‘Theatre is an act of cultural production’

by vaibhav Srivastava
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It was Jehan Manekshaw’s passion for theatre that led to the foundation of Drama School Mumbai — a fertile ground for theatre-makers, actor, designers and entrepreneurs to sow seeds of creativity — in 2013. Besides teaching basic mechanisms of engaging with varied mediums of craft, the institution is best known as a place for experimentation. The recipient of prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar describes it best when he says, “We teach students how all art is a product of the society it exists in.” In an interview with ACF, Jehan elaborates on Mumbai’s dynamic synergies and role of theatre in today’s world.
How would you define theatre?
Theatre, like Bollywood, like rock bands, an evening of poetry, or a classical dance concert, is an act of cultural production. It’s done for audiences, to share and communicate a message, an experience, an aesthetic. Some for form, some for content.
Students at the DSM are taught about how all art is a product of the society it exists in, and comes from what came before, and is for the audiences it is created for. In so much as that is the case, experimenting, fusing forms, playing with conventions, is going to always be a part of any act of cultural production, in some almost not at all, in some extreme. But this aspect that you bring up just sits alongside all the other aspects of making a piece of theatre, what it is trying to say, whom it is trying to say it to, what kind of experience the theatre-maker wants the audience to have, etc.

Mumbai offers a dynamic platform for the creation of ideas. How has the financial capital nourished a culture for creativity?
The Mumbai theatre community, I think, is a true reflection of the extremely cosmopolitan and diverse cultural and linguistic composition of this city. For every cultural/linguistic/social group/sub-group/sub-sub-group, there is some kind of cultural representation as well. It comes because as human beings, we thirst and hunger for cultural input. No matter what form it takes. It is not enough to live, breath, work, love, and eat. Everyone wants their soul nourished as well.
Does The Drama School offer a vantage point of theatre activities in Mumbai?
It indeed is a great place to see what has been happening in Mumbai Theatre since the last 10 years. People are collaborating, meeting, mingling, mixing ideas working on different projects with different people. There is a lot of cross pollination.
What makes Mumbai a wonderful city to engage in different mediums of arts?
I think it is a great place to practice theatre, and even make a living of the craft, provided you work with some film, TV, training, events etc as well to cross subsidise your career.  It has its distractions, and you have to be very clear about what you want and realistic about how you’re going to achieve your goals. Like anywhere else, actually.
Has the popularity of social media in any way hampered cultural creativity?
YouTube, TVS, Girliyappa, are all cultural products and outputs. What is culture according to you? You are placing Theatre in some glass jar to preserve it. In fact, preservation is what will kill it. Theatre as a live medium is one form of cultural expression, it is alive, it is thriving, and many people watch plays. In addition many organisations, groups in Mumbai are working hard to find new ways of doing exactly that. Which is why you have initiatives like Aadyam or the NCPA’s new season, or Prithvi Festival, or the Mid Town Arts Collective as new ideas. Along with older ideas as well.

Have drama schools and actor’s repertories come close to achieving this transformation?
I think the Drama School Mumbai alumni are out there, working, collaborating, making new plays, forming new groups, and this for me, is very exciting and a point of great pride. Their choices and their work – if we have taught them well – will constantly evolve and improve from the cycle of making and showing and remaking plays, their attitude of collaboration is deeply ingrained, not amongst the alumni only but their faculty (whom a lot of them work with after graduating). There’s a lot to be done in theatre in Mumbai, we are contributing our bit.
What do theatre-makers situated far from Mumbai need to know about Mumbai theatre circuit?
That it is vibrant, dynamic and there is something for someone, provided they are willing to come in with an open mind, listen, learn and develop themselves by staying focused on what they want.

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