XIX Commonwealth Games – A gem shining bright in India’s crown. However, the mise en place for this international multi-sport event threw Delhi NCR in a state of tumult. Even as the capital city was getting revamped its suburb Gurugram was left striving for a bustling cultural circuit. With red trumping green on the roads to New Delhi, the pulsating need for a change throbbed hard and five women from G-town proclaimed, “Why depend on others to bring about a change? Let’s make it happen.” Armed with zeal and resolve, thespian art enthusiasts Arati Singh, Farah Singh, Ruby Kapoor, Sumita Tayal, and Vanessa Ohri kick-started Urban Suburban Productions (USP) in 2010. Seven years since inception, USP continues to further Gurugram’s theatre culture with critically acclaimed plays like Fly High Firefly! and God! I’m No Goddess! Unveiling the dynamics curtained by ‘em drapes, we get talking with Farah Singh about their journey and theatre beyond the stage.
Volunteering as an actor for Living Room Theatre before USP, Singh shares, “Travelling to Delhi for rehearsals was immensely hard during those days owing to metro construction. It left me no time for my children.” Two productions in, Singh recognised it was time for a change, and as fate would have it a new act was on the horizon. “We staged The Good Doctor in Gurugram and while someone else had directed the performance, Vanessa, Arati, Ruby, Sumita, and I pitched in with our own talents,” she says. Acting, managing costumes, and organising lighting, their love for theatre blossomed and the Fantastic Five alliance decided to continue the journey. “Sarita Vohra (founder of Living Room Theatre) taught me that one person has to take the initial step, and like minded people will get together. So, that’s what we did,” reminisces this baking sorcerer.
Five women, five varied careers, five USPs, they set out to fill the void in Gurugram’s theatre scene. “Vanessa and I script & direct; Ruby handles production; Arati, a filmmaker, puts together props & sets; and Sumita takes care of costumes,” says Singh. Putting together a production is no mean feat and the ever affable lady shares, “Theatre is very labour intensive, and acting is our reward for it. Being on stage weighs out the hard work.” Passion is what drives Urban Suburban Productions, “We don’t do it for the money, we do it because we are all in the position to do something good.” Financed by corporations like Pepsi, Philips, and Horlicks to cover the production cost, they donate the ticketing proceeds to a charity of choice. With social responsibility as the core USP, Singh shares,“We like to do meaningful theatre and when people like us talk about issues that resonate with you, it causes an impact.” Shaping everyday happenings of this outlying district into productions and crafting a clever medley of humour with hard hitting subjects – like sexual harassment, interpersonal relationships, gender imbalance in relationships, and exploitation of household staff – is what USP is known for. “We’re not talking about some remote village. We’re talking about people like us, people of Gurugram. We’re a very unusual society. Cosmopolitan and polished, yet narrow-minded,” says Singh in this DSSC exclusive.
Moving from strength to strength this stellar production group has G-town under its spell, and Singh reveals the secret behind it all – esprit de corps. “We’re women with families, careers, and commitments, and we consciously step in for each other, and that’s how we’ve kept going through the years.” The camaraderie extends well beyond the stage and with F&F fortifying their ardour, they pursue it with vim & vigour. “Initially amused by my little craziness, my family has showered me with unconditional support upon realising the extent of my diligence,” confesses the lady with a beaming smile. There is always a yin to a yang, and starting out as a five women group, scepticism followed along. “People seem to think if you put women together, they will combust. In reality, it’s very cool to work in an all women group. We understand each other, we talk to each other, we’re able to see things maybe a male gaze wouldn’t register,” proclaims Singh. Emotions are the forefront for USP and it makes them a force to reckon with. The intensity seeps into meetings, but the group well knows how to tame things to functionality. Getting the wheels churning early and nailing things to the tee, they’ve successfully staged many a productions.
Teeming performers from varied walks of life, USPs casts range from CEOs and CFOs to teachers and students, from homemakers to doctors, all volunteering their time and resources to put together a sublime production. “There are no hierarchies (social or economic) in theatre. There are just good performers and mediocre performers,” says the veteran. Talking about what prompted them to create a group with amateurs rather than professionals, she adds, “It would be boring to work with professionals. I love the churning, I enjoy things thrown at me. It makes for an enriching experience.” First production in and the auditions were flooded with up to five people contending for one role. Creating an army of theatre enthusiasts, they’ve upped the ante of thespian arts in Gurugram. “It’s beautiful how organically theatre has grown in this city, and now it’s at the forefront of all performing arts. Though it’s an absolute shame that Epicentre has been shut down, it was of great importance for Gurugram’s theatre circuit,” says Singh, president of dramatics society while in college. With jovial celebrations, a theatrical family, and opportunities aplenty to offer, it’s crystal clear, Urban Suburban Productions is just what this city needed.
Singh’s latest production, Really Scary Silly Stories, is centred around the genre of surprise. An all children’s play with three playlets, it’s set in a fictional institution called The White Wood International School. Focussing on stories that are real to children, from college admissions, relationships, jealousies, to the pressure of studies, this quasi horror show is all set to showcase elements of fear and fun. “We think children are angels walking around us with innocent faces and bright smiles, but we don’t know what’s going on in their minds. It’s scary to explore that and the story is their journey, with a twist,” she shares. Looking into the world of duality that resides in everyone, the play explores the different sides of a teenager. “Some people come across as tough but are soft inside, whereas some look sensitive but are strong inside,” adds Singh. Bringing together students from various schools in the city, the funds from the play would be donated to Earth Saviour Foundation and Singh is elated to share, “The kids are running the show. It can’t happen anywhere else, but in Gurugram.” We concur, for each city has its own individuality, and bold is the colour of this one.
As the lady with unmatched poise (and famed beauty) gets set to stage this smashing production on November 25, we bid adieu but not before an improv sesh, a.k.a DSSC Rapid Fire.
One thing you love about the theatre industry? And one you hate?
I love everything about theatre. There is nothing to hate…though we do put on a lot of weight during rehearsals. I hate non-energetic performances, so brownies, cakes, and coffee make regular appearances on set.
A tip for people looking to enter the world of theatre?
Be fearless. Take the chance. Go for that audition. Prepare, rehearse, and only commit if you have the time.
One change you wish to see in Delhi’s theatre scene?
People coming on time for performances. Asking for the gates to be opened once the performance has begun is the worst. You need to show a little more courtesy towards the people who have put in months of hard work.
Favourite perk of the job?
Intellectual and creative satisfaction.
If DSSC were to give you Rs 10 crores, how will you utilise it?
I would set up a good auditorium in Gurugram, and I would like to tell the government of Haryana that this city isn’t just about corporates. These corporates also have a life and they need a cultural hub. We might just do it!