Every morning, 16-year-old Arko Dey helps his mother run an eatery selling telebhajias in a cacophonous north Kolkata neighbourhood.
For hours, the mother and son fry sliced potatoes laced with gram flour paste. Some days, when sales are brisk, the cash box is full. But there are also days when very few customers turn up.
The lives of mother and son swing between hope and despair.
Last week, a tearful Dey told his mother that the family’s troubles could soon be over.
Dey has been selected to train with the U-21 team of Manchester United, the world’s most followed soccer club, and will soon be heading to Old Trafford.
It was like a street actor being selected for a part in a Hollywood film. In August, Dey had participated in the talent hunt in Goa, where he impressed Manchester United soccer school coaches.
“My mother wept,” said Dey. “We live in abject poverty. She knows nothing about Manchester United.” When she heard the news, she walked more than 5 km barefoot to pray for her son at the iconic Dakshineswar Kali temple.
Dey said his mother was shocked when told the family’s monthly earnings of Rs 2,000 is the cash required to pay for a tour of the Manchester United ground.
Dey, who does not even have a passport yet, wants to join a top Indian club on return. He wants to leave his one-room home in Baranagar that lies close to a highway where backfiring trucks and belching taxis create Kolkata’s worst traffic snarls.
“I do not want her to sell fried vegetables anymore,” he said. “I am confident of my earnings. No one ignores a footballer who has trained with Man U.”
Around the same time that Dey found a reason to dream, a similar hope emerged from the despair of Sonagachi, the north Kolkata neighbourhood that is home home to an estimated 12,000 sex workers.
Rajeeb Roy, the 16 year-old son of Rekha, a sex worker, was told by his coach of his selection to train at Man U.
“It was like a father’s recognition,” said Roy, his voice choked with emotion.
Roy said he has been praying for a breakthrough in soccer ever since he started playing as a boy.
The 16-year-old is a class IX student of Rahul Vidya Niketan in Sealdah, a school for sex worker's children organised by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee that funds a soccer initiative among children of sex workers in West Bengal.
"I was very nervous when I met the coaches from the Manchester United. I knew I had to perform to get selected," said Roy, who helped West Bengal win the National Slum Soccer Tournament in Nagpur in 2014.
He plays as a frontliner and loves to dribble, his idol being Oscar, the fleet-footed Brazillian footballer.
He knows that, like him, Oscar also came up from poverty to make a mark.
In a first, some of the finest Indian theatre can now be seen on your screen
A new cinematic production brings to life thought-provoking plays as digital video.
Though we are a country besotted with cinema, theatre remains an original source of provocative stories, great actors, and the many deeply rooted traditions of the dramatic arts across India. CinePlay is a new, ambitious experiment to bring the two forms together.
These plays, ‘filmed’ as digital video, span classic drama genre as well as more experimental dark comedy and are available on Hotstar premium, as part of Hotstar’s Originals bouquet. “We love breaking norms. And CinePlay is an example of us serving our consumer’s multi-dimensional personality and trusting them to enjoy better stories, those that not only entertain but also tease the mind”, says Ajit Mohan, CEO, Hotstar.
The first collection of CinePlays feature stories from leading playwrights, like Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Badal Sircar amongst others and directed by film directors like Santosh Sivan and Nagesh Kukunoor. They also star some of the most prolific names of the film and theatre world like Nandita Das, Shreyas Talpade, Saurabh Shukla, Mohan Agashe and Lillete Dubey.
The idea was conceptualised by Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das, the actor and director who had early experience with street theatre. “The conversation began with Subodh and me thinking how can we make theatre accessible to a lot more people” says Nandita Das. The philosophy is that ‘filmed’ theatre is a new form, not a replacement, and has the potential to reach millions instead of thousands of people. Hotstar takes the reach of these plays to theatre lovers across the country and also to newer audiences who may never have had access to quality theatre.
“CinePlay is merging the language of theatre and the language of cinema to create a third unique language” says Subodh. The technique for ‘filming’ plays has evolved after many iterations. Each play is shot over several days in a studio with multiple takes, and many angles just like cinema. Cinematic techniques such as light and sound effects are also used to enhance the drama. Since it combines the intimacy of theatre with the format of cinema, actors and directors have also had to adapt. “It was quite intimidating. Suddenly you have to take something that already exists, put some more creativity into it, some more of your own style, your own vision and not lose the essence” says Ritesh Menon who directed ‘Between the Lines’. Written by Nandita Das, the play is set in contemporary urban India with a lawyer couple as its protagonists. The couple ends up arguing on opposite sides of a criminal trial and the play delves into the tension it brings to their personal and professional lives.
The actors too adapted their performance from the demands of the theatre to the requirements of a studio. While in the theatre, performers have to project their voice to reach a thousand odd members in the live audience, they now had the flexibility of being more understated. Namit Das, a popular television actor, who acts in the CinePlay ‘Bombay Talkies’ says, “It’s actually a film but yet we keep the characteristics of the play alive. For the camera, I can say, I need to tone down a lot.” Vickram Kapadia’s ‘Bombay Talkies’ takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions as seven personal stories unravel through powerful monologues, touching poignant themes such as child abuse, ridicule from a spouse, sacrifice, disillusionment and regret.
The new format also brought many new opportunities. In the play “Sometimes”, a dark comedy about three stressful days in a young urban professional’s life, the entire stage was designed to resemble a clock. The director Akarsh Khurana, was able to effectively recreate the same effect with light and sound design, and enhance it for on-screen viewers. In another comedy “The Job”, presented earlier in theatre as “The Interview”, viewers get to intimately observe, as the camera zooms in, the sinister expressions of the interviewers of a young man interviewing for a coveted job.
Besides the advantages of cinematic techniques, many of the artists also believe it will add to the longevity of plays and breathe new life into theatre as a medium. Adhir Bhat, the writer of ‘Sometimes’ says, “You make something and do a certain amount of shows and after that it phases out, but with this it can remain there.”
This should be welcome news, even for traditionalists, because unlike mainstream media, theatre speaks in and for alternative voices. Many of the plays in the collection are by Vijay Tendulkar, the man whose ability to speak truth to power and society is something a whole generation of Indians have not had a chance to experience. That alone should be reason enough to cheer for the whole project.
Hotstar, India’s largest premium streaming platform, stands out with its Originals bouquet bringing completely new formats and stories, such as these plays, to its viewers. Twenty timeless stories from theatre will be available to its subscribers. Five CinePlays, “Between the lines”, “The Job”, “Sometimes”, “Bombay Talkies” and “Typecast”, are already available and a new one will release every week starting March. To watch these on Hotstar Premium, click here.
This article was produced on behalf of Hotstar by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.