When his wife Nandita Das took a break from movies due to pregnancy, Subodh Maskara ended up acting with her in a play titled Between The Lines. Even as the play had an impressive run, they had to decline several requests to stage it due to date problems and other constraints. This led to the idea of offering the play on a digital format and CinePlay was born. Today, they have five plays available in this format, which gives a cinematic experience of a theatrical production. As he keeps adding to the list of plays, Maskara talks about their theatrical screenings, showcasing them online and monetising it.
What are your plans for Cineplay?
We intend to film the content of theatre and distribute it intelligently so that the right people get to watch them. We, of course, do not have the money to market it like a film. So, we have to do it in a subtle and interesting way so that it reaches out to a large audience and yet is economically viable.
The theatre productions recorded for CinePlay have a cinematic feel to them.
When you put a camera in front of anything, you are already introducing an element of cinema. Theatre in its early digital format was not successful as it looked like a second-class recording of a play. It was not engaging. However, we want to give the sensory experience of cinema but keep the story of theatre intact. If you can catch a play on stage please go ahead, but this is the next best thing.
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Did you study how plays are packaged and presented internationally before starting this?
Many shoot live shows. Initially, I toyed with the idea. However, I changed my mind when we did Between the Lines. We have done nearly 40 shows and everytime the audience responds differently. So I did not want the audience reaction to interfere with the experience when one watches it on screen. It should not be like the show Friends. The audience should emote in their own individual ways.
Do you work on the sets while shooting as most theatre sets are not very elaborate?
We try to retain the original set. However, during shooting, we have to enhance it. Nearly 80 per cent is the original set, 20 per cent is embellishment. We don’t have sets like National Theatre Live or West End.
How many cameras do you use?
Scenes and dialogues drive the shots and angles. The camerawork follows the intent of the directors and actors. We use one camera. Maybe two. We take around four days to shoot a complete play. It’s not a one-take shot. In theatre, actors express with their entire body. But in cinema, it maybe just their face or eyes. These have to be factored in while filming.
You have shot five plays so far. Are you working towards building a bank?
We are looking at 20 in the next one-and-a-half years. Parallely, we are also introducing it to audiences through our tie-ups with National Centre for Performing Arts and some clubs in Mumbai. We will soon be announcing tie-ups with a theatrical chain which has a presence in smaller towns. Our focus is on going to towns where people don’t have access to theatre. We are also talking to a French distributor and exploring the market there. We want to open up a global relationship.
Most of the plays that you have shot are popular ones. Are you planning to pick up experimental plays too?
Yes, of course. We are first trying to build an audience with popular content. Once we have their loyalty, I am sure they will be interested in all kinds of content.
How are you planning to exploit the online platform?
Online is the future and it is evolving. However, people are used to free content. As what we offer is premium content, I can’t afford to give it for free. In the next two-three years, people are likely to change their attitude towards paid online content.