Virtual awards become a new reality

In tandem with changing times, the 15th edition of Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards and Festival 2020 is all set to become “first-of-its-kind” virtual awards ceremony, writes Chhavi Bhatia

It is a given that virtual is the new physical in post-Covid world order. Not just office meetings making Zoom calls an important features of millions of lives, cultural festivals and award shows too have moved to the few inches of a laptop screen at least for this year. In tandem with changing times, the 15th edition of Mahindra 

Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) and Festival 2020 will also be hosting a “first-of-its-kind” virtual awards ceremony on August 30th, which was earlier scheduled to be held in New Delhi. The ceremony will feature leading theatre personalities including past and present nominees and META awardees. Promoted by the Mahindra Group as part of its cultural outreach programme, META rewards and recognises the best theatrical productions and performances of the year, along with their makers and facilitators, providing a major boost to the country’s theatre industry, with the aim of increasing not just awareness but also appreciation of theatre across India.

“The show must go on,” is the mantra for Jay Shah, Vice President, Head – Cultural Outreach at the Mahindra Group to make the paradigm shift of the ceremony.

“We rise to the challenges thrown up by the pandemic and I applaud the entire theatre community for coming together at this difficult time. META 2020 is going to be a first-of-its kind virtual awards ceremony for theatre in the country,” he says. “My humble appeal to everyone is support theatre and theatre artistes by logging on to events online, as this year, the rules for the ‘new normal’ are all in a digital idiom.”

To commemorate its 15th year, META has also announced a slew of special initiatives, highlighting its commitment to the Indian theatre fraternity. The awards will feature a three-week-long celebration, including a Theatre Critics Conference focusing on critical discourse on theatre in the country. It will also launch the first-ever published edition of the ‘META Best Original Script’, giving an impetus to scriptwriting in contemporary Indian theatre. The META 2020 Red Carpet and Award Ceremony will take place on August 30th in a curated virtual environment where the physical boundaries of an auditorium will be replaced by the boundless powers of the internet. An esteemed jury will be announcing the winners online, according to the organizers.

“Over the years, the META Lifetime Achievement Award has become a prestigious accolade to reward a vast body of theatrical work. Past awardees have included many theatrical maestros including late Ebrahim Alkazi, credited for revolutionising theatre in India. We will pay homage to the legend who passed away recently,” shares Shah. META will also extend a tribute to theatre veteran Barry John with the META 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Meanwhile, Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director at Teamwork Arts that collaborates with META every year for the awards, said, “Covid 19 has devastated the world of artists and artisans, META is one of many initiatives to help rebuild these communities and create new platforms and avenues for theater artists.”

The jury for the 15th edition of the awards comprises renowned playwright, stage director and filmmaker Mahesh Dattani, acclaimed  playwright and novelist Makarand Sathe, versatile veteran actress and a teacher of speech and drama Sushma Seth, actor-writer Vinay Pathak who’s been actively involved in Indian cinema and theatre for over two decades, and well-known film, television and theatre actor and director Lillete Dubey. “META 2020 embodies India’s indomitable multicultural spirit, and her vitality. In every aspect of the festival — across themes, regions, languages, forms, and people — two things stand out — a grand and eclectic sweep in the range of the performances and a steadfast pursuit of excellence,” Shah feels.

Earlier in the year, META 2020 received over 385 entries which were scrutinised by the Selection Committee and was pruned to a final list of 10 nominations. The nominated plays give a diverse flavour of India’s eclectic theatre scene and include plays in multiple languages such as Hindi, English, Hindostani, Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam, Assamese (blended with gibberish) and a non-verbal play. Nominations feature five productions from Maharashtra, two from Kerala and one each from Assam, Delhi and West Bengal.

The nominated plays, like every year, explore several complex themes and issues. For instance, Chaheta (Hindostani) deals with the psychological scars of a survivor of a traumatic event. Ekadashavtar (Marathi) is a political satire with a mythological backdrop while  Mickey (Marathi) is a modern Shakespearean tragedy and a character study of what happens to the best and worst among us when pressures are high and morals low. Bhaskara Pattelarum Thommiyude Jeevithavum (Malayalam) deals with tyranny, social struggles, love and freedom. Every Brilliant Thing (English) is an uplifting play about love, life, family, mental health and all the wonderful things that make life worthwhile. For The Record(English and Hindi) recreates the deliberations, disputes and the drama of a 1971 incident when a tribunal was tasked with selecting three artefacts to represent India to the world. It questions the ideas of representation and ‘Indianness’. Gagan Damama Bajyo (A Musical on the life & times of ‘Sardar Bhagat Singh’, Hindi) showcases the inspiring life story of one of India’s most celebrated freedom fighters and revolutionaries, Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Ghoom Nei (Bengali) is a working-class manifesto which runs through the highway of a dark and broken society reaching towards light. The Old Man (Assamese and Gibberish) brings out the eternal conflict between human society and nature. Maze (Non-Verbal) depicts the relationship between a servant and an old man who are connected through a web of memory and reality.

META 2020 will present awards in 14 categories including the Lifetime Achievement Award as well as 13 competitive categories of Best Play, Best Director, Best Stage Design, Best Light Design, Best Innovative Sound Design, Best Costume Design, Best Actor in a Lead Role (Male), Best Actor in a Lead Role (Female), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Male), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Female), Best Original Script, Best Ensemble and Best Choreography.