Buy a ticket from the century old, nostalgic and
newly renovated Star Theatre at Hatibagan in north Kolkata. Now you must be
expecting to be ushered to your seat in the auditorium as usual and quite
dramatically, you are handed a mobile phone and shown the exit! Almost
immediately, bright young cheerful voice speaking accented English calls you
and starts talking, becomes your guide, your actor, your blind date and helps
you, the theatre-goer, step by step, through the streets of Kolkata. As you
begin to find your way through places familiar, as you transit through unknown
spaces, the city you thought you knew becomes a movie which you shoot with your
own eyes. The soundtrack is the conversation you are having with a person you
have never met, who nevertheless is remote controlling you within a certain
matrix. Or it could turn Kolkata into something like a computer game but this
time for real. No screen, no keyboards, just you and the city. That’s “CALL
CUTTA”, the world’s first mobile theatre for you. Theatre that transforms the
city into a stage.

But then who is this person with an American or British accent and with the
same smiling Indian background? What kind of character is she who has dedicated
a big part of her life to talking behind a telephone to customers in the USA? Who is this man who used to work for a credit card
hotline calling people in the
UK who have a hundred times more money than him? Will you try
to find out who this person is? Or will you step from stage to stage, level to
level through the city as soon as possible? Time is running out but the game is
not over yet!

CALL CUTTA is the theatre project created out of
an invitation from the Goethe-Institute Max Mueller Bhavan in Kolkata by Rimini
Protokoll, the German/Swiss performance of collective of Helgard Haug, Stefan
Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel. They have visited Kolkata thrice to research on the
questions of tele-working, fictional city transformations and selling
personalities. After a lot of discussions, they realised that they would never
fully understand Kolkata in all its diversity. And so they decided to put
another layer on to the city. Now they will come back to work with dozens of
artists and call centre employees on a radically subjective vision of the city
in a theatre piece as an individual as can be imagined. The first mobile
theatre piece in the world encompassing dialogue that often shares confidences;
between architecture, spaces, manipulation and music.

CALL CUTTA is a kind of remotely guided tour
through a city, a sort of user interface for theatregoers. It has an
interactive “stage set” which takes you behind the scenes and beyond. However,
the conversation can only be controlled up to a limit, swinging between small
talk, intimacy, and the biography of the people talking, all of which is used
to manipulate information. At the end it is always up to the theatregoer to
decide how far he wants to get involved in the game. Other “callers” or actors
may switch to a waiting call, or take over another tour. Sometimes the “audience” gets switched to a pre-recorded piece of music or is told to sit
somewhere: I’ll call you back later, have a coffee till then” and all of a
sudden the assistant or guide is no longer in comforting earshot, the film
reels are being changed, the city returns with all its unknowns!

In the second part of the project – from April
2005- CALL CUTTA connects the metropolises of Kolkata and
Berlin. The actor will still be in the call centre in Kolkata and
the “walker” or the theatregoer in
Berlin. Together they form a symbiotic relationship. They help
each other through places and spaces, spying on aspects of the city, sharing
and trading confidences, and developing mutual trust which overcomes any
loneliness the theatre-goer may feel. In
Berlin it becomes an intimate conversation between two people
from different cultural backgrounds.

The idea of CALL CUTTA is not only to present new
concepts in German theatre, but to also work as a catalyst to bring
India and Kolkata closer to Germany. Kolkata has established itself in the call centre
business, like the big players in
Bangalore, Gurgaon and Hyderabad. Every day, as India comes close to another normal working day, British and
American customers usually, are told that they are talking to John or Christy
when it is actually Neha or Aditi with perfectly trained accents at the other
end of the line. In this situation the call centre itself becomes an audio
theatre.

To make the project available to a wider audience,
the preparatory work and the actual “performances” are being filmed
by the well known Bengali film maker Anjan Dutt, who will produce this
documentary for German and Indian television.

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Subhasis Chatterjee

Subhasis Chatterjee

A web-journalist and a content analyst with an experience legacy of more than 21 years in this field.