DIAL 99 99 FOR DRAMA: EXPERIENCING THEATRE ON TELEPHONE - The Daily Guardian
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DIAL 99 99 FOR DRAMA: EXPERIENCING THEATRE ON TELEPHONE

A ‘hotline’-style one-on-one audio performance is showing how theatre has had to adapt and innovate in the post-Covid era in order to stay relevant, accessible and, most importantly, socially distanced.

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NEW DELHI: This is not a regular phone call, you are duly informed before the performance begins. And it, in fact, isn’t, because when you dial in the number for Lifeline 99 99, you are signing up for an interactive theatre experience on the phone, the first of its kind in India, as co-director Gaurav Singh claims.

Lifeline 99 99 is Delhi-based theatre group Kaivalya Plays’ latest offering, developed with the support of youth theatre initiative Thespo, which stands out as one of the more innovative forms of theatre which have mushroomed in the post-Covid, socially distanced era. It is a live one-on-one performance which takes place over the phone, combining a pre-written script and improv theatre to create a unique experience for the audience (interestingly, taking one back to the root of the word which refers to the act of listening). However, unlike in a conventional radio drama or audio play, the audience here is not a passive one.

The use of the Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS)—usually encountered while trying to reach any customer service—is the USP of Lifeline 99 99. The audience is pulled into the process of interaction the moment they call the number provided by the team. An ‘auto-generated’ robotic voice introduces the concept, entertains the listener (even playing out ‘Happy Birthday’ using keypad tones) and asks them to dial a number in order to choose their preference of language and the story they would like to follow, and indicate how comfortable they are speaking to a stranger. Based on their responses, the listener receives a second call from one of five characters—a life insurance agent from the afterlife, a cab driver riding to infinity, a conflicted sex chat operator, an aggrieved Communist telecom agent trying to beat competition, and a fictional character selling the very book he is a part of—and the play begins. The performer sets the scene and strikes a dialogue with the listener and the yarn is spun depending on how the two interact over a call which can last anywhere between 30 to 50 minutes.

“The idea for this performance was born out of our fascination with the good old days of the telephone. There is something very intriguing about hearing the voice of another person, trying to connect with you over even the most mundane things. If you think about it, every phone call or conversation is a theatrical performance. It is interactive, immersive and personal, and that’s what we wanted to explore with Lifeline 99 99,” explains Gaurav Singh.

The significance of 99 99, as the disembodied voice informs the listener at the beginning, is to denote the feeling of always missing out on something, sensing an absence, or experiencing the anxiety of a desire remaining unfulfilled – “like a download stuck at 99%”. With such a premise in place, each of the stories set out to interrogate the absurdity of life as we know it. At this point, this may remind one of the absurdist works which rose out of the ashes of the World War II and prompt the question: was Lifeline 99 99 developed due to the Covid crisis?

Writer and co-director Akshay Raheja says, “This play was not created as a response to the pandemic, however, the consequences of it definitely inspired the format and content of the play. It made us rethink human connections in a socially distanced world.”

In fact, the directors say that the idea of bringing together interactive narratives centring on the absurdity of human life struck them back in March 2020, shortly before the world went under lockdown. “Akshay and I had initially envisaged this project as a 360º video show where audiences would wear a VR headset to interact with the stories. But then the pandemic hit. In September 2020, we began reimagining the show for a form that can be experienced and executed while we continue to remain at home,” explains Singh.

This led to research on the medium of telephone and IVRS, putting together a team of performers with a background in narrative-based storytelling and improv, devising the stories during rehearsals, and bringing the experience to life using a cloud telephony platform called Exotel. “It is a unique collaborative experience, where the flow of creative exchange goes both ways between the actors and the directors. Rehearsals were fairly open-ended, where we tried out-of-the-box ideas and techniques. If something clicked, it found its way into the script,” shares performer Nikie Bareja.

For ensuring a smooth ride between each ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, the team—which comprises seven individuals across six cities and three time zones—has a lot to tackle. Coordinating common times for rehearsals and discussions is a concern. Then come the preparations before each day’s performances, which are strictly time-bound. “For it to be a fruitful experience for both the audience and performers, we have taken certain measures like limiting our audience to five members. Before each day’s performances, we send out reminders so the audience members dial in the IVRS and make their choices on time, so that we have plenty of time to match them with an experience and coordinate with our performers. The entire process gets delayed if even one person does not call or respond on time,” says production manager Stuti Kanoongo.

