FirstAct: OGLAM's Abey Yaar! vets relationships in a digital age through the lenses of privilege and prejudice

In OGLAM's Abey Yaar!, a seemingly casual, fun reunion of five friends over a Zoom call sheds light on human behaviour driven by social anxiety, issues of gender, caste, class, and everything in between.

Ahan Ghosh June 11, 2020 10:03:36 IST
FirstAct: OGLAM's Abey Yaar! vets relationships in a digital age through the lenses of privilege and prejudice

Editor's note: With FirstAct, Firstpost is collaborating with theatre and improv artists from all over India, who'll perform short pieces or readings over a Zoom video-conference call.

After FirstAct's debut show with Improv Comedy Bangalore, followed by Drama Queen's For Tomorrow, and Theatre Jil Jil Ramamani's Haiku in a Bun, we are all set to present our next — Abey Yaar! It will be broadcast on our Facebook and Instagram pages (IGTV) at 8.30 pm IST on 12 June, 2020.

Following is an edited excerpt of a conversation among the creators of Abey Yaar! — actor and playwright Ahan Ghosh, co-writer and director Debasish Halder, and fellow cast members Mohimarnab Biswas, Shimli Basu, Shubham Bannerjee and Debarati Ghosh.


Process of coming up with a play purely tailored for Zoom, and how it was different from preparing for a stage performance —

AHAN: The dynamics of communication between characters change drastically on such a platform, so we had to evolve from traditional theatre to incorporate them. Since this platform is relatively novel, the opportunities to experiment and try out new things are greater, and the process of creating something becomes a process of learning as well.

DEBASISH: As a director, my process of developing the characters, plot, and establishing the truth was not very different from creating a proscenium production. I believe my job as a director is to get the best out of my actors by encouraging them, giving them freedom, and making them realise how important they are and their contributions are. I usually start off by making my actors realise the goal of the play and subsequently making them realise that they play different roles to facilitate the fruition of the message of the play. My process involves a lot of improvisation and using the imagination of my actors more than imposing my imagination and judgement on them. I believe the diverse contributions help in strengthening the narrative of the play, while my job is to minimise my directorial efforts strategically.

MOHIMARNAB: The compulsion of these times, I reckon. One needs to adapt to the demand of the times to stay relevant. The process for this production was entirely different from a stage production. The experience of rehearsing, with the continuous intervention of technical glitches, was quite a new experience. The limited use of body and a narrative requirement in this play were new dimensions as well. One tends to feel closer to cinema than theatre while performing on Zoom or other digital platforms, which is interesting because digital spaces have blurred a lot of boundaries anyway, and this novel production only goes to reaffirm that.

SHIMLI: It was more challenging than a stage performance, since there was a lag in rhythm. However, on such platforms, actors tend to get out of their inner circles, and really try to communicate something to each other and the audience.

SHUBHAM: As an actor, the methods were pretty much similar for both mediums. One fine day, the director called me, narrated the script, explained the character, and asked me to send him an audition video clip within a given deadline. After they were done assessing, I again got a call, and was asked to become a part of this journey.

Honestly, the preparation for playing this character was not very different from what I usually do, but this particular idea of performing over just a video-call was extremely refreshing for me. It was also quite thrilling, as I am only used to stage performances. I have never done such a thing as 'video-call acting'. It was indeed quite intriguing.

DEBARATI: This pandemic has compelled us to turn extremely versatile, and made us think about how art can still help us survive with what we have. This has given me a huge amount of hope, and was also one of the reasons why I thought Zoom would be the best platform right now, to do something where one can express their feelings convincingly.

The process of working on an online platform was extremely different. Because of its versatility, it has made me go through my own expressions and exact pauses at the moments they were precisely required in.

