Devendra Rao Interview
First time producer Devendra Rao in an exclusive conversation with Mumbai Theater Guide shares his happiness about YOU MUST DIE completing 100 shows, his blind trust in Vijay Kenkre’s conviction, his passion for Theater, his plans to take the play internationally and achieve 500 mark now.

 By Rachana Choksi

YOU MUST DIE is about to complete 100 shows and that too in a span of 10 months, how does it feel? Did you expect such overwhelming response?
Frankly speaking, I never expected such response because this is my first production and I don't have any background or any sort of experience. It was just my passion that I want to enter theatre and someday produce a play. I am from working sector and now I am at a settling age so I wanted chase my dream. I followed my passion and here I am. There was yet another challenge with YOU MUST DIE, usually dramas have 3 to 4 people as cast but this play had 9 people in the cast. From selection to characterisation of 9 people in the cast, it was a tedious task but luckily, we got excellent team. There are some renowned names and some fresh faces in the team, but despite this mixture we could gel well and achieve 100 shows mark in 10 months that too with excellent public response. Initially public seemed to be skeptical about the play but gradually it picked up and within no time it won audiences' hearts.

Were you skeptical initially when Vijay sir narrated the subject to you?
Vijay sir came with 2-3 subjects but we zeroed in on murder mystery because I personally like it. The kind of treatment Vijay sir has given to the play it is excellent. The way all the nine characters are under suspicion about the murder that has happened in Pathare family keeps you glued to the story. The way beginning and the climax has been dealt with in the show, it is one of the main highlighters and that gave me a kick about giving a nod to this thriller drama. I was touched by its narrative and was clear in my mind that I want to do this play first. There was a risk and a big challenge as well but somewhere I had this gut feeling that it will click with the audience.

How you and Vijay sir met? How this Kismat connection happened?
We met through a common acquaintance. And once we interacted, he could sense my passion for producing a good play. We discussed over few scripts together. He gave me the hard copies of the scripts to go through and when I read it, I wanted to kickstart with YOU MUST DIE.

First time producers never dive in unusual genres, they play safe. Didn't you find it risky enough?
Usually nobody dabbles or experiments with their first production. Everyone plays safe by either trying a comedy genre or a family drama but I took a chance. Personally, I love murder mysteries so I was game for it when Vijay sir narrated about murder mystery YOU MUST DIE. I didn't give a second thought and went ahead with it. I had 100 percent trust on Vijay sir's conviction. His mindset is fix and he knows the outcome as well. So, I blindly went ahead with his conviction. Prior to YOU MUST DIE also he helmed thrillers and they got amazing response. Seeing this track record also made me all the more confident to go ahead. Besides, I always love to take up challenges or tread unusual paths.

YOU MUST DIE achieved yet another milestone, it was staged at Natya Velhal Marathi festival. What do you have to say about it?
Yes absolutely we achieved that milestone too. There were around 10 plays which were selected in Natya Velhal out of which three were commercial. During that festival our play YOU MUST DIE got maximum response commercially, the crowd was excellent, the response was too good and it was staged at Royal Opera House. So, we had decided during that festival itself and took the challenge that our 100th show will be at Royal Opera House. It's a tough task because Marathi dramas are not performed at Royal Opera House usually. Recently it has started, so we also took it as a challenge that we will achieve our mark and celebrate our century there.

YOU MUST DIE has also fetched good response in Pune city.
Yes, in Pune YOU MUST DIE is really doing well. Pune audience loves unusual genres and that's the reason it received good response there. We have travelled in other cities as well like Nasik, Aurangabad, Nagpur and we are planning to go out of Maharashtra and India as well. We indeed intend to take YOU MUST DIE to places! We will also do shows internationally in coming time. We are definitely planning to take it to US, Europe wherever and howsoever far we can go.

Are you planning to it adapt in different languages?
Basically, YOU MUSDT DIE is also an adaptation of Agatha Christie's English play and I think its Gujarati adaptation has already been made. If it happens in other languages too, I don't have any problem. There were many offers as to Television, films and OTT platform, but right now, my only focus is drama. I love live audiences' reaction and I am very fond of drama.

What beyond 100 shows for YOU MUST DIE?
Till the time we will get good response we will keep going for it. Usually for suspense dramas there is no repeat audience but in spite of that we will keep doing as many shows and take it further. We are planning to take YOU MUST DIE pan India. As of now we are targeting for 500 shows and want to reach that level.

After tasting success with YOU MUST DIE do you wish to give your full-time dedication to plays?
Yes. Since I have got good response with my first play itself, I have decided to do theatre on full-fledged basis. The second drama that I am working on again with Vijay sir will be a light-hearted comedy, a family-oriented subject. Then I am also working on late renowned writer Ratnakar Matkari's play, who expired during covid times. Actually, I was supposed to do his play first but somehow it got delayed because of casting but now I have had a word with his family and I am planning to select five of his dramas which have been staged earlier. The selection process will be done by five established well known directors. We will do 50-50 shows. This is in the planning stage and once everything is finalised the official announcement will be made in another two months.

What were the challenges that you faced while working on this play? Was it difficult to deal with as it was a thriller mystery being presented on stage?
The most difficult or challenging part about this genre is giving it a right treatment but Vijay sir being a master in murder mysteries it was a cakewalk for him. This is Vijay sir's 99th play and the way he has handled this drama is excellent!! He has made the plot so crisp that audiences won't loose, the track for a single moment. Right from the first frame till the climax of the show, it grips the audience and they are completely involved in the show. And that's the reason we keep advertising about not missing the beginning of the play and at the same time not to reveal the end part. Indeed, Vijay sir has brilliantly framed all the shots and presented the thriller. Kudos to him!

Was it a smooth run with YOU MUST DIE or else there were challenges in making it?
The casting of 9 people here was a big challenge. Vijay sir is very particular about casting and until he gets his cast perfectly, he will not do characterisation and move ahead. It was only Sharvari and Saurabh who were finalised initially. The casting of other actors was done during the process of rehearsals. Sandesh Jadhav who is the seniormost among the team was the last person to enter YOU MUST DIE cast. He was bit hesitant to play inspector's role again as he has played the same role numerous times on different platforms. But this was his first drama with Vijay sir, he readily accepted it and he is doing a fabulous job. The audiences are loving his role even though he is playing it again.

Share your memorable experiences with YOU MUST DIE. What memories you will take back home?
This play is my first production and close to my heart. The entire team is fabulous. When we had completed 50 shows, the backstage team presented a memento to me and Vijay sir, that was really a beautiful gesture from them. This has created a good bond between the team and everyone waits to meet each other in the next show.

What fascinates you about theatre? What's your take on Indian Theatre, in spite of different successful mediums why theatre has stood strong over the years?
Basically, live audience reaction fascinates me. You get to know the feedback of audience face-to-face and that enthralls me. There is so much more to explore in theatre.

Rachana Choksi has been a Bollywood writer for over 10 years and being a theatre lover she is now penning stories for Mumbai Theatre Guide.

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