“What was it that forced Chitrangada to transform from a warrior princess to a mute doll then? And what would Chitrangada be like in 2020? Any different or just the same,” wonders director Neha Singh as she presents the short film Chitrangada 2020, inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s dance-drama Chitrangada.
Chitrangada 2020 is one of the 15 new shorts films, featuring theatre actors and based on plays that will release on The Company Theatre’s YouTube channel. Made during the lockdown, the idea behind these shorts was to create work for theatre practitioners since the traditional form of presenting plays has been on hold. Shown as part of Theatre Film Theatre Festival of Shorts, which started on August 30, a new short is released at 12 pm every second day and is available for the next 48 hours till it is replaced by another.
The festival has already shown four experimental films based on adaptation of plays – Aab-e-Zamzam, Women of Rome, Shakkar Ke Panch Daane and just released Koot-Dwar (Trap Door). Coming up are 11 more short films including The Unbearable Gaze, based on Kalidasa’s Abhijnanashakuntalam; Aarzi, an adaptation of Mark Twain’s play The Burglar Alarm; Pinjara, inspired by Steve Moulds’ play Metamorphosis; Choice, an adaptation of Manav Kaul’s play Chuhal. The festival, initiated by Maharashtra-based The Company Theatre, will continue till September 27. It aims to raise money for artistes through donations made by viewers.
“We wanted theatre artistes who are sitting at home to be engaged. The idea was to ask young filmmakers to cast theatre actors in these films. We wanted them to react to their immediate environment and what their immediate concerns were. The only pre-requisites were theatre actors and theatre scripts,” says Atul Kumar, one of the co-curators of the festival. Nearly 40 filmmakers responded when the plan for the festival was floated over two months ago. Some of them, however, could not work on their ideas due to the lockdown-related constraints. Several theatre practitioners from different parts of India have worked on these films.
Speaking about Chitrangada 2020, Singh says, “Chitrangada, the character from Mahabharat was first written about in the 4th century BC by Vyasa. Then, the character featured in a play called Chitrangada, by Rabindranath Tagore in 1892 and I am making a theatre-film on it in 2020. But the beauty standards a woman must follow haven’t changed one bit in all these centuries,” she says.
The story of Shakuntala had stayed with Priyanshi Vasani since her younger days. She wondered about the dualities that exist in Shakuntala as a woman as she is supposed to be not of heaven, nor of earth; not completely human or nymph; and not of the forest, nor of the city. Her film’s protagonist Sukoon is constantly being watched and told what to do. Her need to be an explorer and her constant curiosity for belonging is what keeps propelling her life forward. On this path, she meets Shakuntala in the form of a cheeky but empowered bird. Together they explore these complex dualities of a woman’s life in a man’s world.
Interestingly, filmmakers picked up plays from different eras and genres for their short. Pradeep Vaiddya’s Brain Surgeon! has inspired Jayesh Jain’s short by the same name. For Blud, Namrata Bhatacharjee found inspiration in James Shirley’s 17th century play The Sisters. Zoya Khan’s Zar is based on the play The Djinns of Eidgah by Abhishek Majumdar.
All the films to be shown during the festival are not ready yet. Some of the films are still being edited while the post-production of some others is going on. “All these shorts are being made pro bono. So, these artistes have to help each other and pass the equipment around,” says Kumar. Some films were made within a week while some others took a month. Vara Raturi, Mallika Singh, Sonal Gupta, Baani Singh and Anupam Barve are the other curators of this festival.
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