Lillete Dubey
At a time when so many theatre production companies are treading cautiously, Lillete Dubey decided to do a big musical, JAYA, based on the Mahabharat. Her group, Primetime, has been doing theatre regularly in India and overseas for over three decades, keeping to her decision to do original Indian plays (by playwrights like Girish Karnad and Mahesh Dattani) with just a handful of exceptions. She had a successful run of JAYA before, and is reviving it, because the epics never go out of style, and also because this play by Sandeep Kanjilal is one of her favorites.

 By Deepa Gahlot

Her single word answer to why JAYA? Is "Madness." She goes to elaborate, "What kind of insanity is in me that I am still doing theatre? It requires himmat to run after people. These days, theatre cannot be the only source of sustenance, so I can't blame actors if they cannot rehearse everyday. They may be committed to theatre, but they also have to survive. Now it is crazy, doing a big production is suicidal at this point, that too without any backing. For 33 years I have sustained my theatre independently and performed in five continents. In the 26 years since I first did JAYA, things have changed massively...I am a gambler, I am taking a big risk."

For theatre, it is a constant struggle to raise funds, especially for a big, expensive production. Sponsorships are tough to come by and government support is practically non-existent. "My model is self-sustaining," says Dubey. "My plays have to run on their own and generate the funds needed to pay everybody on the production and the office staff. JAYA had been a tough one to mount, with nobody holding my hand financially. I am a little crazy. It is so difficult on so many fronts to do theatre. When I started, there were hardly any theatre companies. Now there are a zillion, which is fantastic, but then, your slice of the pie gets smaller. For audiences there are other options, like OTT, stand-up comedy, concerts which is a wonderful thing, that the audience has so many choices, but theatre has more competition. Everything is so expensive, so ticket prices have to be high, if there is to be no compromise. With equipment costs so high, you can't do small productions.

"So why JAYA?" she asks and answers, "I fell in love with the subject matter, the story, and the music. Back in 1998, nobody had done anything like JAYA. The number of musicals was very limited, so people were not exposed to this kind of musical show. So it had the novelty factor, it was in the open air, on a grand scale and it did super well. In 2000, film offers started coming in, so I started doing smaller productions. In 2016, when our 25th year was approaching, I started looking to revive it, but it didn't happen then. Now, I finally took it up again. I revamped the music, reworked the set, which is fabulous going by what I could afford. Everyday I am getting bigger and bigger bills. I have also tightened it, so it flows faster. The music has a contemporary vibe, the choreography has elements of Kalari that I didn't use earlier, a bit of Chhau and Kathak.

"I was surprised how little the younger generation knows about the Mahabharat. Or there is very rudimentary knowledge. To me, what is interesting is what it says; we live in such violent times, there is this scramble for power, greed for wealth, not wanting to give up power. The Mahabharat is shockingly relevant. JAYA is an ironic title-victory at what cost when there is nobody left? The Mahabharat is very complex but also grey. I find every aspect of it fascinating. I have always been a fan of the epics."

On her choice of plays so far, she says, "I have always followed my own drummer, there is no agenda, I will do what sings to me. When I did Dance Like A Man or 30 Days In September, people said they would not work, but they did! I am still an idealistic person. I believe, if the intention and motivation is pure, the rewards are absolutely surprising. If something is interesting to me, it is my job to see that it is interesting to you. If you cannot see the joy in it that I did, then I have failed as a director. I also want to challenge myself. I have chosen a certain way to go and it is not the safe way. That would be boring and no fun for me."

She juggles production and direction responsibilities by herself, by dividing time optimally. "In the morning I go to the office and do all the production and travel work-because we tour a lot abroad. I have built a circuit of people who like my work. Once I go into rehearsal, I switch off my phone. Then at home, I burn some late night oil. I wear different caps at different times."

(Deepa Gahlot is a journalist, columnist, author and curator. Some of her writings are on

read / post your comments

   Discussion Board


Theatre Workshops
Register a workshop | View all workshops


About Us | Feedback | Contact Us | Write to us | Careers | Free Updates via SMS
List Your Play