Murali Basa, an alumnus of University of Hyderabad, currently working as Assistant Professor Drama at the Dept of Performing Arts, Assam University, teaches design and direction to enthusiastic students. Speaking exclusively to Natyahasini, Murali Basa shares that from being a child artist on stage to a stage designer, he has learnt many things. “In my short theatre journey till date, I have worked with well-established and young directors and choreographers, which is nothing but nature’s gift. I have designed lights for more than 75 plays, 35 choreographies, conducted 45 workshops on lighting, 20 workshops on acting before the Camera, presented more than 18 papers, and published over eight papers,” he says.
Murali states that his experiment with lighting design and digital media provided him an opportunity to participate in a thematic partnership programme with the University of Arts, London. “As a designer, I was part of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav for three years successively with my design works. I have worked with more than 13 theatre groups in India,” says the passionate light designer.
Going down memory lane, Murali says: “As a child, I used to watch ‘padhya natakam’ (verse drama) in my village. The colour wheel of light giving various shades to a character impressed me a lot for better understanding of stage lighting. In our house, we have normal light without colour but whereas on stage performance, light is used with colour filters, which always amazed me.” While studying at the University of Hyderabad, Murali attended a workshop on technical issues and during a play on ‘Macbeth’, assisted the technical team, and began learning the use of stage lights. “I was part of the technical team, as a lighting assistant, execution of stage lighting, provoked me to be the lighting designer. Later, I started reading about the designers’ work as part of my course at the University of Hyderabad and studied different lighting designers’ work. This made me study more on lighting,” he confesses.
Free Hand Helped: Sharing his experiences during his study at UoH, Murali says it gave him an opportunity to work with Dance and Mass Communication Dept faculty and students. “Students’ productions of Mass Communications, and their short films were supported through my lighting design works. The Dept of Theatre Arts, UoH was well equipped with advanced technology by then, and our faculty also used to allow us to work 24 x 7. Some memorable plays included Antigone, Evam Indrajith, Nagamandala, and Hayavadana,” he says. Murali states that a free hand helped him to experiment more on lighting in the studios. “Most of the lighting techniques, I learnt through practice in the labs. Initially it was very tough to translate the visual ideas on stage, but later, by understanding the characteristics of light, I designed some wonderful plays in UoH, like Prasna, Kaumudi Mahotsvam, Gopatrudu, dance performances in UoH and Hyderabad,” he says.
On his working with Dance department head, Aruna Bhikshu, the lighting expert considers himself fortunate to work with her in over six productions. “She has very clear ideas of the colour scheme of lighting. We discuss more about the texture of the light, and the scheme of the light for her productions. In fact, her dance compositions are the rarest. I used to elevate such compositions through the new lights like profile and their angles with IRISH. She, being a choreographer, and I, being designer, worked for some collaborative works in Hyderabad, and were applauded by the audience for their designs. Her compositions with fire and light are big challenge to me to execute,” says the lighting expert.
Murali has worked with theatre personalities and dancers in the city of Hyderabad. He says that he has worked with Mudra Academy of Dr. Hima Bindu, for their annual program and arangetram of their students. “Sharada Kalakshetram by Ajay Srinivas Chakravarthy for his performance Mahisashura Mardini, Dr. Alekya Punjala for her Rudramma, Step Dance Studio for their annual program and a dance performance. I have also worked with Padma Shri Mohd. Ali Baig for his creative productions like Quli Dilon Ka Shahajada, 1857,” he says.
The lighting expert says that Surabhi theatre lighting techniques are well designed for mythical plays. “I used to work with different people from their community like Rayulu, and adopted those techniques in our university plays. The illusions created by Surabhi are more related to mythical plays. I have experimented in lighting design through intensity, colour mix and angle of the light. My lighting works are blended with new technology. The exploration of new stage lighting equipment in auditoriums and blending with the traditional lighting system is one of the big assets of my lighting design. During the process of lighting design, I used to discuss with choreographers, play directors to bring out new colour, and angle to the performance,” he says, quickly adding that without violating the relation of emotions with lights, most of his works have been critically appreciated.
Traditional Dance, Full of Emotions: On challenges of stage lighting for theatre and dance productions, Murali admits traditional dance is full of expressions and happens under the bright light. “I have tried to add some colour kick light to these traditional dances without hampering any emotions. As per Natya Shastra, the emotions are related to some colours, and time also is a major feature in the dances. The Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi performances are to be watched in a bright light to understand the expressions of every dancer,” he says.
According to him, contemporary dances are much more based on intensity and movements. “These dance performances are designed well as per their compositions. The contemporary dances are a mixture of lighting and digital media. Such kind of experiments with blended technology is allowed in contemporary performance.”
Murali says, for theatre lighting, it’s more about emotions, intensity, colour and angle of the lighting. “It’s a very big task for me being a designer, to mix and match the design with stage settings which are to be used to indicate the space. Separation of the space, emotion of the character, time of the play, fading with music, are some challenges to be watched out in theatre stage lighting. If you know the programming of lighting, it’s very useful to make it possible in a shorter time. I design lights through programming when I visit metropolitan cities. No matter how many lights are there on stage, just with a single programme cue, we can change our design. This kind of computer enabled lighting design is easier to execute and we can also create Visual wonders on stage,” he says.
The University of Hyderabad alumnus worked with Delhi-based Bhoomika Creative Dance Centre, an established dance group of Narendra Sharma. “I used to execute its repertoire works. Under the directorship of Bharat Sharma, I designed lights for Jatakamala, lights and costume for Metro Metro, a choreography on Delhi Metro. We have travelled across India with its repertoire works and executing the same design at various auditoriums with different kinds of equipment was challenging. Sometimes I used to get highly technological equipment with DMX and sometimes with hand dimmers. This travelling experience allowed me to understand more on lighting design execution at different places,” he says. The lighting expert was also part of its archival works. “The old traditional tapes of the repertoire music have been transformed to digital files. Being an archivist trainer at ARCE AIIS have done most of its work,” Murali says.
Digital Images: Decoding the relationship between live and digital images in performance in the backdrop of changing paradigms in performance, Murali states that the digital age allowed the designers to experiment with different computer enabled programmes in Performance. “The corporate events have influenced the traditional performance by merging the backdrops in the performance. The shift of performances to interactive performances after the COVID is much more interesting. It allows digital interference during the stage shows. The big screens instead of traditional painting curtains have impacted the visual aspects of the performances. The digital interactions and interference are in a way good for the new generation. Whereas the traditional performances are actually to be presented as they are,” he says.
The lighting expert says, he is really thrilled to see the environment at Nada Neerajanam, the way Balaji temple is maintaining the decorum of the traditional performance. “The traditional performances like Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi of Tamil Nadu and Telugu states should be kept with their originality. I have seen lots of dancers experiment with such traditional performances with digital interventions. The digital genre theatre performances which were experimented with the advanced technology enhanced the performance quality. This transactional shift always has a negative impact but COVID has shown such kind of experimental opportunities for the artists to merge the live and digital together in performance,” says the UoH alumnus.
Murali says that metropolitan cities like Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore have allowed him to experiment more on design. “Delhi being a national capital, most of the auditoriums are equipped with new advanced technology. It allows me to experiment with the texture of lights. The role of light in the performances at these auditoriums will be executed accurately. Being a designer, I always enjoy new circumstances that are created by nature. When any performance allows me to design with new technique and equipment that’s where I enjoy,” he admits.
Before taking leave, Murali says he is eagerly awaiting the release of his two books ‘Digital media in urban theatre performances’, and ‘Women characters from major Plays’.