INTERVIEW As Ekjute theatre group celebrates three decades of vibrant existence, Nadira Babbar speaks to ANJANA RAJAN about a journey that's ever fresh
Ekjute, the theatre group founded by Nadira Babbar along with her husband Raj Babbar back in 1981, may be 31 years old, but says Nadira, her own career started much before that, when she graduated from the National School of Drama in 1971. “So it's actually 42 years,” she says. If the arts are a mirror of society, and if comparing the India of today with the India of the 1970s yields two practically different countries, surely the theatre scene too has kept pace. How does the veteran sum up this change?
“Definitely it has transformed,” she says. “And it's very encouraging to see so much youth associating itself with theatre.” It was always the case, she notes, that those trained for the stage were considered better actors even when they came into films, but to see more young people joining theatre is gratifying.
Today's generation has a reputation, even if is a generalisation, for level-headed financial planning. If they are entering the field it must mean they see better monetary prospects than their parents. “Maybe, yes,” agrees Nadira, “because of commercial theatre and corporates coming, the situation has improved.” But she feels that the corporates need to shower their bounty more generously.
Is the rise of commercial theatre actually a good thing, or is it going to end up muffling the protest? “That is a point,” concedes Nadira, adding, “But theatre is also for entertainment. There's a very thin line between what you call entertainment and what you call commercial entertainment.”
Ekjute's productions, she maintains, are very entertaining, but they never do, say, bedroom comedies or other kinds of shows that might be termed as aiming for the lowest common denominator.
As for entertainment, once upon a time, going to a theatre performance was the only way to catch a show. And early cinema had the look of plays captured on reel. Slowly, as cinema came of age, it developed its own language and galloping technology ensured that the world of cinema and TV was an electronic universe unto itself. Meanwhile, theatre too developed lots of technology. But today, with multimedia the buzzword, it's not just rotating sets and dazzling light design that make a production shine — some stage productions look as if they are trying to make the audience believe they are actually watching a film!
“We have also incorporated some technology, but we do not let that overpower our theatrical abilities,” explains Nadira. “If I am using slides, a certain kind of effect, graphics, all that has to be along with my theatrical priorities. “I know a lot of people are doing theatre like a light and sound show. I really feel if you are doing that, you are not doing theatre.”
It is necessary for theatre to adopt new techniques, she believes, but not at the expense of the core of the art. Some feel that Mumbai's theatre groups are more susceptible to the ‘filmy' razzmatazz of Bollywood. She disagrees.
“I don't think so. It is happening everywhere — in Delhi, Bangalore, all parts of the country. The only places it's not happening is where they don't have the resources.”
Nadira may be upbeat, but Ekjute faces the same problems as other theatre groups in terms of attendance, with most taking up jobs to make ends meet. “It's a huge problem. It's unfortunate, we do lose our actors to television, cinema, dubbing, ad films.” Since she can't pay them the kind of money they earn outside, Nadira says, she understands their problems.
“I adjust with my actors for everything — but not if you go to another theatre group.”