The final-year students of Delhi University (DU) often call themselves the Covid-batch considering a major portion of their college life was spent looking at the screen in the virtual campus mode. What took the hit the most was their ability to evolve themselves as artistes amid live audiences especially in the realm of theatre.
Deprived of physical cultural fests for more than two years, the students share that they have now seized the opportunity to return to the stage and are determined to come out as true artistes by overcoming challenges that Covid once posed on their acts. What’s helping them prove their mettle are the ongoing fests.
On World Theatre Day (today), the final-year students of dramatics societies (dram soc), share what’s it like to get one last opportunity to celebrate the ‘drama’ of college life like never before.
Circuit was dead, but theatre didn’t die!
Naman Somani, president of Hindu College’s dram soc, Ibtida, shares this is the first fest he is experiencing, and feels, “The DU theatre circuit was dead for two years and we missed that essence and exposure. But that doesn’t mean theatre died… It was always there and we emerged to fit into that space.” Their latest stage production is based on a corporate setting where six partners realise the truth about each others’ embezzlement and question their own morality. Talk about the numerous challenges his team has faced including recruiting new talent, and adds that his batch has developed a never-give-up attitude when it came to taking their production forward. “We have no boundaries on inhibitions anymore. Because what else can happen? That’s what’s on our minds!”
Fighting deterrents like lack of funds
Ranvijay Jha, president of Astitva — dram soc of Dyal Singh College (Morning) — feels that since Covid came in our lives, the biggest issue faced by societies is the lack of funding from the college. “This has definitely impacted the quality and quantity of productions that can be put on,” he opines, adding that theatre departments are also faced with the challenge of drawing people to theatres. “Even as the audience, we’ve become to accustomed to binge-watch content from the comfort of our homes… But with changing expectations comes innovation. We have two stage productions, both female-centric and with different themes. One’s about the lead character’s journey to connecting with herself, and the other is about the protagonist finding herself in a parallel universe. That’s how we, as artistes, are evolving by making more innovative productions and wowing our audience, even at the college level,” adds Jha.
Love for theatre persists
Janya Sarwal, president of Kshitij — the Street Play Society of Gargi College — says that the biggest challenge in the post-pandemic era for her society has been the disconnect between the performers and the audience. “When an artist has to stay away from their audience, the gap affects performers psychologically. Instead, we had to adapt to a new theatre aesthetic characterised by a low tech, one-on-one close-up approach, switching to video calls and other online platforms,” she shares, adding that even the audition process for recruiting new team members was affected due to late admissions. “Even so, the love for theatre persists. Some outstation students had difficulty in joining in for practice, but over Zoom and Google meets, we made it work. Now, our issue is to be prepared enough to organise our own fest,” Sarwal says, adding that the college’s street play is all about choices: “Be it an emphasis on LGBTQ+ rights, religious freedom, or any other decision, our choices are what define us. The play aims to have the viewers question the choices they’ve made, whether they were completely and truly theirs, and the implications these choices will have. Like, living our lives post the pandemic, keeping theatre alive, celebrating our love for performing, or hiding behind a closed door.”
New normal is difficult for performing arts
Shashank Nagpal, president of Shaheed Bhagat Singh (Evening) College’s dram soc, Sangharsh, feels theatre groups bore a major brunt of the pandemic due to first-year students’ unwillingness to join a society and spend long hours in rehearsals. “The ‘new normal’ of taking everything online, in any case, becomes difficult for performing arts. But on top of that, because freshers know so little about the legacy of college societies when they take admission, it was rather difficult to convince them to join us in the first place,” Nagpal reveals, adding, “But all that just made us stronger as a unit. We’ve come up with a fresh energetic vibe only because we were able to be resilient in the darkest of times.” The college’s street play is a satire about the Indian education system and Nagpal adds, “It’s ironic because we spent half our college life online! Seeing that translated into theatre and our production is a result of being part of a rat race journey.”
Creativity within us
Aditi Kaur, president of Hansraj Dramatics Society, believes that theatre has always struggled to maintain its place among youth, saying, “That precarious spot became even more challenging after Covid when everyone had something or the other going on. After that time, through countless online meets and solo rehearsals, we realised that the creativity was always within us. Now when we walk together, the entire team is in sync. Be it a street play or a stage production, every single member of the team is prepared for their role. We are the ones taking it forward and our juniors have the opportunity to see us and be even better next year.” The team’s street play is about cancel culture, while their stage play revolves around the conflict between a father-son duo and how they come to face their reality through the mythological characters of Eklavya and Abhimanyu.
‘Resilience as a society allowed us to flourish’
Vanshika Oberoi, the PR head of Rangayan — dram soc of Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College (ARSD) — shares she was in the same boat as her peers and the biggest hurdle was convincing freshers to join their society. “Convincing parents for late rehearsals or going for multiple fests in a single day is a challenge even now. But, with the season coming together in full form and us being a part of it even once, makes everything worthwhile,” she says, adding that their team’s production is about democracy, which is a regular topic of portrayal in theatre. “It’s about what democracy means to us as college students and as the youths of today,” she says, elaborating that the race to be right and ahead in the quest for power is the main theme driving their production. “A parallel can be drawn with the Covid times. It felt like every man was for himself at the time. But our resilience as a society allowed us to flourish and take the gift of theatre forward.”
Theatre — a catalyst for change
For Gaurav Jaiswal, the PR Head of DramaNomics, the dram soc of College of Vocational Studies, the biggest challenge has been the loss of student interest in theatre, and also the short attention span of the audience and prospective team members alike. “We had to and are still working towards solving this challenge of youngsters not engaging in theatre. We came to a standstill as a society, and still we rose collectively. The same goes for theatre. Be it a street play or a stage play, art will always thrive as long as someone is watching,” says Jaiswal. Sharing that their latest production is based on the issue of road safety in India, he adds, “If performers like us were able to adapt to the expectations of our peers, then our production can make people better themselves, without question. By using satire and humour, the audience will want to bring about a change. That’s what theatre is about, after all. It’s a catalyst for change.”
Author tweets @KritiKambiri