In good company!


While it may seem that theatre is not flourishing as well as it should, initiatives like The Company Theatre hold a ray of hope. Prof. Avinash Kolhe talks about this group which has shown unique skills in raising funds and performing plays from across cultures.

About twenty five years ago, Atul Kumar, 50, and his like-minded friends decided to set up their own theatre group and this is how and why The Company Theatre (TCT) was born in 1993. Since then TCT, as it is popularly known, has come a long way, mounting brilliant performances, travelling abroad with their best shows, and earning plaudits along the way. Their single-minded focus on searching for the truth of human experience makes them take up Shakespeare’s plays on one hand, and on the other, physical mimes and absurdist plays. The year 2018 happens to be their silver jubilee year!

The plays they staged
A cursory look at the plays produced by TCT reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of world theatre. Here one finds The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco (1994), The Lover by Harold Pinter (1995), The Flying Doctor by Moliere (1999), and Noises Off by Michael Frayn (2002).This however does not mean that TCT only mounts plays from abroad. It has also presented Stopover by Krishna Bihari (1999), Sangeet Debuchya Muli by Paresh Mokashi (2000), Hair by Ajay Krishnan (2008), with the latest being Travel Disasters by Ajay Krishnan (2014). It seems that the team at TCT is madly in love with Shakespeare and has been adapting his plays to Indian conditions and locales. Take the case of Piya Baharupiya based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It presents itself almost like an Indian play taking place in Indian milieu. This play is a big hit and soon would be staging its 200th show!

TCT’s Artist Residency at Kamshet

The professionals assembled under the flag of the TCT have a strong inter-disciplinary approach, which they feel, is necessary for the overall artistic growth. No wonder they get architects, engineers, scientists, environmentalists and from other fields of expertise. This creative search led them to collaborate with Benjamin Juhel, a visual artist from France, Mustafa Murat, director, Tiyatro 0.2 from Turkey, etc. Such activities add a lot to the vitality of theatre as an art form.

Go to the people!
But then TCT was not confined to inviting scholars from abroad only. Early in its avatar it realised that it must break out of the confines of conventional theatre and reach out to the people at large. It is almost like the Mountain going to Muhammad. In the year 2000, TCT started performing plays in people’s drawing rooms, terraces and gardens. These were invariably short plays written by Indian as well as international writers, and directed by various directors. To further this approach, TCT also realised that meaningful theatre could not be created only by performing at various places and hence every fortnight it organised an evening of theatre performance at someone’s residence in Mumbai where a show would be performed with minimal lights, music, costumes, etc. The performance would be followed by a discussion where people from different walks of life would interact with each other. This is how ‘Theatre at Home’ became famous, and soon moved to other cities like Vadodara, Pune and Delhi. This lasted for about four years.

Over a period of 25 years, TCT has mounted plays involving the best that was and is available in the country. It’s been a fantastic journey for their ensemble where it has had the opportunity to bring together fantastic artistes like Rajat Kapoor, Konkona Sen Sharma, Vinay Pathak, Sheeba Chadha, Kalki Koechin and many others, through many of their theatre productions. It has been part of many international festivals like the Shared History Art Festival, South Africa (2012), Globe to Globe Shakespeare Theatre Festival (2012), Ome Entertainment, Dubai (2010), Port Louis International Theatre Festival (2002), and many more. Similar TCT has been an integral part of many Indian festivals like the Prithvi Festival, Mumbai; the Hindu Festival, Chennai; META Theatre Festival, New Delhi; Abhinaya National Theatre Festival, Hyderabad, etc. It has been showcasing its best in these festivals all the time. The group does not believe in resting on its laurels.

The artist residency
For TCT, the big leap came in 2012 when it decided to start an artist residency at Kamshet, near Lonavla, for research and performances. It is located on a five-acre land and can host more than 50 people. It has been crucial to making contemporary performances work by ensembles from around the world. It has an outstanding library, a vast archive of photos, press clipping, videos and interviews. Atul Kumar has modeled it along the lines of Ariane Mnouchkine’s Theatre du Soleil located in an abandoned munitions factory in the woods outside Paris, France.

TCT has mounted brillant plays

Starting a residency needs a lot of money. In 2007 Atul Kumar was introduced to Bangalore-based artists Yusuf Arakkal and S. G. Vasudev, each of whom gave Atul Kumar gave a painting to raise funds – these two works alone got him ` 7 lakh! Atul got an idea and decided to take this further. He came back to Mumbai and asked his team to make a list of country’s top artists. He called up and met many artists. In six months, Atul Kumar collected 196 works from 159 artists. Later he exhibited these works at Tao Gallery, Mumbai, sold them, and bought a piece of land at Kamshet where the Workspace is housed.

In March 2014, TCT in collaboration with Sandbox Collective, Bangalore, hosted its first ever festival (Kamshet Arts Festival) under the stars with allnight array of performances at Workspace. The performances included Samajswasthyat, a Marathi play on the life of social reformer R.D. Karve; Odissi dance recital by Bijayani Satpathy from Nrityagram, Karnataka; Hindustani vocal recital by Manjusha Patil, Pune; Dastangoi, a dramatic story telling performance by Danish Husain, and many more. Since then it has become an annual feature held normally in the month of February. This sunset-to-sunrise programme was attended by over 600 audience members from across India, including the village local community.

This being TCT’s silver jubilee year, its special focus would be on contemporary dance and movement. These days ‘Contact Improvisation’ (CI) is the most talked-about topic among the theatre practitioners, and TCT is excited about exploring contemporary and other forms of dance and more and more people are looking into this practice that stems out of dance disciplines. TCT is likely to organise a fabulous festival of CI in Kamshet very soon, inviting teachers from Italy, USA and India.

So, in a nutshell, this is the story of TCT, founded exactly 25 years ago. It is a well-established group today, but always busy in doing theatre and theatre-related activities on its own, or in any collaboration with like-minded people/groups. May their tribe multiply so that Indian theatre continues to scale new heights!

Prof. Avinash Kolhe

Prof. Avinash Kolhe retired as Associate Professor in Political Science from D.G. Ruparel College, Mumbai.