Ignited by the idea of capturing the spectacle of the stage, photographer Shobha Deepak Singh, director of the Shriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra, made a distinguished attempt at creating a rich archive of Indian theatre. A visual documentation of 40 leading theatre productions over a span of two decades has formulated into Theatrescapes. The book is a collection of more than 200 photographs by Singh, encapsulating the intricate emotions of the stage and its open spaces.
Curator Alka Pande has shaped thematically the multiplicity of superlative emotions in Singh’s pictures through the concept of navarasas from the Natyashastra, an ancient Indian treatise of performing arts. These nine rasas — shringara (erotic), hasya (comic), karuna (pathetic), raudra (furious), veera (heroic), bhayanaka (terrible), bibhatsa (odious), adbhuta (marvellous) and shanta (peace) — are the premise of all human emotions and play out the ever-changing hues of the stage.
Singh’s lens captures some of the most iconic moments in Indian theatre, including productions of Habib Tanvir, Ebrahim Alkazi, Ratan Thiyam, Heisnam Kanhailal, Amal Allana, Usha Ganguli, Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry, Naseeruddin Shah, Alyque Padamsee and Lillette Dubey.
“There is sensuality, exuberance and energy, as a series of transitory emotional expressions communicated by the actor unfold in all their ethereality,” says Amal Allana, noted theatre director and the daughter of Ebrahim Alkazi. “Shobha’s love and knowledge of Indian classical dance and music undoubtedly allowed her to respond to this form of theatrical expression with greater familiarity and ease.”
Making rehearsals and performances a subject of her photography, Shobha has managed to capture brilliant frames with precision and awareness, sometimes treading on territories that were not always welcoming. The end result, however, is a prolific gallery that even the most irritated auteur would be hard pressed not to admire.