regular-article-logo Tuesday, 23 April 2024

A time to say, here comes the play

The Telegraph on an app-based initiative for theatre lovers

Moumita Chaudhuri Published 11.06.23, 06:14 AM
OF Stage: Elocutionist Jagannath Basu in a workshop organised by TOT Radio

OF Stage: Elocutionist Jagannath Basu in a workshop organised by TOT Radio Courtesy, Subhamay Basu

Mid-pandemic, when the entertainment industry was down and out, a web streaming platform was born. Subhamay Basu, an advertising professional, founded Times of Theatre with the express purpose of hosting podcasts of plays. He roped in 150 local theatre groups and asked them to send their podcast entries. The first episode of the programme called Shukrobarer Natok or The Friday Theatre debuted in June 2021 at 8.30pm. The chosen time slot was a nod to the 1960s when All India Radio would line up programmes such as Kumar Swami and Protinidhi, for women 8pm onwards. The idea being, by then household chores would be over and the woman of the home would have a spot of what is today known as “me time”.

To popularise the website, Su- bhamay tied up with a Chicago-based cultural organisation, the Bengali Association of Greater Chicago (BAGC). They would host the podcasts on their radio appfor a probashi or non-resident Bengali audience.


The collaboration was a success, the website had more traffic. Now emboldened, Subhamay started his own radio app, TOT Radio. This May, TOT Radio turned a year old.

TOT, short for Times of Theatre, is a multilingual app — in English, Bengali and Hindi — for theatre lovers. It is a digital radio one can tune into to listen to interviews of theatre artistes, talks, addas, plays, stories read out from children’s books, songs (from plays) and so on. TOT Radio is not connected to BAGC any longer. The website has a link that prompts you to download the app.

“From the very onset, we were very clear that we wanted to make TOT Radio a digital repository of plays. So when we launched it, we started roping in senior theatre actors such as Ashok Mukho- padhyay, Bibhas Chakraborty, Manoj Mitra,” says Soumitra Basu, theatre critic, writer and director who has been involved in building the archive. He conti- nues, “The archive is going to be about theatre personalities and their works. For example, we would want to record Manoj Mitra’s Sajano Bagan in his own voice. Sajano Bagan was made into the film titled Banchharamer Bagan. Other recordings would be Chakraborty’s Madhab Malanchi Koinya and Mukhopadhyay’s Marich Sangbad.” The first is based on a story from Mymensingha Gitika, which is a collection of folk ballads, and the second has to do with the mythical character of Marich from the Ramayana.

Besides these, on TOT Radio one can hear actor-director Debesh Chattopadhyay talk about the technical details of theatre production over eight episodes. The life and works of Chapal Bhaduri — famed female impersonator also referred to as Chapal Rani — have been documented over four episodes. Then there is theatre critic Samik Bandyopadhyay’s talk about the theatre of his youth.Over the months, TOT Radio has emerged as an interactive platform. There is a rolling quiz; a programme for children titled Cho- colate Dadur Ashor and another one called Galpo Diduner Ashor, both obviously inspired by All India Radio’s Golpo Dadur Ashor in name and content. In the first, a fictional character talks about famous personalities of Bengal on their birth anniversaries. The latter is a programme wherein writer Banani Mukhopadhyay reads out stories to children, stories by Rabindranath Tagore, Sukumar Ray, Lila Majumdar...

Theatre director Suranjana Dasgupta and theatre actor-cum-director Bibhas Chakraborty recording for TOT Radio.

Theatre director Suranjana Dasgupta and theatre actor-cum-director Bibhas Chakraborty recording for TOT Radio. Courtesy, Subhamay Basu

To support its ventures and make it sustainable, TOT Radio organises theatre workshops and training sessions for a fee for anyone between 18 and 45. For this Subhamay has roped in theatre personalities such as Sohag Sen, Soumitra Basu, Debshankar Haldar, Gautam Halder, Debesh Chattopadhyay and Subhashis Mukhopadhyay. There are workshops for children too.

Subhamay’s wife and co- founder of TOT Radio Sanchita explains, “We take in children from the age of six to 12 years. The workshops are mainly activity classes wherein children are taught crafts. They are also taught to tell a story. They listen to plays and enact roles.” Subhamay adds, “Over a period of a year we prepare these children for a play. And eventually record it for the app.”

Soumitra, who helms some of these classes, says, “We are going to stage three plays that the children have put together sometime in July in Tapan Theatre in south Calcutta.” The titles of the plays are Villain Kupokat, which is about a villain who conspires against a king and is defeated, Fashion Fashion, about a dress that changes colour and Tuntuni Lo, based on a story by Upendra- kishore Ray Chowdhury.

The TOT platform has travelled a fair distance in the last two years. Says Prosenjit Ghosh, a partner of TOT Radio, “We have looked around and found scripts of plays that have not been staged for years now. One such play is Chakraborty’s Adbhut Aandhar; then there is Mukhopadhyay’s Saudagarer Nouka, which was originally produced by Ajitesh Mukhopadhyay in the 1960s for All India Radio. We are tryingto recreate these plays with a new set of actors.”

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