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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DEEPIKA PADUKONE DROPS AESTHETIC MONOCHROME PICTURE
NEW DELHI: Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone on Sunday treated her fans to an aesthetic monochrome picture of her that had a chiaroscuro effect on it.
Deepika took to her Instagram handle and shared the picture that featured her silhouette, while she stood behind translucent curtains. Though she did not write anything in the caption, she dropped a half-moon emoji there. Her husband and actor Ranveer Singh was blown away by his wife’s beauty and commented “Gorg” on her post.
Not just Ranveer, fans also showered love on Deepika’s photo, with many dropping heart, heart-eyes and fire emojis. “So beautiful ji,” one wrote, while another said, “You are heart.” A third one added, “Sunshine on the gloomy day.”
Meanwhile, on the film front, Deepika will be seen next in Shakun Batra’s yet-to-be-titled film.
The actor also has an impressive line-up of projects in the pipeline including ‘83’, ‘Baiju Bawra’, ‘Fighter’, ‘Sanki’, ‘Pathan’, and ‘K’, which is the Indian adaptation of Nancy Meyers’s 2015 hit Hollywood film ‘The Intern’, and will also feature megastar Amitabh Bachchan.
RANVEER SHARES LIGHT MOMENT WITH DHONI
MUMBAI: Superstar Ranveer Singh and former Indian national cricket team skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who are part of the All-Stars Football Club, were spotted playing football together at a stadium in Mumbai. After their gaming session, Ranveer took to his Instagram handle and posted a picture with Dhoni. The duo can be seen sitting on the ground and sharing a light moment. In his post, the actor showered love on MSD, indicating that how much he admires the legendary cricketer.
“Bade bhai ke charno mein hamesha. My Jaan,” Ranveer captioned the Instagram post. Ranveer, known to be a lover of sports, also posted a photograph with cricketer Shreyas Iyer, who took part in the match. The ‘Ram-Leela’ actor also heaped praise on Iyer as he wrote, “There was no other way to stop him (Shreyas).” Meanwhile, on the work front, Ranveer will be seen in a cricketer avatar in Kabir Khan’s ‘83’ film, which is based on India’s iconic win at the 1983 Cricket World Cup.
KANGANA GIVES GLIMPSE OF HER ‘DHAAKAD’ FIGHT
MUMBAI: Actor Kangana Ranaut is preparing hard for her role in the upcoming film ‘Dhaakad’. On Sunday, Kangana took to Instagram Story and posted a video of her rehearsing fight moves for ‘Dhaakad’.
“Ladako number 1, Baaghi ladki #Dhaakad rehearsals,” she captioned the clip.
For the unversed, Kangana is currently in Budapest for the above-mentioned movie, which is being helmed by Razneesh Ghai.
Arjun Rampal and Divya Dutta are also a part of ‘Dhaakad’, which is based on issues like child trafficking and crimes against women. Apart from ‘Dhaakad’, Kangana will also be seen in ‘’Thalaivi’ — based on the life of late politician Jayalalithaa.
PRIYA BAPAT STARRER CITY OF DREAMS SEASON 2 TRAILER RELEASED
The trailer for the much-awaited City of Dreams season 2 starring Priya Bapat is out and the series will release on July 30. The Priya Bapat starrer City of Dreams Season One was a runaway hit and was one of the finest web series from India. Priya Bapat played a girl who went from being a housewife to be a leader and she portrayed that with absolute conviction. It was directed by decorated director Nagesh Kukoonoor.
Season 2 will see a see-saw battle of power between Priya Bapat and Atul Kulkarni from the looks of the poster. The cast also includes Sachin Pilgaonkar, Sushant Singh, and Eijaz Khan. The trailer for Season 2 has been received with a rousing welcome and it goes on to show the kind of love season one garnered.
Priya Bapat spoke to The Daily Guardian and here is what she says, “It’s an intense show with some incredible performances. I am so happy, proud, and lucky to be doing such a project. A huge thanks to my director Nagesh Kukoonoor sir for placing his trust in me. The trailer for Season 2 is out now and the series would be coming on July 30 and I can’t contain my happiness”.
“The audience reaction and feedback for Season 1 have given me such validation and fulfillment as an actor. The satisfaction is huge. There are some seriously good actors in it and some legendary names. And it’s all like one happy family. The trailer has got some great feedback and it’s time for the show to come. Stay safe and much love to all,” she further added.
Priya Bapat made her debut with Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. She is also remembered for her roles in Munnabhai MBBS and Lage Raho Munnabhai. Her role in Kaksparsh and Timepass 2 acclaimed her good response from critics.
AKSHAY REMEMBERS CAPT VIKRAM BATRA, SHARES THE TRAILER OF ‘SHERSHAAH’
NEW DELHI: The power-packed trailer of Sidharth Malhotra’s upcoming movie based on the life of Param Vir Chakra awardee Captain Vikram Batra was released on Sunday.
Sharing the trailer, superstar Akshay Kumar penned a heartfelt note in remembrance of the Kargil war hero.
Taking to his Instagram handle, Akshay shared the much-awaited trailer with his fans and followers. Sharing the video and praising Sidharth for playing the war hero, he wrote, “Shershaah Trailer. What possible tribute can a reel hero give to a real hero.” Continuing with the caption, the National-Award-winning actor further noted, “Except to say that your sacrifice inspired us for life, Param Vir Chakra Awardee Captain Vikram Batra!”
Akshay added that he had always felt honoured that he shares his birthday with the war hero that is- 9th September. “And now feel privileged to share the trailer of #Shershaah that will tell the story of your heroic sacrifice to millions of us. Jai hind!”, Akshay said.
‘Shershash’ is a true story of Kargil war hero, Captain Vikram Batra who died during the war in 1999. The movie has been helmed by Vishnu Varadhan while Karan Johar, Hiroo Johar, Apoorva Mehta, Shabbir Boxwala, Ajay Shah, and Himanshu Gandhi are producing the film. Kiara Advani who will be seen playing the love interest of Sidharth will portray Dimple Cheema in the film that will release on 12 August on Amazon Prime Video.
ANGAD BEDI, MOUNI ROY’S NEW SONG ‘BAITHE BAITHE’ TO RELEASE ON 28 JULY
MUMBAI : Actors Angad Bedi and Mouni Roy will be seen together in an upcoming music video titled ‘Baithe Baithe’.
Taking to Instagram, Angad shared that the new song will be out on July 28. He also unveiled the first poster of the song, wherein he and Mouni are seen dressed up in ethnic attires.
“Do you believe in love at first sight? Baithe Baithe releasing on 28th July 2021,” Angad wrote. ‘Baithe Baithe’ is sung by Stebin Ben, Danish Sabri and Aishwarya Pandit. Meet Bros have composed the love track.
Mouni has also shared the poster of the song on her Instagram handle. With the announcement, congratulatory messages and best wishes have poured in for the actors. “Congrats beauty,” actor Vidya Malwade commented.“Best of luck. Can’t wait to hear the song,” a fan commented.
On the film front, Mouni will be seen in ‘Brahmastra’ and ‘Bole Chudiya’. The details of Angad’s upcoming film and shows projects have not been announced yet.
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