‘Digitizing theatre helps reach new audiences’

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Films releasing on OTT not the solution: Makarand Deshpande.

Film and theater actor and director, Makarand Deshpande, feels that digitizing theatre helps reach new audiences and helps archive it as well.

‘Sir Sir Sarla’, a play written and directed by Deshpande, will be launched online by Zee Theatre. After winning audiences nationwide since its premiere in 2001, the play is now set for its television debut. The network released the trailer of the timeless classic that is premiering on October 31 on Tata Sky Theatre. The teleplay stars Deshpande, Aahana Kumra, Sanjay Dadhich and Anjum Sharma.

‘Sir Sir Sarla’ is the story of Professor Palekar and his student Sarla � the pretty, innocent young girl who seems to be enamoured by her mentor � and Phanidhar who shares a love-hate relationship with the professor. The play explores the bond between the students and their professor, which faces many ebbs and flows. Secrets are revealed, accusations are thrown, and the three lives remain interwoven for many years to come.

Writer and director Deshpande says, “This is a story about what appears to be a very morally upright and innocent relationship between a professor and student. It also shows how a student who loves literature goes on to feel the pain of reality. The play throws light on the pressure exerted on us by traditions and beliefs and how they stop us from speaking our heart out.”

Excerpts from an interview with IANSlife:

The play debuted in 2001, and in all the two decades till 2020, how has the play evolved?

Deshpande: The core has not changed. What must have evolved is, there are always layers behind what you actually say. Suppose, if I say, the meaning of words change with situations. This line, over a period of time, can give you in your own life, different contexts to understand it better. The language of this play, which has been written in a metre. Audiences who used to watch it during that time, had the play on their tips. The relationship between the three key characters in the play, I feel has gotten stronger and deeper. The play was first done by Rajender Gupta, Sonali Kulkarni, Abhimanyu Singh and Anurag Kashyap. I asked Anurag to channel his anger of a stuck film into the play.

I think the character of Phanidar evolved because of his anger. And then Sanjay Dadhich took on the role. Then it got embossed that this is Phanidar. Vijay Tendulkar saab, when he saw the play, he said he hasn’t seen such a character in many years. If this character is still working, I think there’s a truth in its writing. Over a period of 20 years, the play is evolved and they’ve become real people now. I think until a point I made the play, and after that, it made us. In 20 years, it became a river and a sea. I think it has tested the times, come up in Marathi and Gujarati, and I think will stand for the next 50 years.

It’s premiering on Tata Sky Theatre, which is digital..

Deshpande: It’s something new. We don’t know when we’d be able to perform live now, whether this year or next year. If you miss out on a play, you can see it on Tata Sky Theatre, so it becomes archival also. I’m looking forward to new, unreached audiences.

As a maker, do you think the beauty of a play lies in the live experience and physicality of it?

Deshpande: I’m sure there must be some. The entire team has made sure it looks like theatre, and have tried to take care of the live feel.

The theatre community has been affected massively…

Deshpande: It really is, what to say! It’s really been terrible. For how long can someone support somebody else? The theatre fraternity has people who work backstage and even actors, they’re all unemployed. The worst thing is there’s no ray of light. Theatre will open, whether people will come, the economics of it, it is painful. I hope we manage to do more plays digitally on Tata Sky Theatre and Zee Theatre.

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