Meanwhile, it is a different ball game for the performers. How do they prepare for a performance they have little control over? Raghav Seth prefers to place himself in a quiet space, while Kumar Abhimanyu hones the rhythm of his character and focuses on words which are unique to him before dialling into each call.

Things also get more interesting without the proverbial fourth wall separating the actor and spectator. “The line between performance and reality is blurred because it’s a live phone call and the audience is as much a part of it as I am, but the best part is that anything can happen. No two performances are the same because no two people are the same and that drives the experience to different places,” notes another performer Ramita Menon.

Each session also comes with its share of curveballs. “One time, the audience member found a loophole in my existing world and it was an interesting challenge for me to figure it out in real time,” says Seth.

But isn’t such theatre—where the audience is alone in their own space, with nothing to look at, and expected to be part of the performance—a hard pill to swallow for people used to more traditional forms? Gaurav Singh agrees that this might be very new for Indian audiences and does throw off many due to the overturning of conventions. “But while the audience experiences the pressure of participating, they also have the power to steer the narrative. At the heart of this (theatrical) play, there actually is an element of play, and our goal is to bring forth that playfulness in a comfortable space.”

Lifeline 99 99 is currently playing for audiences in India. You can register for the upcoming shows on 3, 4 April by visiting the link bit.ly/lifeline9999.

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ADITYA TREATS FANS WITH AN IMPROMPTU MUSIC PERFORMANCE

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NEW DELHI: Aditya Roy Kapur made impressed his fans with his solo guitar performance.

Well, there’s not an ounce of doubt that Aditya happens to be one of the most loved stars. Now that the actor is shooting for his upcoming actioner ‘Thadam’ remake in Delhi, fans are thronging to catch a glimpse of him. Much to their excitement, the handsome and endearing actor decided to treat them with his magical voice.

Aditya’s impromptu show has elevated the excitement for his upcoming music album. For the unversed, just recently, the speculation around his music venture did rounds on social media. Meanwhile, the action hero is making noise for headlining the much anticipated ‘Thadam’ remake and essaying a double role for the first time. Aditya will also star in another out-and-out action drama ‘OM’.

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TAMANNAAHA MONG TOP 10 INFLUENTIAL SOCIAL MEDIA STARS IN SOUTH

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MUMBAI: The lines between regional cinema and mainstream films are blurring day by day. With the influx of more regional content pan-India, South Indian actors boast a massive fan following across the nation. Calculating their Instagram Influence using various metrics, Forbes India has released the Top 30 Most Influential South Actors on social media.

Touted as the rare combination of a superstar and a fine artist, Tamannaah has bagged the 10th spot on the list. With more than nine million followers on Instagram, the superstar is easily the most influential celebrity on the internet.

While talking about the same, Tamannaah said, “social media has become an integral part of all our lives, and it is a great platform to have an interaction with all my fans who have supported me in my journey. It is a special feeling to be listed as the Most Influential Social Media Star because it is a space that I share with my fans and followers.”

The top ten list also features Rashmika Mandanna, Vijay Deverakonda, Yash, Samantha, Allu Arjun, Dulquer Salmaan, Pooja Hegde, Prabhas, and Suriya.

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AYUSHMANN’SSOCIO-POLITICAL THRILLER ‘ANEK’S’ RELEASE DATE ANNOUNCED

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MUMBAI: 31 March 2022 has been locked as the release date for Ayushmann Khurrana’s film ‘Anek’.

Directed by Anubhav Sinha, ‘Anek’ is set against the geopolitical backdrop of Northeast India. It’s the second collaboration of Ayushmann with Sinha after ‘Article 15’. Giving a few details about his movie, Ayushmann said, “It’s only once in a while that an actor comes across a story that makes him jump out of his comfort zone. While I have always backed novel stories, Anek pushed me to perform with a renewed zest.”

