Reaching out to theatre lovers despite no avenues to watch plays

Debarati Palit Singh
Sunday, 12 April 2020

Shailja Kejriwal, chief creative officer —Special Projects, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, talks about how Zee Theatre’s Teleplay is reaching out to theatre lovers where there are no avenues to watch plays.

Nowadays you don’t have to go out to watch a play. You can watch actors perform live on stage on your television or mobile phone. Zee Theatre’s Teleplay is a concept to digitise theatre plays for both television and online audiences.

Regional plays
After having done more than 100 plays for which they have received positive responses, Shailja Kejriwal, chief creative officer — Special Projects, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, says that they want to focus more on regional plays. “We want Marathi plays because there is a demand. Maharashtra has a strong relationship with theatre, and we are exploring that. After we explore regional language plays, we will look at Hindi theatre,” she says.

Tying up with channels
To bring theatre closer to viewers, they have also tied up with DTH (Direct to Home) satellite channels through which they will bring curated plays. Kejriwal says that the response has been welcoming and they have tied up with a couple of channels. 

“We are almost on three platforms, and a few of our plays are on Zee5 and Netflix. A lot of people want to watch plays but lack of infrastructure or lack of habit of going to a theatre prevents them from doing so. Now, they can watch plays at home. A lot of new people have started making televised plays for us, which is a great thing,” she says.

All types of audience
While working on the content of these televised plays, they keep all kinds of audience in mind. 

“If we are working on 13 plays, 2-3 may be targeted at the younger audience, a few for women and some for the family but the core target audience is 25-to 45-year-olds,” she says, adding that they have the demographics in mind.

Various playwrights
She is excited about some of their upcoming projects including Makrand Deshpande’s Sir Sir Sarla, a play she says, she had watched after coming to Mumbai. 

“This is one of my favourites. I am from Kolkata and many of my relatives there haven’t got the chance to watch the play. I feel such plays should travel. Purva Naresh’s Ladies Sangeet is one more play, which has an exciting subject matter with the relatable surrounding. We have also done Mahesh Dattani’s Where Did I Leave My Purdah, which has Divya Dutta and Swara Bhaskar, and talks about theatre during Partition,” says Kejriwal, adding that the focus is on variety. “They are many different playwrights and subjects.”

All plays can’t be on screen
Can all plays be on screen? Kejriwal says no, adding that certain plays need to be watched live.

“Theatre is meant to be watched live, and there are certain plays like Feroz Abbas Khan’s Mughal-e-Azam, which has to be watched live on stage. There’s no need to film it because it will never be able to capture the grandeur of the stage. We concentrate more on story-driven intimate plays. Works of playwrights like Vijay Tendulkar or Jaywant Dalvi beautifully translate onto the screen as they speak of human stories and emotions.”

Connecting with a large audience
The televised version of plays also gives the scope to watch human emotions of actors up close which may not be possible if you are sitting in the last row at a live performance. 

“Having said that, I wish everyone is able to watch theatre live because it’s the best thing to do, but we do not have the infrastructure or avenues. We are fortunate in cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Pune, where there are a few avenues but for the rest of the country, they do not have that kind of infrastructure. 

“I go to NCPA because they project National Theatre Live London. I was thinking, ‘How would all of us sitting here would ever get to watch these productions had NCPA not projected them or National Theatre Live not recorded it. I believe its projected live in 63 countries. It’s such a wonderful feeling,” says Kejriwal who has also produced films like Maadari, Qarib Qarib Single and others.

A fulfilling journey
Kejriwal, who has been working as an independent creative curator and producer for many years, is known for being the brain behind several popular K-series. In her career, she too has been involved in diverse genres, from very niche subjects to commercial ones. 

“I started my career with Star Best Sellers doing diverse stories and telling them because they were important at that particular time. They were not commercially successful but got cult status. The interesting part was that my bosses thought that I can only do intellectual stuff but I must say that I learnt a lot while working with Ekta Kapoor,” she says, adding, “K series are done by her, you participate with her but I will not take credit for doing the soaps. Ekta is a powerhouse of talent who manages her soaps. Somebody like me gets to learn how to take a story to the maximum possible audience. That’s what I have done in films like Madaari, taking a message and reaching it to a larger audience.”

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