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Mandar Shinde

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Dark Room 3.0 (Immersive Theatre)

The Indian Express

Pune: Theatre company uses smell to craft immersive performances and expose concealed sentiments

Ruchika Goswamy | January 8, 2021

The room is dimly-lit red, with an array of containers which, when opened will fill the space with a variant of olfactory sensations. There are trays with liquid while photographic papers are hung to dry overhead on wires. The sensory movements usher the audience through three plays, namely Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story Khol Do, Kafan a short story by Munshi Premchand and Durga Poojo by Anonymous, which are staged in the photographic darkroom in Rangaai Theatre Company’s The Darkroom 3.0.

“Darkroom, our flagship project, is an immersive sensory theatre experience where we have different short stories which are performed in a setting very complimentary to the photographic darkroom. The fundamentals of our performance are borrowed from the principles of dark room in photographic development, wherein it is a place where you develop negatives into photographic papers with several processes in between. In our performances too, we try to present or develop the story in our audience’s psyche through principles used in developing negatives that have two major elements called burning and dodging. While the former equates to overexposing, dodging is underexposing the picture. We present the stories in such a way that in certain aspects of the story, we show things that are overly exaggerated or performed in a particular manner and certain cases, it is regular storytelling,” said Tushar Dalvi, founder and artistic director at Rangaai Theatre Company.

The opening performance of Manto’s short story Khol Do is a blindfolded experience, where the audience will experience heightened senses of smell, touch and sound. The Darkroom 3.0 slowly steers into the second story where the blindfolds have been removed for the audience. Premchand’s short story Kafan, which revolves around two insensitive men who ignore the screams of a family member in labour, comes with a modern touch to the traditional Dastangoi, an Urdu oral storytelling art form and will be presented with an open audience participatory format. The concluding story of Durga Poojo (A True Story) by Anonymous sheds light on a dark reality of child abuse which follows French dramatist Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty as template.

“The theatre of cruelty aims to invoke unusual emotions of disgust, anguish, anger whereas traditional theatres tend to avoid such dark reactions. But here, dark emotions are targeted as child abuse is a sensitive theme and the way it is presented is very abstract, absurd and experimental. It becomes darker, which runs parallel with our theme of the dark room. Even the first two stories are also socially driven stories, which touch upon some dark elements or concepts of our society,” said Dalvi.

Dalvi said the dark room is an open site-specific work and the space is generally an alternate space. “It gives us an opportunity to use the space in a way, that as an audience when you enter, you will feel that you are in a dark room where photographs are going to be developed. It is a sensory, olfactory experience and from the three stories we will be performing, we have about 10 to 15 scents that the audience can go around and smell. These are in containers similar to chemical bottles one can find in a photographic dark room with trays and photographic films hung to dry,” he said.

Akul Anandor, who has been part of Rangaai Theatre company since mid-July last year said that as a performer, “it has been both overwhelming as well as freeing”:“In terms of normal society and morality, you try to filter out some of your worst impulses or behaviour. So, the character I play, which I cannot reveal, is a means of venting out, but also brings about an awareness. I am excited and nervous about the performance at the same time,” he said.

“We are a new team of immersive theatre performers for the city and it is something different we are bringing to the theatre sphere in Pune. It is more involving, more participatory in terms of the audience. The stories touch upon social issues, especially themes on subjugation on women and the plays have some open spaces in between them where the audience gets the liberty to take the lead,” said Mandar Shinde, who plays a character in Kafan.

Although Rangaai Theatre Company started in 2016 in Mumbai, it has now shifted its base to Pune, thereby introducing theatre enthusiasts with immersive theatre. After an overwhelming response to Darkroom and Darkroom 2.0, Darkroom 3.0 is a revamped and improved version.

“Our shows were very regular for Darkroom 2.0. Considering all precautions and safety measures, although theatres have begun, performers like us who perform in intimate spaces, it was a challenge to mould our performance accordingly. We had to change a couple of things like earlier we used to blindfold the audience but now we ask them to do it themselves. Our setup is also such that the audience can move around and pick things up, smell or touch them. Necessity becomes the mother of innovation, which has been true for us. We pushed ourselves to become more immersive, with a more engaging experience for the audience where they have the liberty of experiencing what they want to rather than fixating on what we want them to experience,” said Dalvi.

The Darkroom 3.0 will premiere at Raah – Literacy & Cultural Centre on January 9. A second show is scheduled at the same venue on January 17.


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