He added, “It’s the kind of script that drives a person to give it your all. I am so proud that we’ve made a film like this and even more fortunate that I got the chance to headline it. It’s the kind of new-age cinema that I believe in and I am thankful to Anubhav Sir for choosing me to tell this special story.”

According to Sinha, it’s quite a challenge to make ‘Anek’. “It was a challenging film to write and a difficult one to make. We shot it in rough terrain but what makes it special is that the takeaway was so gratifying. It was a delight to work with Ayushmann again who with his depiction of Joshua breathed life into the story,” he said.

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NEW FILTER UNVEILED ON PRABHAS’ BIRTHDAY

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MUMBAI: Prabhas’ fandom knows no boundaries. The star is a global icon and enjoys a massive fan base. It’s that time of the year when the craze and love for him exceed any and every parameter, it’s Prabhas’ birthday. His fans do all sorts of surprising stuff to celebrate him and this year is no different. Ahead of his birthday, a new filter on Instagram has been unveiled. The filter has the words, ‘Global Prabhas Day’ written and plays a piece of soft and mellow music which is from the teaser of ‘Radhe Shyam’, as a portrait design comes on the screen and a little snowfall accompanies the same.

From Baahubali thalis to gigantic posters, to getting tattoos of Prabhas and more, his fans have always shown their love for the star. His Vikram Aditya from ‘Radhe Shyam’ got a new poster unveiled recently and a teaser of his character intro is all set to be released on his birthday. He will star in ‘AdiPurush’, ‘Salaar’, and Deepika Padukone starrer ‘K’.

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A CURTAIN RAISER TO ITALIAN EMBASSY CULTURAL CENTRE’S FELLINI RETROSPECTIVE

Murtaza Ali Khan

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Italian Embassy Cultural Centre is hosting a week-long Federico Fellini retrospective in collaboration with the India Habitat Centre. As part of the retrospective, eight of Fellini’s best-known films will be screened starting with his 1973 Academy Award-winning masterpiece ‘Amarcord’ on 23 October 2021. Along with introducing each of the eight films ahead of their respective screenings at the India Habitat Centre, I will also be introducing Fellini to the audiences while touching upon the importance of his films in India.

The legendary master Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini is not just recognised as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time but also as a great humanist whose lifelong work stands as a testament to his love for telling universally relevant stories about common people and life in Italy. Despite his origins in Italian Neorealism as a screenwriter for the luminary Italian director Roberto Rossellini, Fellini gradually emerged out of his shadows to carve a niche for herself with films like ‘The White Sheik’ (1952), ‘I Vitelloni’ (1953), ‘La Strada’ (1954), ‘Il Bidone’ (1955), and ‘Nights of Cabiria’ (1957). And then he took a huge leap with ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960). Not many filmmakers in the world have succeeded in taking such a gigantic leap between films like the one Fellini took with ‘La Dolce Vita’.

But what did he do after it? He made ‘8½’ which is another major leap (it’s something that is unheard of except when maybe Ingmar Bergman made Persona). With ‘8½’, Fellini catapulted himself to an entirely different level of stardom altogether. The film in many ways also perpetuated the wide usage of the term ‘Felliniesque’ which would become synonymous with any kind of extravagant, fanciful, even baroque imagery in cinema—a sort of a superimposed dreamlike or hallucinatory imagery upon ordinary situations. Contemporary filmmakers like Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Emir Kusturica, and David Lynch have cited Fellini’s influence on their work. Fellini’s influence on Indian cinema is most evident in the works of Indian filmmakers like Mani Kaul (director of films like ‘Duvidha’, ‘Uski Roti’, ‘Nazar’, ‘The Cloud Door’, etc) and Kumar Shahani (the director of films like ‘Maya Darpan’, ‘Tarang’, and other movies)

‘Amarcord’, the first film to be screened as part of the retrospective, tells the story about Titta, an adolescent boy growing up among an eccentric cast of characters in a village near the ancient walls of Rimini in 1930s Fascist Italy (Rimini was where Fellini was born and the political turmoil during the rule of the Fascist regime in Italy also had a profound influence on Fellini’s life and work). The title basically translates to “I Remember” and aptly so. For, like many films of Fellini’s, ‘Amarcord’ is autobiographical in nature at so many levels. In fact, the character of Titta is based on Fellini’s childhood friend from Rimini who went on to become a lawyer. The two remained good friends all their lives. It is perhaps the last of Fellini’s undisputed masterworks. Even though Fellini would continue to make important films but ‘Amarcord’ in many ways is the last of his films to receive universal acclaim. It is also the last Fellini film to win the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film. The film is particularly noted for its criticism of Fascism as well as the Catholic Church but its comical tone cuts Fellini the slack to unleash a strong critique.

