Please don’t interrupt!

Debarati Palit Singh
Sunday, 9 June 2019

The ringing of a mobile phone during a performance can be both disturbing and disrespectful to the artist and other members of the audience. Recently, actor Sumeet Raghavan expressed his displeasure about such an incident. We spoke to him and other artists to know their take 

While staging his play Knock! Knock! Celebrity in Nashik last week, well-known film, television and theatre actor Sumeet Raghavan lost his cool. The actor, along with his co-star Kshitee Jog, was performing at Mahakavi Kalidas Kala Mandir on June 2, and he got miffed at an audience member whose mobile phone started ringing repeatedly in the auditorium. The Hamlet actor ended up arguing with the person because he showed little respect for the actor and continued using his phone. 

Reacting to Sumeet’s behaviour, a section of the audience called him rude but several film and theatre personalities have come in full support of the actor. This isn’t the first time that actors have reacted to such behaviour of the audience. There have been instances in Pune and Mumbai in the past as well where  mobile phones have kept ringing despite auditoriums putting up boards right at the entrance requesting the audience to switch off the devices and additionally, organisers or hosts asking people to either switch off the phones or put them on silent mode.  

Talking about the Nashik incident, Sumeet, who is known for his acting chops in plays like Rang Umalatya Manache, Jwalamukhi, and Hamlet, among others, says that more than him, the people who had paid to watch the play were getting disturbed. “Not only actors but other members of the audience also get disturbed. There are so many ardent theatre lovers who pay for the tickets to watch a play — it’s more about them. Isn’t it injustice that they have to go through this?” asks the Sarabhai vs Sarabhai actor.  

Actor Jitendra Joshi went live on Facebook page supporting Sumeet and his reaction. #IStandbySumeet Raghavan soon started trending on social media. Sharing his reasons for coming in support of the actor, Jitendra says, “I am an audience too and I do not want to get disturbed while watching a play which could be of any genre. I don’t want anyone to come in between my concentration and the moments I am living with the actor. Secondly, if people are taking so much effort to come and watch a play after spending money, travelling and standing in queue for tickets, can’t they spend another few seconds to switch off their mobile phones? Mobile phone is a new invention. Till a few years ago, there were no phones. Can’t we live without our phones for a few hours? The audience themselves have decided to dedicate those certain number of hours of their life to watch a play, they should just enjoy those moments.”

Respect the art and artists
Imagine an artist completely immersed in an intense scene and suddenly a phone rings. How annoying is that! There are many incidents when senior and well-known actors have paused their performance because of such behaviour of the audience.

Dr Mohan Agashe, a veteran name in the theatre circuit, says that an actor’s responsibility is to carry the audience to a make-believe world, to a different time zone and space. “That’s a very difficult task,” he says, adding, “When you are at your peak of emotional involvement and then somebody completely ruins that, and doesn’t even bother or respect, it is not a good feeling.” In the process, one loses the thread of continuity. “This has happened in the past with other actors and we have stopped our performance,” he adds.     

Abhijeet Choudhary, theatre personality and founder, Swatantra Theatre, says, “If you are not taking the act seriously or not reacting to us, it affects our performance too.” And it doesn’t matter if the actor is doing a serious play or a comedy, when an artist is performing live, not only their body but their brains too are working non-stop. “You are concentrating on so many aspects including your dialogues, body language, co-artists’ reaction — all this needs concentration. You don’t want anything to disturb you,” says TV, theatre and film actress Delnaaz Irani adding that there have been instances in the past when actor Rakesh Bedi has stopped the play and requested the mother/ father of a crying child to take him/ her outside. “People have to respect the platform because we are theatre artists. If you have bought the ticket, then come and enjoy the play but do not disturb the artists and others. That’s not fair!” she adds.      

While watching a play, the audience is kind of having an intense relationship with the artist. “They should respect that affair,” adds Jitendra.      

Cultivate self-discipline 
Prakash Magdum, director, National Film Archive of India, says, “People need a certain kind of awareness while watching a play or movie. There is a term called ‘rasik’, which means when you are coming to watch a performing art, you are going to absorb the entire experience.” 

Sumeet, who has watched plays across the world, says the kind of discipline he has seen among the audience in other countries is unbelievable. “Even in some auditoriums in Mumbai like NCPA or Prithvi theatre, it’s a different kind of discipline,” he says, adding. “Earlier, when phones would ring, I would continue with my performance but not anymore. The moment I hear a phone ringing now, I am going to stop and ask the concerned person either to give the phone or leave the auditorium. I am going to be very strict. I don’t want my co-actors, rest of the audience and myself to suffer.”   

He adds that such discipline should be cultivated. “This behaviour (keeping phones on silent mode or switched off) has to come from within. We have to impart such awareness from a young age.” 

Jitendra says that he has been teaching his daughter basic manners while watching a performance. “We have inculcated such discipline among our children,” he says. 

Audience must react too 
The audience, who takes the performance seriously, have to stand united against those who take it casually. “We are doing our part by making announcements and requesting the audience to switch off their phones but they should also raise their voice when such an incident happens. They have to point it out that it is disturbing them too,” says Magdum.

Abhijeet cannot agree more. “I have watched a few plays and operas in the USA. Back there, this (phone ringing) is treated as a crime. The rest of the audience reacts strongly when something like this happens. People here have to do the same. They have to share their displeasure with the person whose phone rings or if they have got a small child along to watch the play,” he says.

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