With META calling for entries, theatre lovers have a lot to look forward to.

Nine years ago, when the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, or META, started, things were very different. The coveted awards set in place by the Mahindra Group to promote and support excellence in theatre across the country have today established a name for themselves, and become a much anticipated event on the calendar of theatre professionals and lovers.

Ravi Dubey, META’s creative director, has seen the awards grow since its conception, and today, he remembers a time when the awards were still to make their presence felt. “In our first year, we had got our entries by approaching theatre professionals and veterans, and following their suggestions and directions. Slowly, over the years, things have completely changed, and today META receives voluntary entries from all over the country.” META 2014 called for entries on December 27, 2013, inviting original and adapted plays, in any language, staged between January 21, 2013 and January 19, 2014. Entries can also include theatre productions with a cast of one or more actors, including physical theatre, puppetry, multi-media and dance.

Today, META offers a veritable feast for theatre lovers in the city to gorge on. Dubey believes that META has managed to reach the hinterlands of the country, with entries pouring in from remote, tucked in corners. “Last year, we received 350 entries, in more than 30 regional languages, from groups and production houses we ourselves had never heard of.” META requires their entries to arrive as DVDs, but it isn’t for the privileged few, and a single line in their call for entries gives their universal reach away. It explains that should a group find that they are unable to afford the cost of producing the DVD, the award will fund the same on its behalf. This opens the platform up in a way that few other awards do, and makes it possible for underprivileged but undoubtedly talented groups to participate and compete on an equal footing. Dubey admits that sometimes, the participants selected in the shortlist have to travel hundreds of kilometres to make their way for the award ceremony. “We hear of groups having to take a bus to the nearest railway station to board a train that’ll then take them to the airport for a flight that can get them to Delhi.”

For Dubey, this illustrates the expanding reach of the awards. It also underlines what he finds so fascinating about Indian theatre and drama today. “We see all these groups, with no expectation of any material returns, or even aspirations of fame and prestige, who only perform in the evenings for the local crowd. They have a passion for theatre, and they perform to express their emotions, their joy and sadness, through this medium. It’s so encouraging, so touching, to see this.”

META receives entries in numerous regional languages, from Kashmiri to Kannada, and Dubey says that these make up for almost ninety per cent of the DVDs sent in. “There’s much more representation of regional theatre compared to that in Hindi or English,” he adds. Each of these entries, their numbers reaching a few hundreds, is then viewed by a selection committee. The names on this committee are kept confidential, and comprises of theatre professionals, critics and veterans. The procedure of culling and shortlisting is a long, time consuming one, and after long debates, discussions and sometimes even arguments, ten plays are selected and performed live during the Mahindra Theatre Festival. It is during this festival that a Jury Panel watches the plays for the first time, along with the audience, and the festival culminates with an award ceremony. “The entire process is independent of me, and the plays are judged by theatre artistes and professionals with knowledge, expertise and experience,” says Dubey.

This year, once these ten outstanding plays are selected, they’ll be performed from March 3-8, 2014.