It took only 15 minutes to decide the much-needed support for the Indian theatre. Anand Mahindra of the Mahindra group readily agreed to a proposal of Ravi Dubey to promote Indian theatre and all aspects associated with the art form. “We intend to promote the innumerable theatre talents not only of the Metros but all across the country,” says Dubey, the consultant – creative director of the Mahindra initiative. The motive is to provide a platform to the theatre groups a national platform and subsequently international exposure, he elaborates.
As part of the initiative, corporate house Mahindra has been organising the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) since 2006. Entries were invited from the theatre groups. In the inaugural year, English plays from the four major metros of India were selected. “Two best productions from each city were selected by the selection panel. Eight productions were staged at the finals at New Delhi,” Dubey informs. Eminent personalities like Shyamanand Jalan, Shabana Azmi, Shashi Kapoor, Ila Arun, M S Sathyu, M. K. Raina and Zafar Hai judged these productions to choose winners in several categories.
The META will be celebrating theatre again on March 7 next year. Pune (India), “thriving with some excellent theatre,” was chosen as the first city for announcing the nominations for META 2008. Any play produced and staged till December 31 this year qualifies for the META 2008. The application, accompanied by a DVD of the production should reach the Delhi office of the initiative. The application can even be made online by logging on to http://www.metawards.com/. “If a group wants us to fund the creation of the DVD, we will do that,” Dubey promises.
“We promote anything associated with theatre. Therefore, there are awards for best actor, (male and female), director, script, production, costumes, lighting and what have you. It’s like the Golden Globe Awards of the Indian theatre,” Dubey sounds excited. Nowhere in the world such a corporate initiative to promote theatre at the national level has been noticed, Dubey claims.
When asked about the prize money of the META, Dubey says, the best script wins a trophy and cash of Rupees 75 thousand, best playwright gets a trophy and a cash award of Rupees one lakh. “Besides, we pay a performance fee of Rupees 60 thousand to each group in the finals plus every other expense,” Dubey informs.
Referring to diverse languages of India, Dubey explains, any Indian production, of any language can qualify for the META. “We receive entries from Assam to Goa, Manipur to Kerala. The response has been massive,” he adds. For META 2007, Pune-based Aasakta Productions was nominated in 11 categories for its play Tu - of which they won two awards.
The last two META were televised nationally. This would surely help the local groups reach out to a wider audience. The next META will also be televised, possibly on NDTV Profit, Dubey states. Talking about the META 2008, he says, in January the selection panel would decide the finalists. “There are plans to approach Mallika Sarabhai, Girish Karnad and Manoj Bajpai to judge the entries,” Dubey informs.
When asked about the transparency of the judgments, Dubey affirms the procedure has been fair and will remain so. “Last year Girish Karnad had to be dropped from the jury because his play was in the fray. Noted theatre personality Ananda Lal himself withdrew from the selection panel because a play written by him was in the competition,” Dubey elaborates his point.
Glancing at the wide settings outside, Dubey reveals the future plans of Mahindra initiative. “We are looking beyond META. I am a theatre enthusiast and would love to see talents being nurtured. A major step in that direction will be establishing a Theatre Academy where the masters of the craft will teach each and every skill relevant to theatre production”. And these masters will be not only from India but also from other countries. “I would love to collaborate with Tisch School of the Arts of New York so that there are exchanges of faculty and students. Internationalisation of Indian theatre is necessary and cannot be ignored ” Dubey sounds like a visionary. The Mahindra Academy could get going in five years time, Dubey says.
With these steps, he hopes other corporate houses will be encouraged to actively support Indian theatre. “Our theatre is excellent and the world must know it,” Dubey’s final words before he gets on with his busy schedule spanning cities and towns of India.