Subodh Maskara, left, with Nandita Das in CinePlay ‘Between the Lines”
Theater is theater and movies are movies and the twain shall never meet.
Well, not quite. Not only do they meet but they meet rather well, thanks to CinePlay which could well be a new genre of online and cinema hall-based entertainment.
Well-known actress Nandita Das and her businessman husband Subodh Maskara are busy perfecting this new genre of entertainment that draws on the best elements of filmmaking and theatre.
CinePlay offers the intimacy of staged plays and gloss of the movies. Although filmed plays have been around, CinePlay differs significantly in that its productions are plays shot over several days as if they were films. The sets remain what they typically are in a theater production but they become part of the filming with lighting, sound design and camera movements like a regular movie.
The couple is currently showing their latest play “Between the Lines” directed by Ritesh Menon in some American cities. This particular play has been written by Das and Divya Jagdale and runs 79 minutes, which is slightly shorter than the average duration of about 90 minutes for a typical Hollywood movie.
“CinePlay allows stories from theatre to break the constraints of economics, geography, language and accessibility. It archives iconic plays, allowing future generations to experience unforgettable stories and performances. Current economic constraints have challenged the theatre community. CinePlay extends the influence and reach of theatre by creating a self-sustaining financial model,” explains Maskara, who is also CinePlay’s founder and CEO, on the company’s website.
During a news conference in Chicago yesterday both Das and Maskara explained that at a time when economics trumps art in Hindi cinema, what they are offering restores some of the lost glory of high quality story-telling. Das agreed that the new genre opens up access to a rich resource of world-class plays which are otherwise restricted by geographical limitations.
A scene from CinePlay’s ‘The Job’
Since CinePlay productions are digital in nature their portability increases dramatically and offer both classic and new plays access to global audiences that was unthinkable until recently.
Maskara pointed out the cost efficiencies in filming an enactment. Asked how much an average CinePlay production might cost, he said between $40,000 and $50,000, which is significantly less than even the budget of shooting a single song sequence in a mainline Hindi movie production.
Highly acclaimed actor Dr. Mohan Agashe in Mohan Rakesh’s celebrated play ‘Aadhe Adhure’
“I am excited about it as an artist because of the richness of the material we can film,” Das told me. Her CinePlay showing here is a story about a lawyer couple Maya and Shekhar who by a quirk of fate end up arguing on the opposing sides in a criminal trial. Although Maskara is not a trained actor, he said he drew a great deal from Das, a veteran of 40 feature films.
As a form of entertainment CinePlay affords performers many of the spontaneous features of doing staged plays even while allowing the benefits of retakes. Unlike the filmed plays, where a play unfolding as is in front of a live audience is filmed with several cameras, this version is shot over a few days, typically between four and five days. What it lacks in scale and grandness of a regular feature film, it makes up with a sense of proximity, high quality story-telling and rich variety of themes.
The main reason why CinePlay productions retain the stage set feel is because they indeed are. Although they are shot inside a movie studio with professional quality lighting, even some measure of tracking shot and close-ups, Maskara and Das said they take enough care to make them still look like actual plays.
I personally feel that this could emerge as a new form of entertainment at a time when non-movie industry players such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are engaged in creating their own proprietary content. So far these names have not gotten around to tapping the huge Indian Diaspora market of over 25 million across the world. Outside of the usual Hindi movie staple that is served to the Diaspora market, offerings such as CinePlay via channels such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu could transform the entertainment media scene.
One big advantage of the filmed version of plays the way CinePlay does it is that it dramatically expands its resource base. There is a rich reservoir of highly engaging plays available throughout India which lend themselves to a filmed version that would normally not be accessible to audiences outside of the handful of Indian cities they are staged in. However with CinePlay, which is also a result of extraordinary advances in digital technology and spread of broadband, they can reach across the world.
Das said one of the primary reasons why she chose to write the particular play was that there is not enough material on the challenges of middle-class urban couples and families. “Between the Lines” examines how lives of a young couple get affected by their professional choices.
Das has been in the United States for the past three months as a World Fellow at the Yale University. She has had the opportunity to offer her perspectives on many issues related to women’s rights and human rights at Yale, Harvard and elsewhere.
“Between the Lines” was shown at New York’s prestigious Museum of Moving Image. The museum “advances the understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation of the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television, and digital media by presenting exhibitions, education programs, significant moving-image works, and interpretive programs, and collecting and preserving moving-image related artifacts.”
Annually, the museum shows some 400 films.
The screenings in Chicago area came courtesy of India Development Service (IDS), a non-profit involved in social and economic development in India, Vachikam, which promotes Indian performing arts in America and Canada, and the Chicago South Asian Art Council, which organizes an annual film festival.