I was introduced to the world of theatre sometime in the early-2000’s and had the opportunity to photograph a number of productions, and help capture the process of bringing unique narratives and stories to life.
QTP’s All My Sons in 2000, was the first production I photographed. Watching Quasar direct Farid Currim, Nadir Khan, Yuki Ellias, Christopher Samuel, Farah Bala and his mother Dolly Thakore in the classic Arthur Miller play, was an utterly fascinating experience. It was a baptism by fire and I recall at the time, how I underexposed the film (yes, film – that old fashioned stuff that restricted you to 36 photos at a time!) and pretended like that was a creative choice I made while frantically asking the lab to print it brighter!
In 2001, Quasar invited me to photograph his new production, Urban Burden, which consisted of Lucky Ones and Lunch Girls (of which I haven’t included any photographs here). An additional responsibility was to ‘handle sound’ which really was me pushing the play button of a CD player! It was a time of immense learning and an intimate view of a world that held so much fascination for me. As a photographer, having an up close and personal experience of stories, personas and indeed, life being performed and created in front of me, cemented a love for theatre. I was attending rehearsals, learning how to do sound, photographing as much as we could afford (film wasn’t cheap at the time, at least not for us) in addition to occasionally helping out with carrying trunks and props.
It’s almost ironic that the moment I recall with the most clarity was being yelled at during rehearsals for missing a cue and not hitting the play button when I was supposed to! I bristled at the time, but it also occurred to me the sheer passion and energy that this bunch of young theatre makers were bringing with them to every rehearsal, and then to every show. They expected the same from their team. This wasn’t a big-budget production, but their meagre resources didn’t get in the way of meticulous attention to detail, and painstaking planning – a dodgy CD player or an outdated sound board wasn’t an acceptable excuse for a missed cue!
Performances were off the charts in Lucky Ones– Shivani Tanksale, Pravir Sethi and Samir Siddiqui were hilarious and Kunaal Roy Kapur led the way with his comic timing and innate sense of humour.
Now a legitimate classic, Mahadevbhai (1892-1942) was such an amazing piece to photograph.
Jaimini Pathak performed (and continues to perform, 20 years since these photos were made) this ode to Gandhiji written by the brilliant Ramu Ramanathan and performed by Jaimini Pathak. Jaimini owned the stage for about an hour and a half and it was almost easy to find moments to frame and photograph as he moved through stories and characters.
As with almost all the plays I have photographed, I was given access to technical rehearsals to observe and photograph while on stage with the actor(s) – it’s a delicate dance of being ‘inside’ while being discreet and respectful of the performers’ space. Over time, I think I found a comfortable rhythm and style of shooting in a way that was both unobtrusive but also allowed me to capture the moment fully.
Atul Kumar’s Voices (2003) stands out in my memory as being immensely visual. This experimental piece was so much fun to photograph – the lighting in this performance was as much about shadows as it was about light; as was the play itself which was a series of monologues performed by young student actors. (If I am not mistaken, this was one of Neil Bhoopalam’s first appearances on the stage)
The Sanjivani Supershow! Was another high-energy, entertaining and visually-striking play to photograph. Ramu Ramanthan was at the helm of this one and actors like Pramod Pathak (his appearances in Sunil Shanbag directed performances at the neglected little amphitheatre at YWCA, Andheri, Mumbai, were so exciting and joyful) brought this mythical ride to life.
The Final Rehearsal, written, directed and performed by the inscrutable Pawan Kumar was a stand out piece at Thespo 2002, the annual youth theatre festival produced by QTP and Theatre Group, Mumbai. I don’t remember who helped Pawan with lighting this piece (Arghya Lahiri maybe??) but it was masterful – spare and dramatic, it really brought to life this beautifully written narrative of an actor’s struggle with competition, failure, success.
Now, 20 odd years later, sitting in Dubai and going through a box of negatives led to many “hey, long time – remember this?” type whatsapp messages! I was reminded of how the process of photographing these productions was a way for me to observe a bunch of talented, passionate individuals practise and hone their craft. (That it was also an excuse to hang out with a certain woman is a story for another time!)