At midnight on August 14, as Pakistan’s Independence Day ended and India’s began, Zeshan Bagewadi and Nushmia Khan uploaded an unusual video on Youtube.
In the video, Bagewadi, an Indian-American musician who switched from opera to indie pop, sings the national anthems of Pakistan and India one after another. The video is meant to remind listeners that despite the 1947 Partition, both countries still have startling similarities. As his powerful voice sings Pak Sar Zameen and Jana Gana Mana, the split-screen video displays images from each side of the border that are almost identical.
Bagewadi was born and brought up in the US, but his family is from Hyderabad in India. When the British partitioned India in 1947, his grandfather decided to remain in Hyderabad even after mobs torched his shop in Nampally. (Hyderabad did not become part of India until September 1948.) He eventually moved to Mumbai in 1955, where Bagewadi’s mother was born. Bagewadi’s grandfather never spoke to any of his children about his experiences. Only after he died did his wife reluctantly tell Bagewadi about what had happened.
After hearing the story, Bagewadi was so moved that he decided to record the video as a memorial to Partition, which he says is not spoken of often enough.
A friend put him in touch with Nushmia Khan, a Pakistani-American photo and video journalist, who shot and produced the video within a week. Khan's grandparents were both from Bassi Pathana near Patiala. Her paternal grandparents were on honeymoon in Kashmir in August 1947. They ended up spending their first nine months of marriage as prisoners of war in the state before they were eventually released and moved to Pakistan.
“The older generation said that they had sacrificed so much to get where they are that it was difficult for them to put aside their differences,” said Khan. “But the younger generation was more willing to coexist.”
Both said that their expatriate experience influenced this video to a great extent.
“Especially in the US, we tend to grow up side by side,” said Bagewadi. “When people are teasing you about smelling like onions when you’re in school, you have to stick together. Today, it is difficult for people in India and Pakistan to speak to each other. But as diaspora, we interact all the time so it falls on our shoulders to prove the similarities between us.”
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.