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Lighting up the stage

A well-choreographed dance or finely executed play is further enhanced by clever use of lighting. R. K. Dhingra, who weaves magic with his light equipment, speaks to CHITRA MAHESH.

An example of R.K.Dhingra's excellent lighting technique ...

THERE IS a flash of light and the skies are lit with glittering stars and the moon plays hide and seek with the clouds. Suddenly there is a flood of light — purple, pink, orange and green to show that the skies are responding to the beseeching souls below. The one pale streak of light glides over the movements on stage and fades away in a splendid show of Nature brought to the audience — all done through the use of skilful lighting. This transforms an already well-choreographed, finely executed drama or dance. That is when you realise that an extravaganza means more than just brightening up the stage to highlight the proceedings. Meet the man who makes such things happen — R. K. Dhingra who has the reputation of transforming shows with his lighting techniques in Delhi. A man who has designed lighting for more than 600 major ballets and operas and has worked with choreographers such as Indrani Rehman, Madhvi Mudgal, Anand Shankar, Shovana Narayan, Saroja Vaidyanathan, Swapnasundari, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Uma Sharma, Raja and Radha Reddy and Rekha Choudhary among others. In addition, he has done lighting for more than 800 English plays and over 1,000 Hindi, Urdu drama and language plays. Of course with all this work, awards are bound to come his way and he is the proud recipient of many — such as the Bharatiya Natya Sangha Award, Sahitya Kala Parishad, Shobhna Kala Award, New Sakuntalam Theatre Award, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Chaman Lal Memorial Award. He has also collaborated with the Murrey Louis Dance Co, New York, and the Dan Wagner Dance Co, Cambridge Theatre, Greenwhich Theatre and Actors From The National Theatre of Great Britain. Which probably makes him one of a kind. And he agrees most delightfully while meeting him at his modest office on Lodhi Road.

``I have been in this line for more than 40 years. I started with just three or four lights. Lighting was not important then. Mostly it used to be comedy shows, but people started noticing lighting too.''

How does he go about designing?

``First I read the script, then sit with the director and finally create a set design. In the 1960s there was a lot of work done in the movie style. But not now. I get the script a week ahead and make a cue sheet. After watching one rehearsal I design the lights. Also one takes into account the mood of the show. For instance, if it is a ballet you need a lot of special effects like clouds, fire, rain... ''

Could all that be achieved with lights?

``Yes. You can create water, flame, fire and the psychedelic effects especially with a lot of electronic equipment coming in these days. For instance, the electronic dimmer — earlier it was manual, halogen spots, colour labs, scanners all giving more depth to lighting design.''

What sets him apart from the rest of those doing such work?

``Why my experience — what I have gained in 40 years as a designer. That is why they want me. Plus I also have a good music sense which helps me recognise what is needed for a production.''

What exactly prompted him to get into lighting?

``More than 40 years ago, I met Chamanlal who eventually became my good friend. Today he is no more but together we started this company, Modern Stage Service. We used to go on bicycle taking the two lights, doing the show. This was my livelihood. When I gained many things, made more money, we bought more equipment. Now I manufacture these things. I have toured all over India, got many awards but now I have become very choosy about the projects I take up. My work speaks for itself. For a long time there never was any recognition for such work-backstage, music, makeup, costumes, sets. So we instituted the Chamanlal Memorial Award and every year select two persons doing good work in these areas to encourage such work.''

Which, would he say, is one of his best works?

``I love them all... but ballets have a special place in my heart. Because of the scope they provide for lighting.''

Has he ever thought of institutionalising this art? Maybe some kind of a course?

``Yes. Right now I am thinking in terms of workshops for starters. I know 15 days are not enough to learn everything but at least we can cover the basics.''

What is he working on right now?

``On a show called `Ali Baba Chalees Chorine'. With such productions you can create magic.''

Would he consider lighting for serials?

``No There is a lot of difference between stage, TV lighting and film lighting. Since I have learnt only stage lighting I think I should stick to that.'' He talks about the laser lights that have come on the scene now. They are costly but can create the most beautiful effects. If people are willing to spend, this is something that makes production very memorable. What would he like to say to those who might want to take up backstage design as a profession?

``Frankly speaking, there is hardly any money for theatre professionals. Nobody is willing to pay us. But I enjoy my work even if there is not much money in it. Designing lights for Rs. 100 or for Rs. 1,000 or Rs. 10,000 is what I love doing. And would like to continue for the rest of my life.''

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