There are so many forms and formats of visual entertainment and storytelling to appreciate and enjoy. Me personally, I’m a cinephile through and through and Hindi cinema is what I live for, and yet for the first time today I went for a play, an entirely different platform and format of storytelling. I was excited to see what other art forms churn out in comparison to my beloved movies in terms of how to keep the audience engaged and just how the experience compares.
It is admittedly difficult to generalise from my specific experiences, given that you cannot compare and contrast two entirely different formats, from seeing one play. However it was fascinating for me, a film love to explore a different art form and see how that affected my experiences.
On this occasion I went to see Anything But Love starring Mandira Bedi and Samir Soni known to be one of the longest running English plays in India. Let me just say at this juncture that this is no way a review of the play per se, although being a critic and writer I can’t help but share my views, call it a compulsion! No, on the contrary this is merely to share my experience of seeing a play and how that then compares the big screen that I hold so dear.
Anything But Love is a romantic comedy, which seems to be a favourite genre for all, be it theatre or film. The thing that strikes you immediately as the curtains roll is the actors on stage, there is far bigger focus on the actors in a theatre format because as an audience you’re naturally fixed on them. It is purely on them to hold your attention and keep you engaged. There are no exotic locations, large cast or strong visuals for them to hide behind, as one often sees in film.
The story centered around a divorced couple who meet years after their split, and slowly grow closer and reconnect, and maintain a love hate relationship as they are torn between revisiting their relationship and harbouring resentment from the past.
What really struck me was it is far more challenging to convey real emotion in a play and is significantly down to the actors. In movies a scene of heavy emotion is heightened by the sad background music, use of camera angles and close ups to different characters, to really amplify the emotion of the scene. Some movies almost spoon feed the audience the right emotion using tools such as this. Plays have no such luxury, and it is down largely to that actor on stage, in that moment, conveying that sentiment for you as an audience to hopefully connect with. Suffice to say I have a new found respect for the craft acting on stage.
Then we have the dialogue, which again is in far greater focus then there might be in a movie. Every word, statement and joke really truly matters in a play as that’s all they have to go on in the form of entertaining and engaging the audience, as there is no scope for item numbers or action sequences. You cannot rely on just being flashy as such in a theatre format, which many filmmakers do, particularly with many of the more commercial films you get today.
The key lesson here is content is very much king. In a play the dialogue and story must be on point, as there is little else for the production to hide behind. Scenes have to engaging and well thought out, whereas some genres of film have to stick to no such rule and rely on visuals and large gimmicks. There is a bigger focus on the story and the execution; it’s not enough for a superstar to walk in slow motion to the tune of a catchy song.
It goes without saying there are countless restrictions on stage as compared to movies, as there is a lot more you can do on screen, be it in terms of visuals or otherwise. You have far greater control over what than end result looks like. Yet this leads to some very innovative storytelling techniques on stage which I really enjoyed, be it actors having conversations with their therapists who aren’t physically there, to help tell the story. There’s far more pressure in a play to do things in an unique, creative way which I found very interesting.
As to what I thought of this play itself, it was for the most part a fun ride. The difference in format and experience took a little getting used to but it got enjoyable once you know what to expect. The real strength of the play was the dialogues and back and forth between the couple which was a pleasure to watch. Where it lost out in my opinion was the casting, with Samar Soni coming off slightly over the top in scenes, although his great comic timing did make up for it for the most part. Mandira Bedi was charming and seemed effortless manages to go from the hilarious bickering to the more emotion heavy scenes with such ease. The story does dwindle in the second half as it becomes really unclear as to what the message is as to whether the couple should or shouldn’t be together. However overall Anything But Love was a fun experience more than a memorable story and definitely worth a watch for a comedy and dialogue.
So in concluding thoughts, what was my experience like in the theatre? I’m still very much in love with my cinema screens as I relish the thought of being fully absorbed into a different world. And yet, I really enjoyed watching a different format, especially one which is a far more intimate art form and closer to the action in term of the actors and their performances. It’s true what they say, films are a director’s medium, TV is a writer’s medium and theatre is an actor’s medium.
It is not my attention to generalise as this is but one experience and there is a massive world of cinema and theatre out there for all to explore. These are just the experiences and thoughts of one film lover’s trip to the theatre.