FirstAct OGLAMs Abey Yaar vets relationships in a digital age through the lenses of privilege and prejudice

Key to surviving as an artist during such uncertain times —

AHAN: These times are truly unprecedented, and make us realise how frivolous our sense of security and future planning are. An artist needs to adapt to these times by making their art malleable, so that they can use different mediums and different processes to create their art, tailoring them to fit the prevailing times.

DEBASISH: Art has always survived in changing socioeconomic and sociopolitical conditions by adapting itself accordingly. In this modern day crisis too, artists have to adapt themselves to changing situations using intelligence, imagination and innovation.

MOHIMARNAB: These are disorienting times for all. The key for an artist during this phase is to keep faith in their craft, and if privileged enough, keep on fine-tuning it and discovering newer possibilities and dimensions within themselves.

SHIMLI: Hope and communication; hope that the world will heal and we will get to perform live again, and communicate to understand that we are not alone.

SHUBHAM: I really do not have an answer to this, as I am stuck in this situation myself.

DEBARATI: Every single character that I play becomes very personal to me as an artiste. So watching other people usually helps me in learning a lot of things. I always try to seek inspiration from real people around me. Therefore, staying at home and not being able to go through this entire process of 'life' is making things a tad difficult for me.

The upsides and downsides to performing online, especially on platforms like Zoom —

AHAN: The upsides include a larger audience and a wider reach, along with the ability to communicate and collaborate with artists from different parts of the world. However, the downsides entail the same model of communication itself — no matter what your internet speed is, you can never replace the importance of direct human interaction in art.

DEBASISH: Theatre has evolved and changed from time to time, with said changes being triggered primarily by time, space and sociopolitical conditions. But one factor, which has been omnipresent throughout, is that theatre has always been live and existed in physically tangible, close proximity. The art-form has always lived and slipped its way through social turmoils, and raised its mighty head in depicting, carving and shaping society.

Even if social-distancing is the future, and consequently the live aspect of theatre has to be relinquished, I am not very sure about the ways in which theatre will mould itself, and what new forms will emerge in its wake. Although the process this time was not very different from proscenium in establishing characters and developing a plot, the major difference lay in the absence of actors physically as an ensemble. All other factors of acting remained the same — whether in developing the truth and establishing the characters, or even maintaining the communions; the roles of the mind and body were not significantly different either.

However, if I have to call a spade a spade, a Zoom theatre production is completely at the mercy of a proper internet connection.

MOHIMARNAB: The ease of access (for people with good quality internet, of course), and the low production value are definitely the upsides. The problems, however, are primarily the fear of a technical glitch lurking, and I feel the use of the body as a tool is reduced significantly, which presents a new challenge to theatre practitioners. But this also might be specific to our production.

SHIMLI: The upside is that it shows how borders can't stop you from making art together. And the downside is perhaps how poor connectivity holds the power of ruining a performance.

SHUBHAM: The best part about this medium is that it is very new and unique, something that we haven’t worked with before. And also, we artistes finally get to ‘work from home’ too. The only downside for me, personally, is of missing that 'vibe' that we felt while performing and rehearsing in person; when we would all be physically present in one place.

DEBARATI: Human touch and reactions drive conversations between people, especially in particular situations when face-to-face interactions draw them out of people. So expressing your emotion while sitting somewhere else, far away from your co-actors, in a differently lit set-up with a calmer surrounding can actually help you learn about the characters more with the help of our imaginations. This can be both an upside and a downside to performing online.

Which 'ism' would you most associate your body of work with, and why?

AHAN:  I don't think a single thought process or ideology can ever define a human being. We are an amalgamation of all the different stimuli surrounding us.

DEBASISH: To my consternation, ‘isms’ in today's time — when there's an information boom — have merely been reduced to punchlines, and an ‘ism’ is hardly differentiable from a hashtag in today's world. In my opinion, every ‘ism’ is a utopia and a norm that one has to embrace. Holding on to one particular utopia through one's lifetime, that too in this fast changing world, is pointless.

