Delhi’s theatre circuit has been going through a never-seen-before transition in the recent years, and continuing to champion this revolution is Nikhil Mehta, who just gifted the capital its latest gem – Black Box Okhla. Breaking away from the barriers of ‘regular’, this freshly minted #NewInTown takes you inside a factory to engage with theatre in a way the city’s never explored. Channeling the belief that ‘art takes a little beauty and brawn; history and revolution; courage and restraint’, he aims to help artists create and develop their craft. Black Box puts forth flexible architecture with a vision to offer a new experience each time you enter the space (as audience or artist).
With a Masters in theatre from Columbia University (New York), to assisting Vishal Bhardwaj on workshops for Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding Musical and Rangoon, and Assistant Director on a Broadway production to boot, it is only befitting that Mehta ventured onto Black Box Okhla. As this new arrival refashions how you see a factory space, we get talking with Nikhil on how he’s dialling up the drama in #OurCity.
What led you to shift base from New York and move back to India?
To be working in India at this time, when we are collectively re-imagining our modern Indian narrative, grappling with our contemporary culture, and redefining our representations to the world – there’s really never been a more exciting time to create work here!
What prompted the genesis of Black Box Okhla?
The environment is an integral part of the theatrical experience, it is one of the fundamental factors differentiating theatre from film. Under archaic rules and monetary limitations theatre makers have lost control of the environment at our traditional venues in Delhi. Alternative performance spaces are organically sprouting all over the city to fight the limitations that are inhibiting our growth.
Furthermore, to push the boundaries of what it means to go to the ‘theatre’, sometimes we need to re-invent the theatre itself. Alternative spaces are essential in this process of reinvigorating traditional forms and creating new performative experiences.
You’ve chosen an unusual location for a theatre space, tell us more about it?
Locations come with expectations. Okhla is primarily an industrial area and to perform inside a factory in Okhla creates a fundamental disjunction in what we expect and what we receive. It is only on such fault lines that I believe the most exciting experiments can occur.
What does Black Box Okhla seek to bring to the performance arts community and the audience?
Black Box Okhla is a laboratory for explorations where the resident company spends time developing and creating work in conjunction with its space. We’re still learning and growing, but one of our primary objectives is to create a culture where performances can run for a longer duration. That’s the only way to make theatre sustainable.
Your first production, Shakuntala, is going to hit the floors soon. What should the audience expect from this piece?
A pretty wild re-imagining of Shakuntala inside a factory. The audience will be seated on the mezzanine level, voyeuristically looking down into the apartment of a man and woman.
Post Shakuntala, what’s next for Black Box Okhla?
I think a farce!
As Black Box Okhla revs up to present its first production, The Shakuntala Project, on September 8, we get set to take our seats. See you there!