Deepa Gahlot1
Mumbai Theatre Guide speaks to Deepa Gahlot, well-known journalist, columnist, critic, author and Head of Theatre and FIlm Programming at the NCPA since May 2010. In her role at the NCPA, Deepa Gahlot has been successful in rolling out a number of new festivals and programmes, the latest being NCPA Zest! , NCPA Marathi Vishesh, NCPA Flashback and NCPA Stage Right. We talk to her about these initiatives and try to find out if grander plans are in the offing.

 Deepa Punjani

Deepa Gahlot, second from right at the first NCPA Centrestage festival
Deepa Gahlot, second from right at the first
NCPA Centrestage festival's inaugration.
On her left is Mr Suntook and
on her right is Mr Bajaj.
Deepa Punjani (DP): New initiatives are being rolled out by you at the NCPA. NCPA Zest for youth theatre is one of them. Apart from staging the plays by the young people who have won at the youth festivals/competitions, do you think it might also help for the NCPA to encourage these young people to read plays- both the well-known and the different kinds of plays that have made a mark?

Deepa Gahlot (DG): That is on the agenda. An extension of Chauraha... We did try to restart with new play readings, but there aren't many plays that are being written. So we will mix in some classics too.

DP: I think it is also important that if talent is spotted among the young people who are doing theatre, it must be supported through various mechanisms that include logistical and financial support over a sustained period of time. What are your thoughts about this?

DG: That will happen. Once talented youngsters get a platform, at least some of them will take to the theatre seriously. And that's where the NCPA comes in. We have festivals and now a production activity to support them. I'd give the example of Thespo. Look at how many of today's theatre people started with Thespo.

DP: Since you joined the NCPA, you have initiated a number of events and festivals. Is there a deliberate strategy in terms of unfolding these initiatives one after the other so as to make the NCPA a vibrant place to showcase theatre and film, or would you say that one good thing has followed the other and that it has all worked out.

DG: Our Chairman Mr Suntook wanted the NCPA to create its own properties-- or curated events--and gave me a free hand. Of course, the idea is to have a lot of new programmes rolling out regularly and keep the buzz growing. Apart from our own events, I am thrilled by the response to NT Live and Met Live.

DP: Leading from the former question, does the NCPA have a long term strategy through which it will not only continue to showcase theatre across languages but also become a more active producer, or rather if I were to put it more ambitiously, have its own repertory for instance. It already has its own symphony orchestra, so why not its own theatre repertory?

DG: We have, as you know started our own productions-- the latest being TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, reviewed glowingly in Mumbai Theatre Guide. Mr Suntook is keen on a repertory and well as a regular training activity. But finances have to be in place too. It may take another year maybe to set things forward for a repertory. The point is there are no constraints if one wants to grow. It's just that one should also move forward carefully when there's substantial money involved. Also in a multi-arts organisation like the NCPA, the resources have to be shared with other genres too.

DP: The Centrestage festival can well claim the place to be Mumbai's best theatre festival currently. But among the various initiatives, which has worked out the best according to you?

DG: Centrestage and Summer Fiesta, because they are so big. Centrestage introduces new work into the theatre stream and some of them have gone on to do brilliantly and won awards. What makes me proud is that every theatre festival in the country has a Centrestage play on its programme! That means we are on the right track. Summer Fiesta catches them young and I hope at least some of the kids exposed to the arts through a wonderful array of workshops, plays and films will grow up to be connoisseurs and practitioners. I'd add Pratimbimb too, since people said nobody would go to see a Marathi play at the NCPA, and we got audiences in droves.

DP: What kind of challenges do you face in your work?

DG: The challenge is nothing to do with work. I have wonderful bosses--Mr Suntook and Mr Bajaj-- and a team so hard-working, I feel blessed. I don't remember hearing the words "No, it can't be done." It is always, "We'll find a way to make this happen." The theatre community is also so encouraging and supportive that we are able to have at least 25-30 new plays coming out of the NCPA every year. The big problem is that South Mumbai is now perceived as the other end of the world by people who live and work in the suburbs. So many would love to come to the NCPA regularly but the commute is a killer. So it's always a challenge to appeal to the NCPA regulars, build new South Mumbai audiences and try to lure the North Mumbai crowd too with shows that they can't see in the suburbs. That takes some effort.

Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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