By giving up a high profile job and plunging into the world of theatre Mathivanan Rajendran is living his dream.
The entertainment industry has often been projected a gamble zone, where godfathers, luck and lineage are said to determine the success of many gamblers. And theatre, which is considered the intellectual offshoot of cinema, thrives on passion and diligence. But considering the fast evolving theatre scene in many places and particularly Chennai, these tags may prove to be outdated. Cliches are being challenged and stereotypes broken. Meet Mathivanan Rajendran, who, after treading the conventional path, has plunged into the business of performance.
Tryst with destiny
Mathi's tryst with world theatre began many years ago. After working in multiple productions through school and college in Chennai, he extended that experience to direction as well. In fact Mathi recollects a time when there was a low. “I kept trying to relate my Masters degree in Design Psychology to performance arts but unsuccessfully. Finally realised that I was trying too hard to make that connection when in reality I just wanted to perform! Radio Jockeying on weekends and the odd Diwali shows at Virginia Tech were my only connection to the performing arts.”
But it wasn't easy to let go of a lucrative corporate offer post his Masters, and survive on just theatre. It is interesting to note the constant attempts to relate and balance the two parallel tracks though. While working for an International User Experience Firm in Puducherry that demanded a lot of travel, Mathi capitalised on the frequent globe trotting, to catch up on shows and observe performance trends in many parts of the world. This also entailed an active interest in the business models of the performing groups. Thus, in 2010, when Strayfactory was born, it had a strong foundation apart from help from the competitive designers Mathi met during his foreign travels.
A year of managing work and shows proved rather exhausting and eventually Mathi gave up his high profile job and decided to plunge into his production company full time.
Strayfactory has now produced over 10 shows across three cities and collaborated with 67 people. The most recent production was ‘The Lost Audition' at the Short and Sweet Theatre Festival where Mathi won the Runner Up award in the Best Actor Category. But ask any theatre enthusiast in the city and he will swear by ‘The Great Indian Blogolouges'; the group's most successful production till date, both in terms of concept and reception. He envisions Strayfactory as a profitable enterprise, committed to developing newer forms of entertainment and extending the performance arts to these mediums. SF has also come up with a workshop module for collaborative performances, APE.
Several theatre groups in the city are following a similar trend and this rather novel course is turning out to be a profitable enterprise because people are willing to invest in the idea of live performance as worthy entertainment. To complement this, as Mathi rightly feels, the Chennai theatre community is built on reciprocity and cooperation. The network built here is what eventually helps in the long run both in building good will and fostering artistic and business interests in this medium. It is important to quickly grasp the nuances of the business and create a niche in the market. Once that foothold is gained, there will be people flocking the halls on weekends, and corporates demanding shows for motivational and social events.
At a personal level Mathi is now looking at films. He has been cast to play a supporting role in the soon-to-be-released Dhanush starrer “Mayakam Enna”. “No one in my family or extended family has even been exposed to the idea of freelancing or entrepreneurship, let alone in the entertainment industry! So they were definitely sceptical initially. However I think most of it changed after they started frequenting my shows. It's cute to see my mum, who was once scandalised by the idea of working in cinema, suddenly get all excited and wide eyed whenever she sees my movie's ad!” says a beaming Mathi. Of course there is a flip side to the seemingly perfect move? “I've had to switch from driving the car to a bike but should figure it out,” he signs off!
Niharika .M., has completed BA Literature from Stella Maris College.