Podium is ready: META back on the ground after two virtual editions

Hope amid despair, freedom over slavery, some of the plays featured in this year’s Mahindra Excellence in Theater Awards (META) are poignant and inspiring. But what is equally promising is the fact that the dedicated platform for Indian theater is back on the ground after two virtual editions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meta will once again give voice to diverse themes ranging from contemporary and pressing social issues to mythology, religion, gender, caste, politics and classics through her plays, as well as raising awareness and appreciation of Indian theatre.

According to the organizers, however, there will be no prize giving this time, as was customary in previous editions. Instead, META will perform four award-winning plays that have never been shown publicly before and will be celebrated during the festival.

Theater buffs can watch the play Ghoom Nei tell a story about hardship in a lower segment of society with a terrible standard of living. However, the only saving grace that keeps the characters on the “dark, broken highway” is a “bridge of light,” illuminated by hope and camaraderie. This, along with three other award-winning plays: For the Record, Bhaskara Pattelarum Thommiyude Jeevithavum and The Old Man, will be part of the 17th edition of META to be held in the national capital from 7 to 10 July.

For the Record recreates the deliberations, disputes and drama of a series of events that took place in 1971 when a tribunal was tasked with selecting three artifacts representing India in the world. The piece will be performed on July 7 from 7 p.m. Bhaskara Pattelarum Thommiyude Jeevithavum is a play based on the novella, Bhaskara Pattelarum Entey Jeevithavum, by the Malayalam writer Paul Zacharia. It is a story about freedom from slavery. It will be performed on July 8, 7:00 PM. Likewise, The Old Man, a tale of undying hope, and Ghoom Nei will be performed on July 9 and 10, respectively, at 7:00 PM.

The art world has recovered from the pandemic and is back on track. However, the two years of incarceration proved to be detrimental to a number of artists around the world in more ways than one, impacting their mental health and creative process and robbing them of an audience and visibility. Theater also had its ups and downs. Some accepted and loved the theater’s virtual debut, while others felt it lacked the experience of a live performance.

Virtual way forward

Commenting on the theater’s virtual debut during the pandemic, Jay Shah, Vice President, Head of Cultural Outreach, Mahindra & Mahindra, said: “The live-action theater industry has undergone a paradigm shift as a result of the pandemic. The artists found refuge in the virtual space through which they could continue their creative journey and maintain the dialogue with the audience.”

Whether virtual or physical, Shah says, both spaces have different experiences. The virtual space allows you to consume content from their comfort zones, while the traditional stage establishes the live interaction between the actors and the audience. However, Shah adds that the demand for live experiences will continue.

In the past two years, the content industry has also seen a large-scale shift to OTT platforms. Asked if that is also possible for theatre, Shah said that the entertainment industry in India is changing rapidly and that with the introduction of OTT and other virtual platforms, the demand for content is at an all-time high. He does not rule out the possibility of theater on OTT. “With the success of META’s online avatar, we can definitely see OTT as a space for theater,” he adds.

Sanjoy Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts, the festival’s producer, says META ran online in 2020 and 2021 and “built a new community while streaming a number of award-winning productions followed by talks and conversations about the many disciplines of theater and art”.

The 17th edition of Mahindra Excellence in Theater Awards (META) will take place from 7 to 10 July at Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium. Tickets can be booked on http://metawards.com/

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