Speaking on this issue, young Artist Mr. Mayur Gupta(student of Asmita theater group) says it is correct that in comparison to other contemporaries the money is less in theaters and this should improve incoming future. On the contrary, Mr. Abhishek thinks that there is a lot of money in the theater as well, if one has the talent.

Mr. Gautam who is the director of RKz group told, it is likely to be the most common issue that there is no money in the theaters and the artist should make up their mind to spend their life in one black kurta. He says ‘there is a lot of money in the theaters, but only for the higher ups … as,gradually when the money filters down, the last one suffers the most in the hierarchy. He says that the theater groups get a good amount for every artist from the organizers or the sponsors, but they do not pass it on because they are aware of the lack of knowledge of the artist and lack of transparency in the system. He shares how at the start of his career, as a fresher he was ready to work without being much concerned about the money… And this carelessness of the actors motivates director and others to cheat with the artist. Also, every theater group after 3 continuous years can avail monetary help from the govt.

Moreover, there are many artists who charge a good amount of money even for the cameos. And the organizers are very much comfortable by it because they are worth it. People have their own fan following and audience in theaters.

One of the common grievances of the theater personnel is that there is lack of affordable auditoriums. Damandeep says ‘the rent of the auditorium is very high… without sponsors it becomes very difficult to get the desired place. Moreover platforms such as Shri Ram,Habitat etc remains booked through out the year…. For instance-Shri Ram centre is booked with its dates till 2016.

Also, most people do not want to pay for theaters. And would rather arrange (jugad) a pass than buying tickets.  Suresh Bharadwaj, a student in Delhi says- people in Delhi always try to find any ‘JUGAAD’ for the tickets and passes they don’t want to buy the tickets but the passes through jugaad.  The only case they buy is in case of any celebrity presence in the show.

Before this, I never had the chance to watch a play. But this work took me to Habitat Center to see ‘Log Bag’ by Asmita theater group.And to my surprise, I was mesmerized by the awesome performance by the theater Artist. Initially I thought that Theater is dull and boring, and mostly old age people come to see it. But I was so wrong… hundreds of young people poured in…  And very soon I saw another play, ‘ ‘Ambedkar aur Gandhi’. And I believe my journey for liking theater is just a beginning.

-Edited by Shehnaz Parveen



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