The theatre is an integral part of the city of Mumbai. Its roots can be traced back to the days of the British Raj. The Parsi style of theatre dominated during the late 19th and early 20th century. Post-independence, particularly in the 60’s and 70’s, the golden period of Indian theatre, a lot of changes were seen in the way theatre had been functioning. But post 80’s theatre started to lose its charm. However, over the last decade or so it has been making a comeback. And this comeback has been led by the youth who have taken to theatre with a new approach. Discovering Mumbai presents Divya Palat, an actor, playwright and director, who pioneered the improvisation style of theatre in the Mumbai theatre scene. She also started the ‘Balancing Act Productions’ which has won numerous awards for their plays.
Divya’s family background had no relation whatsoever to theatre. But right since a very young age she got involved in theatre and modelling. She did an ad for surf at the age of three years and started doing professional stage at fifteen with Hosi Vasunia’s Sound of Music. When she joined college at Jai Hind, she began to explore theatre with a greater freedom and soon she had bagged a full scholarship to Stanford University to pursue a Drama and Mathematics double major. This stint, however, was cut short as she was called back to India to pursue films, “And my journey officially began”, says Divya.
Her creation Balancing Act Productions (BAP) is almost 10 years old now. It has been a memorable and rewarding journey for Divya. The seeds of BAP were sown when she was acting for the ‘Legend of Rama’ by Aamir Raza Hussein; the cast would often get together and discuss about their dreams. The cast included some of the best guys of today’s media industry like Siddharth Roy Kapur (CEO - UTV), Gaurav Sharma (Chief Programming Officer – HT Media), Aditya Hitkari (CEO Globosport – Platinum Rye Entertainment). Divya was very inspired by the plays she was doing and continuously dreamt about plays. Finally in 2002, Aditya and Divya got together to start BAP.
The initial days were exciting and there were many lessons learnt by the duo. “We marketed plays to people who’d never even seen theatre. We wanted theatre to increase audiences and wanted more and more people to enjoy the live arts”, says Divya. There first few meetings was a steep learning curve. “I remember after a meeting with Airtel, they asked for a proposal! We’d never written one ever” she says. That first proposal took them a week to write! There were no sponsors for their first play ‘The Verdict’, but undeterred they started rehearsing and blocking halls. Luckily, ten days before the shows were supposed to open two sponsors came on board and their plan of five shows became ten almost immediately!
BAP were the pioneers of Improvisational theatre in India and are the only group that actively teaches it. In 2005, they came out with ‘Imps’ India’s first improvisational comedy, which made theatre interactive and engaging. “We did it to increase the theatre going audiences and I am delighted that other groups are doing Improv”, says Divya. She believes Improv keeps theatre fresh and exciting and is a fabulous means of training for the actors. It also allows other professionals a chance to perform on stage. “Some of the funniest improvisers I’ve known have been Doctors, lawyers and bankers. After serious full-day jobs, it’s nice to just act, react and interact”, she says.
|The Imps Club|
BAP has not restricted itself to theatre. Being the pioneers that they are, they have continuously looked out for new avenues. In 2007, they forayed into filmmaking with a short film for Nanhi Kali, an NGO that promotes education of the girl child. “We started the film making course a few years ago to just allow everyone who had a story to tell to be allowed this wonderful medium to tell it “, says Divya. BAP conducts filmmaking courses which teach all the nuances of filmmaking and it has been a great learning curve for several potential film makers. “After having directed and produced television for the last three years, I too plan to now make a full-fledged film in the forthcoming year”, she says.
The long journey of ten years has seen BAP churn out plays which have been widely appreciated by the audiences and critics. ‘The Verdict’ was premiered at the Taj Mahal Hotel as part of the centenary celebration. ‘A Personal War – Stories of the Mumbai Terror Attacks’ was showcased at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it won the Best Play award and was also nominated for the Amnesty International Award. The play also won the Best Director award at the New York International Fringe Festival and was also showcased at Sydney and Melbourne where it won numerous awards.
|Foursome - The latest play by BAP|
On the personal front the journey has taught Divya many important lessons. “It has taught me to believe. Acting and living a make believe life for a few moments have made my life better in so many ways”, says Divya. Few years ago she was diagnosed with Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (a single attack of multiple sclerosis) and was left side paralysed. She couldn’t move and her speech slurred. It was theatre that came to her rescue. “It was my therapy. It was where I was safest. It made me invincible. So many of my actors use theatre as their own personal therapy...their own learning and they gain so much from it”, she says. For Divya, BAP is her family, her home and her proudest achievement.
Next year BAP will be ten years old and Divya is very excited about the celebrating this milestone. For the celebrations, they will be staging ‘The Verdict’ with a new cast. BAP also plans to premiere four new shows. Imps will also make a grand comeback. So will ‘My way’, which is a format in which she gives new directors a chance to explore their voice. “And a few more tricks up my sleeve... but you’ll have to wait n watch”, she says with a big smile on her face! As for the theatre scene in Mumbai, she is very excited to see the large number of young actors coming in. “It’s growing and it has lots n lots of potential!”
And what does she feel about Mumbai, the city that gave her the opportunity to turn her dreams into reality? “Mumbai is vibrant, bright, eclectic and alive! It’s a city that spoils you. Once you stay here...it’s impossible to live somewhere else!” says Divya. For a decade BAP has been entertaining audiences around India and abroad; we hope they continue to create the same magic for a few more decades!
You can follow Balancing Act Productions on their Facebook page - here
You can also check out Divya's website for more details - here