2022 was a big year for theater in India as it made inroads into television. Bringing together two very important entertainment platforms, Zee Theater experimented with a new style of storytelling by bringing a dramatic feast of 30 plays in 30 days titled ‘Har Din Naya Drama’. Shailja Kejriwal, Chief Creative Officer, Special Projects, ZEEL and a film producer herself, bringing the best of classic, contemporary and uncluttered content from India’s vast and diverse theater fraternity, spoke to WION about making theater mainstream.
Here are excerpts from the chat:
WION: 2022 has been a huge year for Zee Theater in terms of airing plays. How would you define ‘Har Din Naya Drama’ as a term?
Shaila: The aim was to bring viewers a new play every day, and the name came from a colloquial way of describing the little dramas that somehow take place in every household. So we used the oft-used phrase “Har Roz Naya Drama Laga Hi Rehta Hai” and associated the idea with theatre.In a time when there is so much to choose from, be it cinema, television or OTT, we have introduced a new option that offers stories steeped in different emotions and genres from humor, satire and tragedy to thrillers.
In any case, theater has been a part of our culture since the days of the ‘Natya Shastra’ to the references in the ‘Mahabharat’ of Arjuna portraying the role of Brihannala, during his year-long incognito exile. We have an inexhaustible legacy to draw from and for now we will be releasing games in Hindi for the most part and will eventually include dubbed regional stories in the mix.
WION: What are some of the ways theater can be incorporated as an entertainment option and not just limited to fans?
Shaila: We feature games that are both fun and themed, something you don’t often find in programming. For example, the play ‘Ma Retire Hoti Hai’ explores the question of whether women can ever be freed from domestic duties and say, “I’m done! Now I’ll just rest!” Men have a retirement age, but women do not. A teleplay like ‘Gudiya Ki Shaadi’ explores the issue of obsession with fairness and how a dark skinned young girl deals with this prejudice. The goal is to highlight the issues we see in our families and provide a broader social context. We have teleplays from stalwarts like Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Girish Karnad and Tagore along with contemporary talents like Purva Naresh and the mix will appeal to all kinds of audiences, not just theater buffs.
WION: What is behind your vision to make the theater a part of the everyday life of the audience? And how do you deal with the challenge of supply and demand?
Shaila: We have an inexhaustible treasure trove of TV games and over time we want to bring games from every region and language to the viewers as India has a variety to offer. These stories will resonate with audiences because they are engaging, relevant and timeless.
WION: What is the future of theatre? Will it be a hybrid with existing cinemas being modified to accommodate different media and the theater becoming increasingly digital?
Shaila: Theater has been part of the Indian ethos since the days of ‘Natya Shastra’ and ‘Mahabharat’ and continues to exist in many forms on the streets, in theaters, on small screens, in people’s living rooms and will continue to grow and evolve. In my opinion, digital theater will strengthen the love for live games. It also plays an archival role, preserving stories that would otherwise be inaccessible or simply faded away. Theater will exist in its purest form, in hybrid and collaborative ways such as teleplays, where you can enjoy the energy of live performances and film technology right at home.