Shreyas Talpade Interview With Parul Rana
Shreyas Talpade, an actor, producer, and director, has recently ventured into entrepreneurship with the launch of NINERASA, an OTT platform dedicated solely to theatre and performing arts. The platform was launched on April 9, 2021, and is now streaming various plays, stand-up acts, dance, and music online.

 By Parul Rana

What inspired you to begin this new venture, and where did the idea stem from?
The whole idea was conceptualized last year around the same time when we got into the whole lockdown phase and we didn't know what to do. A lot of friends from the theatre fraternity exchanged calls. One important thing we all discussed was how can we help people from the theatre community-- actors, light technicians, directors, etc. So that's when we felt when everything is going online, from cooking, education, fitness, why should the theatre not go online. So that is where the whole thing originated from, with this whole intention, which is also the core of Ninerasa, which is to help the theatre community. Also, there is a bigger need for theatre to reach out to millions of people worldwide because there are a lot of people who miss theatre, who want to see theatre but are not able to, and miss out on a lot of interesting shows. That's where I felt why not have a platform dedicated to theatre and performing arts wherein people will get access to so much more content. So that's where the whole idea started, we started working on it and after a year, we finally launched it.

What are the different categories of the content available on Ninerasa and in which languages?
Ninerasa, essentially has everything to do with theatre and performing arts, everything that happens on stage or otherwise will be a part of Ninerasa which includes full-length plays, one-act plays, poetry, music, dance. Right now, we have full-length plays, one-act plays, stand-up comedy, in multiple lingual languages. We have the content in English, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, Hinglish, and going forward we will be adding more languages to it like Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Kashmiri, Rajasthani, Assamese, Oriya, there's content coming in from all across India, we are working on it, filtering it for the platform. But like I said everything that happens on stage will be a part of Ninerasa

Will the content consist of only pre-recorded shows or does it also aim to showcase live performances as well?
Right now it is pre-recorded, we have original content exclusively shot for Ninerasa. So, what we do is, we try to maintain the sanctity and purity of theatre, we shoot it in an auditorium on a proper stage, with a proper set, but in post-production, we treat it like a film. We do online edit, sound mixing, background score and then we launch it on the platform. But going forward we will also be having live shows. The only problem with live shows is sometimes the visual quality or audio quality gets compromised, so we just want to make sure that whenever we go live it is up to the standards we are trying to or planning to set for our viewers.

What is the criteria for the selection of the content? Can newcomers, young theatre practitioners with relatively less experience submit their plays on this platform?
Yes, in fact, the kind of content that we have is a mix of classic and new content. The actors, directors, technicians on our platform-- there is a mix of senior renowned artistes, and like there's a play streaming now on Ninerasa, THE TWO OF US, which is completed acted and directed by newcomers, so we have a mix and everybody who wants to be a part of the platform can approach us. The only criterion is that the content needs to be good. There is a selection team that we have. I am not the only one taking the call, there is a team that decides what content will go on the platform and when it will go. So, the content has to be good with top-notch performances because theatre is known for its content and performances, we ideally do not want to compromise on these two factors. So, whoever thinks they have the talent to be on the platform, they are free to approach us and can write to us on our social media handle.

Since the demand for theatre is not as much as for the films, web series, did the question of sustaining and beating the competition with other OTT platforms ever occur to your mind?

We are not competing with other OTT platforms, to be honest. First of all, they stream web series and films, and we are streaming purely theatre and performing arts content. Secondly, they are too big to compete with. What we do have is the first-ever OTT platform dedicated to theatre and performing arts. So, our audience is also someone who genuinely wants to watch theatre, or what to know what theatre is all about, only those people will come to our platform. It's not like theatre is also there, it's like only theatre is there. The response we have got in the last 15 days since we have launched the platform is phenomenal, to say the least. It's much more than what we expected. We have been getting positive feedback and reviews from the audience. We are in no rush and we know where we stand. Also, the thing is as long as we keep giving unique and interesting content, people will come to Ninerasa. The day we stop giving that and whatever amount of money we spent on marketing, people are not going to come. So that is the bottom line, that is the criterion. And I don't think I am worried about that, like I said we just want theatre to reach out to every little household in India and abroad.

There is a constant debate on retaining the original form of theatre by performing it live and how by bringing it online we might end up ruining the very essence of the art form. What is your take on this?

So, me being a theatre artist, having done theatre for 16-18 odd years of my career, I, for one, will say that replicating the magic of live performance anywhere is impossible. Having said that, my thing is why should theatre be limited to only a certain number of people, or only to certain auditoriums. I love theatre, I love plays, but in the last 15 years I must have missed out on 150 plays/performances. Initially, when I was doing theatre, we used to have shows on weekdays as well but now it has come down to only weekends, So everyone can't take out time to watch that particular play at a particular time. It is difficult and that's the reason we have dwindling numbers. It is not that theatre has lost its magic, it is just that people can't find that time to stick to the commitment. Today with OTT, it has anyway become a very personalized experience of watching content. Even for that matter, cricket, which is supposed to be played on the ground, and people-watching in the stadium having an exhilarating time and experience. But had it not been for television, do you think cricket would have been that popular in our country? People certainly don't have the time to get up and go to Chennai to watch a match. So why should theatre be only limited to a few auditoriums and few people? Let it go out, let it reach out to all households, and let them experience the magic. Today, whoever goes to the stadium to watch a match, eventually ends up watching it on the big screen in the stadium. So, my point is let them watch theatre here, on their phones, laptops, on their TV screens and enjoy because in the end, it's the content which will hold... or not.

*Parul Rana is a theatre enthusiast and movie buff.

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