MOHIMARNAB: I believe in Babasaheb Ambedkar — so does my work. The man believed in a casteless world where human beings would live a life of dignity. That is the spirit I salute and his is the path I would like to follow.

SHIMLI: As an actor, it is a blessing to be able to be a part of different stories espousing different ideologies. The exposure to diverse perspectives compels me to look at the world and myself in a new light every time. Honestly, I'm yet to find my own 'ism' as a creator. I feel I am strongly drawn towards 'neo-classicism' because of its strictness of techniques, as well as 'romanticism', because of the inherent flexibility it offers. As a creator, musicals help me feel liberated, and allow me to express myself to the fullest. However, I believe my 'ism' is still a work in progress, and in dabbling with the different avenues my work has to offer, someday I'll be able to zero in, with precision and clarity, on what my 'ism' truly is.

SHUBHAM:  I really cannot associate my repertoire with any kind of ‘ism’ because personally, I do not classify anything in that manner. I am a mere actor, and I feel whatever ‘ism’ is required to uplift humanity in a given situation or circumstance is the one I will be in support of, and I shall form associations with my art accordingly.

DEBARATI: OGLAM stands for representing realities, and how different people are shaped by their different traumas every single day. The individual ideologies in our group are extremely varied, but at the end of the day, we are all staunchly against a lot of social vices that people choose to ignore despite their prevalence. By upholding these negative aspects of society, we want people to react to them, and take cognisance of the things happening around them.


Meet the creators —

AHAN GHOSH has been trying to find his feet in the world of theatre for the past five years in Kolkata. He is a student of mass communication and videography at St Xavier's College, Kolkata. Ahan hopes to turn to filmmaking some day. He is currently working with OGLAM (Organisation to Give Life a Meaning), a theatre group based in Kolkata, as an actor, writer, and video editor.

DEBASISH HALDER has been working in theatre for almost a decade now. He along with a couple of friends experiment and indulge in different forms of theatre and acting methodologies. Debasish is primarily an actor, but also writes and directs at times. He has always regarded theatre as a tool for obliterating social opacity to shed light on reality, in order to rid himself and society of ignorance and evil.

MOHIMARNAB BISWAS is currently pursuing his MPhil in cinema studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU. His work primarily deals with the politics of popular culture, with special focus on Bombay cinema. Mohimarnab loves to act and has been a part of multiple productions with various groups in Kolkata over the years.

SHIMLI BASU is an actor-singer who hails from Kolkata, but is currently based out of Mumbai. She is a graduate of the 2019 class of the Drama School Mumbai. Prior to this, she has been a part of 12 plays and three student films. At present, she is part of three ongoing productions, and is also involved as a voice and acting trainer for annual productions in schools. Besides exploring herself as an actor-singer-theatre practitioner, Shimli also wishes to be a performance conservationist.

SHUBHAM BANNERJEE completed his bachelors in engineering in 2019, and is currently 22 years old. He plans to pursue a degree in acting and theatre. To be precise, acting has been Shubham's primary field of interest for a long time now, and he wishes to explore himself and the various shades of the human mind in great depth through this art form.

DEBARATI GHOSH has always believed that playing other people is an extremely powerful tool, which can help her understand human beings in general, unravelling their emotions and revealing to her the various layers of their minds.

About the play —

Abey Yaar!, written by Ahan Ghosh and Debasish Halder, and directed by Halder, has been performed by members of OGLAM, a Kolkata-based theatre troupe founded by renowned thespian Janardan Ghosh, during his undergraduate years at Presidency College (Calcutta). The play stars Ahan Ghosh, Mohimarnab Biswas, Shimli Basu, Shubham Bannerjee and Debarati Ghosh.

Abey Yaar! is a critique and social commentary on the prevailing times that are steered heavily by technology and digital existences. Through a seemingly casual, fun reunion of five friends over a Zoom call, the story sheds light on human behaviour driven by social anxiety, issues of gender, caste, class, and everything in between.

Watch Abey Yaar! here.

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