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Play Bill

Theatre Olympics is set to begin on February 17, but some of the country’s top theatre personalities are staying away

Theatre Olympics 2018
A scene from Shikhandi, directed by Faezeh Jalali

In the presence of Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Culture, Mahesh Sharma, National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi formally announced on Tuesday that Theatre Olympics 2018 will start rolling from February 17 with an extravaganza at the Red Fort “such as hasn’t been seen since Independence”, according to Waman Kendre, Director, NSD. Theatre Olympics, which was established in 1993, is an international festival that presents some of the finest productions from around the world. India is hosting the eighth edition of the Olympics.

NSD, which is organising the event, has aimed for big numbers. The 51-day event will be spread across 17 cities in India, and comprise 450 shows, 600 ambience performances and 250 youth forums, among others. There will be performances in 30 Indian and 15 foreign languages, two international seminars in Delhi and Mumbai, and six national seminars in Bengaluru, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Kolkata and Jaipur, among others. The closing ceremony will be an equally grand affair at the Gateway of India on April 8.

The theme of Theatre Olympics 2018 is “Flag of Friendship” as 30 countries are set to present their “philosophies, ideologies and techniques” during the event. Incidentally, Pakistan is absent from the line-up. Kendra says that “five of the six plays that applied from Pakistan did not make the cut with the Olympics’ Selection Committee”.

Remunerations to foreign directors is double the Rs 1.5 lakh that Indian directors are getting for staging plays, something that has caused enough gripe in this country. “To share from your own roti or to give away your own roti completely to somebody else, that is bharatiya sanskriti. This is not an insult to Indian directors, this is vasudhaiva kutumbakam,” said the Minister.


Among the Indian directors who will show at the Olympics are Alyque Padamsee, MK Raina, Bansi Kaul, Maya Krishna Rao and Bhanu Bharti. A number of directors who have shaped theatre in India are missing from the list. Here is what they have to say:

Sunil Shanbag

We chose not to participate, clearly on principle. The government — and I do not mean this government alone — does nothing to support the arts community. I cannot speak for the rest of the artist community but there was no reason for us to be partnering with them on something that is this colossal and may make some impact internationally but there would be nothing for India. In Mumbai, for instance, theatre is done by artists themselves.

Abhishek Majumdar

We didn’t know about Theatre Olympics at all till people started getting selected. Partly, we might have missed the call and, partly, we didn’t even expect an invitation.

Deepen Sivaraman

I had proposed a production, Khasakkinte Itihasam, for the Olympics and they had shortlisted it and invited me to perform in Delhi. I happily accepted the invitation, though, at the same time, I was concerned about the logistics of bringing such a big play from Kerala. I had discussions with the people responsible for the festival from NSD and told them that we could not bring the production for Rs 1.50 lakh. I asked if there was anything that could be done and was told that nothing was possible due to regulations. Then, I made a decision not to come. Theatre Olympics, which is the largest event in the world in the field of theatre, should focus on quality. But, instead of doing that, they have 500 productions from across the country regardless of quality.

Sudhanva Deshpande 

Theatre Olympics is a jamboree and I don’t see how it will help the larger theatre eco-system in India. There is a lot of money involved. We didn’t apply and we weren’t invited.