Divya Bhatia’s Mission To Change The Way The Country Approaches Art
While he might come across as a suave, stately gentleman today, Divya Bhatia has quite a colourful past. During his student days in Europe and Canada, he put up solidarity performances for the coal miners in Wales, during their strike against the Margaret Thatcher government, picked coffee for the Sandinistas for two months in Nicaragua, was a trainer in a canoe camp in northern Canada and backpacked across Europe – all by the time he turned 20. After coming back to India, he joined Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre company, Motley, and was soon organising the Prithvi Theatre Festival with Sanjana Kapoor. After assisting the likes of Dev Benegal, working with satellite channels and website start ups, he realised that it was music and the performing arts where his soul was truly satisfied.
“You will always make money if you want to make money,” he says. Bhatia is flying in and out of the country these days and is a very busy man. “After working with the Prithvi Theatre Festival for over 8 years, I knew I had to make theatre and performing arts accessible to more people.” The Jodhpur Rajasthan International Folk Festival, of which he is the Festival Director, is in its 10th year now and enjoys the patronage of Mick Jagger. Bhatia is also one of the guys who created the Jaipur Literature Festival, and was also the Brand Manager for Jaipur Virasat Foundation for the first three years. He is the Artistic Director of Aadyam, which, in its second year, is making theatre more accessible to the people of Mumbai and Delhi. “The whole idea of Aadyam is to challenge theatre makers and build audiences,” says Bhatia.
“And what challenges theatre makers is scale, because everyone thinks along the lines of minimum risk. There is almost like a poverty of imagination in Indian theatre. Theatre wallahs have to be able to continue the play afterwards, they have to put together an ensemble and work to time. These are challenges Indian theatre companies don’t want to take up.”
This is when we get into a mild argument. Why is Aadyam repeating companies in its second season? Why are other companies or younger, less fortunate groups not being given opportunity? “Most other companies cannot deliver to such scale, or decide on a play that almost 7000 people will want to watch in one month. None of the younger groups came up with an idea that does justice to the exposure and the scale. Companies cannot commit to deliver”, Bhatia says. “In the last season, one of the companies was initially up a two-person play and they couldn’t do it. Even the most renowned groups are not run professionally.
We are publicising the plays a month in advance. None of the groups have their costumes or sets ready that early before the premiere. A certain theatre maker confessed that he has never seen a full run-through (with complete production of costume, lights, sound etc.) of any of his plays before opening night, whereas a Benedict Cumberbatch did three review weeks before opening Hamlet.” While that is quite unbelievable, it is, in fact, the reality. “Also, another thing that theatre wallahs don’t accept is that the onus to bring in people is on them, and not on publicity. They have to create their audience, it is their content and narrative that will eventually bring people in and fill seats. But unfortunately, most of them don’t get that. We have to create a market for theatre first, create an industry like the film industry where production is dynamic. When a market is non-existent, you are just supporting groups, doing charity and that makes no sense.”