In May of 2021, Kaivalya Plays approached Tariq Ahmad and me with a proposition to work on an online production of ‘Ollantay’, a period piece that has its roots deeply planted in the history of the Incas. This project was a collaboration between the Embassy of Peru in India and Kaivalya Plays, to mark Peru’s 200th year of independence.
When we got to speaking with Kaivalya Plays and learnt more about the play, we were intrigued by the fact that we would be doing it in Hindi. A translated script always needs to be handled with care and this was a great opportunity to explore the dichotomy of cultures in an online medium.
When we started work, we knew that we couldn’t approach it like it was just another “online” production. The first, and most important part of the process, was to read the script and understand the cultural construct that existed in the era of the Incas. We had our apprehensions about how a translation from Quechua to Hindi would work. However, the more we read the play and read about the Incan culture, we realized it wasn’t so far removed from ours as we thought. That helped us bridge the gap between the two cultures, and also gave us a sense of direction as to how to approach this production.
After the script reading process culminated, it was essential that Tariq and I planned out the process of the production, including the scheduling of readings, rehearsals and meetings with the respective people involved in the production process as well. We divided our responsibilities in accordance with what we felt we could contribute the most to and started work on it immediately. We are also very grateful for Varoon P. Anand (Producer) and Gaurav Singh (Technical Director), who came on board to help with the more technical side of things.
The next step of the process was devising this play as a production shot on Zoom, rather than a Zoom production itself. This would imply blocking and plotting the action of the production as if it were being done on stage, with dedicated entries and exits. We wanted to make it into a movie-play production, which is why we decided to get green screens delivered to the actors. With the help of green screens, we could overlay the clips of the actors onto backgrounds that closely resembled the period in which the play was set.
Costumes were a big challenge that we faced since we needed to make sure they reflected the time and aesthetics of the play. A challenge before us was to use everyday clothes lying at home and use them such, that they belonged to that era. Two students of Christ University, Sofia Fernando and Vaishnavi Shenoy, who were interning at Kaivalya Plays during this time, did a fabulous job of researching the attire of that period and were able to adapt their dressing style using traditional Indian clothing attire. There were commonalities that we found in these aspects as well, the most prominent one being the jewellery and draping clothes, which are also common in Indian clothing culture.
2 months of preparations were complete and it was finally time to record the play. In this process, we realized how much more challenging it was going to be to record the footage. There were two main reasons for this: the internet problems and the light correction. When we got down to actually editing the play, we found many glitches. Optimizing the contrast in lighting, scaling the characters, since some of them were further away from the screen than others and many others such as this.
We knew that we wanted to put out a high-quality production and that would be difficult with Zoom. We wanted to try and get a hold of any space that would allow us to film in-person whilst following all safety protocols. That is when we decided to have a in-person shoot at Instituto Cervantes Nueva Delhi, who were kind enough to give us their auditorium for two days. Since we had blocked everything in accordance with the stage, it was a fairly easy transition with minor changes to be made.
With the help of Varoon, who very graciously agreed to shoot the play for us, and Gaurav, who handled the technical side of things, we were able to put up a production which we can look back at and realize how far we have come from a mere “Zoom production”.