Theatric Monocle: In conversation with Padmashri Shobha Deepak Singh

By Archana Rao
For more than four decades, Shobha Deepak Singh has dedicated her heart and soul into expanding the dimensions of the interpretation of Indian mythology through plays and musical performances. The director of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, New Delhi spoke exclusively to NewsGram on her journey so far in the field of performing arts.
Archana Rao: You are a person with multiple personalities. Costume designer, producer, photographer, script writer. How would you describe yourself?
Shobha Deepak Singh: I think I have a multivalent personality. One thing is that I’m a workaholic and an avid documenter. I like archiving all the photographs, videos, and other materials of my plays very carefully. A few days ago I asked my team to take out every photograph that I had clicked and got all of them scanned. Here at Kala Kendra, we have the most fantastic audio lab in which we have documented four track tapes which one might have never even heard of. We converted them into CDs and then transferred them into computer to have a backup. You can’t imagine what gems there are.
IMG_0367 AR: You have been involved in performing arts for more than 47 years.  What aspect or section do you love the most?
 SDS: It has been a wonderful 47 years. My first assignment was in 1968 as the first manager of the Kamani  auditorium. Since then I’ve come a long way. From a costume designer, to a photographer, and now the  director of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra for 20  years. I’ve donned different caps. But I think my true spirit lies in  theater  performances. From musicals to dramas to ballet, I’ve always tried to enhance the experience of theater in each of my plays.
 AR: In many of your plays, you incorporated Indian mythology and ballet. How did you come up with the idea to create such a fusion?
 SDS: I think it is useless to do any mythology unless we can make it relevant to today’s generation. Personally I believe that I want to bring out Indian mythology from the circle of blind faith. I’ve specialized in presenting Indian mythology on stage through plays. But it becomes all the more challenging when I have to depict it via ballet. The narrations which run during the plays are self explanatory. But the dance brings out the essence of the story and the narration.
AR: You have brought in a lot of modern aesthetic elements on stage for plays like stronger lights and smarter sets. How important has this become to keep the stage technically sound?
SDS: The stages have become more artist friendly. In 1957, there used to be three theaters in here. I remember when the curtain would drop on stage, it would be terrible. The backstage was designed in such a way that the actors would have to run across the stage from one corner to the other to enter and exit and also the curtains were extremely bulky.
One year, I tried to conceptualize and design the set for Ramayan and focus on designing palaces and forests. We came up with the idea of revolving panels. So on one side of the panel there was a palace and on the other side there was a forest set. My husband helped us transform the stage. He is an engineer and orchestrated a lot of things. He made it really convenient to transform the panel into different palaces like Janak Fort to Ravan fort within minutes. All these things wouldn’t have been possible without his help. Every now and then he would climb stairs and fix the lights himself.
AR: How has the audience changed over the years?
SDS: I started attending the shows here at Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra when I was seven years old. The audience used to generally consist of elderly IMG_0366people who would come and see our shows. At that time we had only one main show, that was Ramayan, and they loved watching it since they were very much fascinated with such plays. As the time went by, the production values got enhanced. Soon older people and their children also started watching the show. Now, the majority of the crowd consists of the younger generation. This has been possible because we’ve tried to take the theater to the absolute taste of young audience.
AR: Do you think the theater scenario is struggling in India?
SDS: I don’t think so. National School of Drama has an annual festival, they conduct four plays a day at various places like Kamani auditorium and Abhimanch auditorium in Delhi and all their performances are houseful. This is a big encouragement as the students are extremely talented.
AR: You have worked with some of the finest artists in the country like Ebrahim Alkazi. Please share some of your fondest memories while working with him.
SDS: Mr. Alkazi was my Guru. He conducted my first photo exhibition at the time when I thought I knew nothing about photography. But he thought the photographs were good. Such gestures make you think… wow… what a man he is.
I always say that three people have been pillars of my life. Apart from Mr. Alkazi, my husband and my father have had a huge impact on me. I was doing a course under Mr. Alkazi at the time when my daughter’s marriage preparations were going on. I would work continuously, even at odd hours. My husband Deepak never complained about it. He would say only one thing, never look back. His encouragement and support has brought me so far in life.
AR: What are your upcoming projects?
SDS: We are jam-packed for at least 4 months with back to back shows. We are conducting Ramayan (play) at Mauritius from 20th to 25th August. We are now preparing for our upcoming musical play, Krishna which is scheduled from 1st September to 5th. We will also be performing Meera (play) at Rashtrapati Bhawan on 26th of September. And then in October we are going to conduct Ramayan again in Delhi.