Until 2010, Subodh Maskara was an entrepreneur, who had made a name for himself in the corporate world. But that was the year he decided to take a sabbatical from business and explore his creative side. Maskara teamed up with his actor-director wife, Nandita Das, to stage the acclaimed play, Between The Lines. The play, which started off as mere pillow talk, has since garnered critical acclaim. It has also propelled the duo’s venture, Chhoti Production Company, to new heights.
In 2014, Subodh and Nandita founded CinePlay, taking theatre to a whole new level. As the name suggests, it is a blend of cinema and theatre. It uses cinematic techniques to make plays accessible to as many people as possible. The plays, which are filmed, are then screened to audiences, giving them a unique experience.
We caught up with Subodh Maskara for a quick chat about CinePlay, Between The Lines and what else we can look forward to in the coming few months:
You come from a pretty different background. What inspired the shift from business to theatre?
It all happened by chance. Nandita and I were having a baby and she had just made her film, Firaaq. She told me that she still had some stories in her head that she wanted to write. However, making a film was too involved a process. She said, "Why don’t I write something for theatre and we can rehearse it when you come back from the office?”
She then came up with the two-character play, Between the Lines. We thought about traveling and performing it on the weekends, which would also help me pursue my creative interests. I thought it was a great idea, but I had no idea she would actually go through with it! Six months later, we were rehearsing the play after I came home from the office. It wasn’t easy, but we persisted and the rest is history.
My decision was cemented when our son was born, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of the corporate world anymore. It was during that transition phase in my life that I decided that I wanted to embrace the artistic world.
How did Chhoti Productions start?
We soon realized that it didn’t make much sense to go out and look for a production company. I knew enough about production, organizing and putting a project together, because of my experience in the corporate world. That’s how Chhoti Productions was born.
How did you come up with the concept of CinePlay?
Though we had decided to stage 10 shows of Between The Lines, we have ended up staging about 40 in the last year. I was surprised by how successful it was. We were invited to do many more shows than we could personally handle, because of date conflicts or financial reasons. That’s when I started thinking of a way to take Between The Lines to more people, without actually being there. This was necessary as it’s very expensive to stage a live performance, especially in other cities. It’s also unfair that theatre is limited to an elite crowd, who can afford it or who have access to it through a club. So I decided to shoot Between The Lines. “You know cinema, and we’ve just done theatre,” I told Nandita. “Let’s combine the two and create a third language!”
It’s difficult for someone who comes from a theatrical or cinematic background to think this would work. But I couldn’t think of any other way it would work!
Do you think having an outsider’s perspective helped you?
Definitely! As an outsider, you’re a fool. Sometimes, that foolishness is necessary to change the status quo of a situation. Fortunately, it worked out and people loved it. It was also great to have my partner believe in what I was doing.
Does working with her make things easier or is it more difficult than one would imagine?
If you ask her, it’s very difficult! (Laughs) If you ask me, it makes work much easier.
I go into this with no expectations from myself. I simply tell her that I shall do the best I can, as an actor and a producer. I am my own competition and when there is no competition, everything seems good. (Laughs) So what’s frustrating for her might even be good for me!
CinePlay is a unique concept. Nothing like this has ever been done before. Were you nervous about the response it would receive?
I wasn’t very nervous, because I believed in the idea of CinePlay. I also believed in the stories and the actors that come out of theatre. I knew that it would be a matter of time before we got it right, though. Even if the response wasn’t as good as we wanted, it would only help us improve. I was prepared for the worst, while also looking forward to getting some feedback. Mostly, I just wanted people to experience CinePlay.
Black with Equal, Bombay Talkies and 30 Days of September are making their way to the platform soon. Are there any other plays that you hope to add to the catalog?
We’re hoping to start a series of plays called The Classics. We want to revive some of Indian theatre’s classics through a production and then shoot them. We’re working with the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) to create a repository of classic plays. We plan to stage them live for 25 shows and then convert them to CinePlay.
How different is working on a play when you know it’s going to be for CinePlay?
There is a big difference between watching the play live and watching it on CinePlay. There is a difference in the acting, because you can’t be as loud. Watching a play on the screen is an intimate experience between the viewer and the actor onscreen. In a theatre, however, gestures, voices and tones are set in a way that even the people in the last row can get the full experience.
When we shoot a play, we try to do it in a way that gives viewers the best seat in the house for every scene. With the stage, viewers can only view the play from certain angles. CinePlay enhances the viewer’s experience by showcasing the best possible angle. It’s like watching a cricket match on television, where you see angles you can’t possibly catch live in the stadium! Though it’s the same match, the experience is very different.
You’ve gone from business to theatre to CinePlay. What’s next for you?
I think I’m going to focus my energy on CinePlay for the next few years. I want it to become an alternative medium of entertainment, and a serious competitor to the current options. I also hope to make CinePlay a medium of instruction for younger generations who haven’t been exposed to theatre.
Are there any initiatives in place to use CinePlay as a mode of education?
We have screened plays at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, which the students loved! In fact, the professors even wrote to us asking for these screenings at all the IITs in the country. Universities that teach Mahesh Dattani’s plays as part of their curriculum have also asked us to screen these plays, so students can relate to the characters better.
What’s in store for CinePlay?
Most of our efforts are going into building a good library of plays. We also hope to have regular CinePlay showings at multiplexes to pique the public’s interest. I have a lot of expectations from this project, and I’m supported by a wonderful team. I hope this energy keeps taking us forward.
Well, we certainly wish Subodh and CinePlay the best!