Shreyas Talpade has begun his entrepreneurial journey with a new niche OTT platform—Nine Rasa—featuring snackable theatre and performing arts content. He spoke about why he felt the need to create an OTT platform for the Indian audience, how it will help the theatre community, and more.

Theatre is one of the oldest, richest, and purest forms of entertainment. Still, many people in India are probably not aware of its magic. To ensure theatre reaches out to every household in the country and contribute to creating an ecosystem, Shreyas Talpade started ‘Nine Rasa’ last month. With this, you can sit quietly with your family, watch plays and get entertained and enriched. Shreyas recalls, “I was a very average and underconfident kid and theatre completely changed that. So, I think there are a lot many benefits of theatre that need to go out to every household. So how every family and kid knows about OTT today, they will know about the magic of theatre as well.”

Excerpts:
Q. What prompted the decision to launch Nine Rasa?
Well, the pandemic itself made me think about starting this initiative last year. It all happened after the first lockdown last year when things were pretty uncertain and everything came to a halt. A lot of my friends exchanged calls from the theatre asking what should we be doing? That is where we thought if everything is going digital, then theatre should also try out this path. It started with the idea of shooting some of the plays being performed in auditoriums before the lockdown and put them online as ticketed shows. And we can distribute the revenue with needy members from the theatre fraternity. And the more we thought about it, we felt that there is also a bigger need for theatre to reach out to millions of people worldwide. That is where we started thinking more seriously about this idea and I started working on it. Finally, we launched this platform on 9 April.

Q. Theatre is a means of sustenance for many, how will this new niche OTT platform help to uplift the morale of the theatre fraternity and create more opportunities for them?
We’ve created jobs for around 1500 people from the theatre fraternity including actors, writers, directors, and technicians associated with theatre through this initiative. At Nine Rasa, we help a producer set up a particular play and then shoot it. We take rights for the recorded content, but we also permit them to perform ground shows. It is a set play, they just have to take the production and perform. Whatever money they earn is theirs, we are not going to take any share from it. We have a feature on the platform that allows them to keep earning some revenue (like YouTubers) at regular intervals however little it might be. Also, they do rehearsals, get to perform it on stage, and we shoot it while taking care of all the Covid-related protocols. So we maintain the sanctity of this art form. They get paid for that performance. Theatre was earlier limited to maybe a few auditoriums around a few cities but through platforms like ours, it is reaching more people. The idea is to also get theatre actors the kind of stardom they deserve. Once people see their work, they will be appreciated and more work will follow.

Q. How have you utilised technology in Nine Rasa? 
We are trying to keep the technology aspect very simple at the Nine Rasa app. We are in the process of updating the tech part as well to make it simpler for people to access the application or the website. So the first couple of months we are trying to figure certain things out: What people want to see? What are the problems they might be facing in terms of downloads, registration, or subscription? Once we have enough data, we will be doing away with the problems so they get to see their favourite content in an extremely easy manner. From June onwards, it will be further simplified.

Q. Taking into consideration what OTT has done for actors, will this OTT platform be able to do the same for theatre artists? 
Well, as far as doing the similar thing to actors is concerned, I do not doubt it. I have done theatre, television, films, and projects for OTT platforms. But I think the kind of effort that an actor puts in when he’s performing on stage is far more as compared to any other medium of entertainment. We rehearse for almost ten days to a month for a play. We polish our act to a point that the first performance is the best. Then the word of mouth will be good and more people will come for the next shows. The effort is immense. This is what we are replicating on Nine Rasa. Theatre is essentially known for its writing and performances and we are also focusing on that. Actors are getting to do their favourite thing and how they love doing it. They will surely benefit from the wider reach.

Q. Do you think digital theatre is the next step forward considering the current scenario? Can it coexist with traditional live theatre?
The traditional live theatre will always be there come what may, digital theatre is an addition and it has to complement it. You have films coming on TV and OTT platforms yet the number of screens is ever-increasing. People love the big screen experience and it’s a celebration for them. Similar is the case with watching a live performance. But in today’s times, digital theatre is a good idea as by utilising the technology actors get to showcase their talent to a wider audience. Why should we unnecessarily keep intellectualising theatre? Who says it is only meant to be a live performance? The live performances will remain but digital theatre should happily coexist.

Q. What are the major challenges that theatre and the film industry are currently facing?
The theatres being shut, shoots being stopped and travel being banned are major challenges the industry is currently facing. While shooting for a project  following Covid-related protocols impacts the budget. The production units and filmmakers are trying to overcome this challenge. They will have to probably minimise the workforce or do some other adjustments. But a film unit is more like a family and you don’t want them to sit idle. It’s a Catch-22 situation but we will come out of it. We have already started adjusting to the new normal and the new SOPs. We will face these challenges and emerge as winners.

Q. Tell us about your upcoming projects?
I have shot three films. Mannu aur Munni Ki Shaadi is a funny, slice of life film. Love You Shankar is a children’s film based on a reincarnation drama. The third one is a sensitive love story, a Marathi film directed by Mahesh Manjrekar. These projects are technically ready and we are waiting for the release.