The romantic comedy ‘The White Sheik’, which will be screened on 24 October, follows Ivan and Wanda who visit Rome for their honeymoon. However, when Wanda suddenly disappears to find the White Sheik, the hero of a soap opera, Ivan struggles to hide it from his family who wants to meet his missing bride.

The third film to be screened as part of the retrospective on 27 October is ‘I Vitelloni’ which presents a character study of five young men at crucial turning points in their lives in a small town in Italy. One of the Italian maestro’s most imitated films, ‘I Vitelloni’ is said to have inspired directors like Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Phillip Kaufman, Barry Levinson, Joel Schumacher, Juan Antonio Bardem, Marco Ferreri, and Lina Wertmüller, among others.

The next film on the lineup is ‘Il Bidone’ which follows a group of swindlers who dress up as clerics and con poor farmers out of their savings. It will be screened on the 28 October followed by ‘Nights of Cabiria’ on 29 October and ‘La Dolce Vita’ on 30 October. On the final day of Retrospective, not one but two films will be screened: ‘8½’ and ‘Fellini Satyricon’.

The Federico Fellini retrospective was originally scheduled to take place last year, marking the centenary celebrations of the master filmmaker, who was born in Rimini, Italy in 1920. But, the retrospective had to be delayed by a year owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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NEW STRATEGIES TO AMP UP YOUR INTERIORS IN THE NEW NORMAL

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The Coronavirus pandemic has created a new normal which has merged work with the living space. In these times, adding that extra ‘oomph’ can provide that change of environment you were looking for within your walls! Kshitij Mirania of Mirania Luxury Living shares those eye-catching strategies to amp up your interior game:

KINDLE WITH KITCHEN

Kitchen interiors are full of possibilities from hardwood to those modern cabinets. Replace or refinish those worn-out ones for a simply a new look and if modernising is the goal, bring in those glass doors and show off the shelving your nicest pieces!

CHANGE OF CURTAINS

Curtains has been named the underdog by many designers and for all the right reasons! It has the power to change the tone of the room, from stopping that extra heat to enter the room while lighting it up with colour to providing it the quick and colour it was missing. Finding the right curtains which match with the aesthetics of the room will surely be the easiest way to create a new environment without changing much.

ASTOUND WITH CARPETING

Room seems bigger with added warmth and texture? Well, the secret ingredient is that new carpet. Warm ones for the winter while lightweight is summer, carpet is an all-year accessory which will lift up your area. Since it is easy to store, think of it as an investment while purchasing as it will be something which can last you for many years to come.

STYLE-UP SURFACES

Flat, vertical and organic: the unbeatable arrangement for your coffee table. Add a stack of books with those gorgeous vases or sculptures and give it the finishing touches with flowers and plants and the work is done! All you have to do now is simply watch as those three ingredients come together to give your table that extra zing!

LIVEN UP THOSE WALLS

It is time to take out those old family photos and introduce them to the empty spaces on your walls! It will take you down the memory lane of those good-old-days while also providing a new look for the entire space with much ease. A two for one deal!

REPAINT-RENEW

Sometimes all you need is a small bottle white lacquer paint to change the colour palette of your living space. It will do miracles for those shabby, chipped out furniture you don’t know what to do with. Add that with PU paint for metals and watch your interiors come to life!

OLD COUCH, NEW LOOK

Why buy a new sofa when you can give the old one a makeover! The intention to change the colour can simply be satisfied with a slipcover and if the desire is to give it that extra colour then look no further from pillows and some knit throws. These small things will give you the effect you have wanted without cutting a hole in your pocket.

Kshitij Mirania is Partner and Head of Mirania Luxury Living (MLL).

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