Theatre

Far from smoke and mirrors

Light and dark: A still from the play Still and Still Moving.

Light and dark: A still from the play Still and Still Moving.  

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When we watch a performance, the line of sight is particularly important — what we see informs what we can glean from the proceedings. The circumstances of illumination often create illusions in plain sight, obscuring areas of performance while activating others, switching back and forth, or tarrying awhile. Good lighting adds to good storytelling in the most unobtrusive of ways. What was smoke and mirrors and flashbulbs in the past, is much more subtle and yet powerful these days.

Behind the scenes

Like a well edited film often that doesn’t display its seams and stitches, so too the light design (which is really editing in disguise according to some theatre practitioners) of a play remains almost invisible even if it is what makes everything else tangible.

At the recent Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, a common experience for most might have consisted of the sampling of various vicarious pleasures as a venue-hopping festival-goer armed with brochure and identity card, and an appetite to match the smorgasbord on display. Then there are those who put together the machinery of organisation resolutely behind the scenes of what was a humongous endeavour in all respects. One person in particular came away with a markedly different taste of things — the young light designer Anuj Chopra, who had his fingers in many pies at the festival. As light designer or operator for more than half a dozen theatre productions, it was a familiar sight for some to see Chopra zipping from venue to venue in a hired scooter, moving from one set-up to the next, burning the candles at both ends, but ensuring audiences are able to catch a play in all its pristine glory, irrespective of operational difficulties and backroom crises.

In theatre, there isn’t really a profusion of stage technicians in all departments, which makes resourceful people like Chopra indispensable. For Serendipity, the projects he lit ranged from art installations to immersive productions, from solo acts to a play for toddlers. In Anirudh Nair’s Sonnets c 2018, he made good use of the found lighting at a colonial-era Portuguese villa with its lattice ceilings and cosy nooks, while washing over the scenes with an essential and uplifting brightness. For Navtej Johar’s Tanashah, he provided true repose for a stricken and oppressed body. Operating lights for Dinner is at 8, a play for toddlers, he provided the space for kitchen utensils to take over the turf, even as kids and their grown-ups watched avidly.

In Jyoti Dogra’s Notes on Chai, the lighting plan of which was originally designed by Arghya Lahiri, he matches pace with Dogra’s seamlessevocation of expression. Light flows into light creating cross-faded liminal spaces that seem to have existed always and not constructed anew. The technician’s festival, as Chopra might attest, is a special one.

For future curators at Serendipity, it might auger well to include a view of a project’s making, or the brass tacks behind the glitz. ‘The actor is present’ or ‘the artist at work’ vantage of creative labour is perhaps as potent an artefact for exhibition as is the finished article, and sometimes even more so.

Creating atmosphere

While Chopra might sometimes prefer an abundance of texture and light, and an aesthetic presentation that is, for want of a better word, ‘beautiful’, he has worked with performers of all sensibilities, some of whom might eschew ostentation for a raw ‘ugliness’ that is real and perceptible. His recent works include Neel Chaudhry’s Quicksand, recently staged in Mumbai, in which shifting urban spaces are created mainly with the use of light and ubiquitous queue-managers. A final scene chillingly uses a single flickering light bulb, and creates a sense of remoteness and precariousness that is organic to the material. With Dogra, he has also worked on her latest solo production Black Hole, where he used the technology of dynamic projection mapping, forays into which in India are fairly inchoate, Her ensemble piece, Toye, had initially opened at a university in Chandigarh as a student production, where the largely defunct light department had only three flood-lights that were operational. Chopra, using only old spares and new bulbs, was able to make 60 more lights. “He is one of those rare light designers who can also fashion his own lights and fittings himself,” says Dogra.

Another aspect of Chopra’s work is his valuable dramaturgical involvement in the projects he chooses to participate in. A trained cinematographer who has chosen a career in theatre, Chopra’s star is certainly on the ascendant.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 10:21:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/far-from-smoke-and-mirrors/article25941761.ece

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