What it takes to be GTF

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What it takes to be GTF

Swapnil Bharali | November 24, 2018 14:19 hrs


3 days, 4 plays! The G Plus Guwahati Theatre Festival (GTF) 2018 (the third edition of the festival) offered a unique mix of theatrical enactments to the extremely discerning audience of Guwahati. Curating such an event is often fraught with attracting both appreciation and criticism simply because theatre and the choice of watching one instead of the other is a purely personal preference of the viewer. Providing an eclectic mix that would cater to each individual taste lay with us, the organisers. And so, Laughter Therapy was pure comedy, Detective 9-2-11 was a thriller that contained sheer stagecraft and technological brilliance that was unprecedented in Guwahati, Foreign Body was intense and in tandem with the #MeToo movement of the current times and Stories in a Song was a gregarious musical. Needless to say, the histrionics on display in each production was beyond excellent.


I caught up with the Festival Chairman and Publisher of G Plus, Sunit Jain, for a post mortem of the event – to weigh the successes and the failures. Pragmatic a person that he is, he said, “I would term the event as a ‘learning and evolving experience.’ One of the learnings was that I feel we failed to promote the festival as a ‘theatre festival’ or a festival of the performing arts. Somewhere down the line, it was perceived by most people in the city as a festival of entertainment or comedy (not discounting the fact that performing arts could be overwhelmingly entertaining). With the opening show being Laughter Therapy, this perception further caught on. Now, this was not our intention as is obvious from the plays that were selected this time. I would want to be very clear here that the GTF will always be about the performing arts and a great theatre experience and yes, I would like it if the same is considered as entertainment. But the GTF is certainly never a comedy show.”


The GTF obviously entails a lot more activities than just actors performing on the stage of Pragjyoti ITA, Machkhowa and as Festival Chairman, Sunit Jain has never adopted any compromising practices - be it in producing extremely expensive sets, massive promotions, flying almost 100 people to and fro, accommodating the visiting artists in great comfort, taking care of their general happiness and thereafter handling the massive logistical challenges the city poses. “We ensure that our guests go back really happy and satisfied and Guwahati remains a memorable experience for them,” said Sunit adding, “Over the past three years, the theatre practitioners of Mumbai and Delhi have learnt about the heart-warming hospitality that the Assamese society naturally extends to them. GTF has created a niche for itself with most production houses all over the country and I reckon that to be a success by itself. We do not compromise on anything and do everything with our heart and soul and even if that, at times, puts a dent on our finances, I am perfectly ok with it. How can you put a price to something you love so much?” he said. Hence, everything is best in class.


The feedback from the artists is obviously what gets the adrenaline pumping. It is that shot-in-the-arm that melts away any dissatisfaction of minor disappointments that might arise through the course of the festival and the visiting artists always go back with so much appreciation of the hugely responsive and engaging Guwahati audience. “Most theatre production houses in Mumbai always talk positively about the festival and the audience of Guwahati. This is delightful and the one reason why we should sustain this annual festival forever,” said Sunit during his discussion with me. “In one way we are promoting the beautiful culture of our state and that, by itself, is an immensely satisfying feeling. Most of the people who come over for the festival are visiting the state or the region for the very first time and I want them to get the best impression of the state so that they go back as our ambassadors,” he added. 


With the positivity displayed by the Festival Chairman, the future of the GTF indeed looks bright. Goading him to reveal his future plans, he had this to say, “For any idea to sustain, it requires greater participation of the society. It cannot be a success or failure in isolation. We are just one of the stakeholders of this festival. There are many other stakeholders - particularly the sponsors and the audiences - who turn up for the performances. The youth or the young brigade is important and imbibing the theatre culture in them would be one of our goals. Weaning them away from the virtual world that they seem to be in with their modern gadgets is one of the needs of the society. And somehow, I feel that their all-round education does not seem to have imbibed in them a sense of appreciation of the world of performing arts. It’s important for the sustenance of our festival that the youth take interest in theatre and towards that end, we mandatorily have the workshops conducted by some of the visiting artists.”


A general perception within the theatre loving community of Guwahati was the “high pricing” of the tickets to the Festival. As Festival Chairman, Sunit expressed his appreciation of all those who chose to buy their tickets because with Guwahati being such a closed-knit society where everyone seems to know everyone else and turn up at such events largely on invites (passes). The culture of buying tickets is only evolving now and people are actually beginning to understand that any prestigious event like GTF can only sustain with the contributions of the patrons who support through sponsorship and by buying tickets.


Well, a theatre festival of the proportions of the GTF is no mean task and sustaining it by all possible means would be our singular task in the coming years.

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