Getting Familiar with Free Parking

Did you ever wonder what happened to “those guys”, the ones who were part of every school play that you can remember (even the one directed by the teacher in the third grade!)?

The guys who could burp-on-stage-and-have-the-audience-rolling-on-the-floor?

Well I did, and the real-life versions of the characters I just described went on to become co-founders of Free Parking.

A youth run theatre company (kudos to that! We have a little extra respect for young organizations), Free Parking was started by Pranay Manchanda, Arnav Nanduri and Kabir Nath.

But great plays and funny scripts aside, here’s what really put them on the map: Their entry at the 48-hour Film Project, Pen Chor, won Best Film, Best Direction, Best Editing and the Audience Pick awards, and was also selected for eight international film festivals.

For all of you who didn’t see it yet, here’s Pen Chor for you!

So, three years, three plays and one Pen Chor later, The Viewspaper got together with co-founder Arnav Nanduri, to talk about Free Parking, working with friends and the after-math of Pen Chor!

Take a look…

So how did it all start?

Well…Free Parking, the company itself, started by accident. When Pranay and I were in Hindu, we were in the dramatics society, which we left after the first year. In third year, Pranay, Kabir, Zen [Alkazi] and I decided to do a play and we asked Feisal [Alkazi] to direct us and he agreed.

Once that started, we also decided to produce the play ourselves. Along with this, we had already started this improvisation group, which we called Free Parking, with about 30 college students where we used to just play games and do exercises with these kids and that became popular.

So in trying to find a banner under which we could produce our play with Faizal, the Free Parking Theatre Company was set up.

So what’s it like working with friends? Any fights, awkward moments or ego hassles?

It’s awesome! It’s great! People say that you shouldn’t mix personal and professional relationships, but I am yet to find out why that is a problem. Because, personally, I think that it makes it easier; working with a person who you are comfortable with.

Was there support from the family considering there is a certain hesitation with regard to pursuing a career in the arts, in the society that we live in?

I think the reason we started off well was because we got support. We got sponsored by Punj Lloyd for our first play, which actually made us think that it’s quite easy to get sponsors.

So we started off quite comfortably, but now, as we are consistent, it’s quite tough to get sponsors.

So I don’t know if it’s about the society we live in. My parents are pretty chilled out with what I’m doing, as long as I’m happy and not asking them for money, they don’t care.

But for theatre, to sustain itself in Delhi, I don’t think we’re there yet. But I think that we’re getting to the stage where theatre can cater to the corporates.

Are you trying to break a sort-of stereotype that is associated with having a profession in a creative field like theatre, that it is not a feasible career path?

I don’t know what stereotype this is. Like I’m not thinking of theatre as a career based option.

I’m 22, I don’t even have a career right now. I don’t want to think of theatre as my career right now; for all I know, I could be making films or writing scripts for Ekta Kapoor in a year.

But, yes, I have determined what kind of field I am in. And I think, anyone who has figured out what field they want to be in, will find a way to make it feasible for himself or herself.

There are so many avenues and ways in which a person can incorporate what they want to do in their career. For example, recently we got into film making, it’s not something we had done before, but it’s another outlet for you to show what you’re doing.

So, sure you won’t find a steady 9 to 5 job if you’re a dancer or a writer, but that’s the reason why you chose your profession, because you want to explore it subjectively.

The kinds of plays that you perform are very contemporary and very young. So do you have a problem connecting with the audience or getting the right reaction from the audience?

No actually it’s surprising. I think, maybe because we have a closed group of audience; if you look at the total number of people we have catered to, it’s probably about 5000 by now.

The problem with theatre in Delhi is that it’s still pretty small, so you have the same people coming back to do the same plays.

But, in terms of audience response, it’s always been better than I expect. Maybe the audience is a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They react the way we want them to react; simple jokes get big laughs.

In terms of language, I think the fact that we try to make them contemporary and natural, that’s the style we’ve been going for, the audience finds that very relatable and the characters very relatable.

Do you think your plays work because you cater to a certain niche in society?

We cater to the youth. Young people see these plays and our last play was in English and in Hindi.

I don’t think it was economic zone or strata specific. It was about college kids who got into a fight with upper class and socialite people.

So basically, it was from the perspective of these college kids, who could be from any strata of society; who could have been any Delhi University kid. I think the age bracket we cater to enjoy our plays and find them relatable.

As long as you are comfortable with English as a language, there’s not something you’ll miss out on in our plays.

Have you got any more projects after Pen Chor?

No, nothing. After Pen Chor happened, we have been looking.

It’s not like we’ve been catapulted but yes, we’re now in the loop and we keep hearing about competitions.

What is it like being young entrepreneurs? Do you have problems with people taking you seriously?

No I wish corporates would pay us on time. But I don’t think that has anything to do with our age, but the fact that corporates are like that.

Right now, the scene is changing with a lot of young entrepreneurs coming up. I don’t think they take us as seriously as we would want them to take us but I think that’s changing as well, because I think that depends on how professionally you make your pitch.

Because I don’t think that they are used to dealing with people from theatre and the like. So we figured out that if you’re dealing with a corporate, you need to be dressed professionally and make your pitch professionally if you want to be taken seriously. Because they don’t have time for bullshit!

They do have time to not pay you, but they don’t have time for bullshit.

So what plans now?

Well, we’ve been working with schools, we do workshops with The Shri Ram School and we want to approach more schools. We also want to venture more into this film-making arena that we’ve gotten into and explore directing, acting etc.

We have spent a lot of time working on corporate ventures and with schools, but right now, we want to get into a more creative space. We want to enter a theatre competition and some film making competitions, and we will be performing Badass again. There is another script I’m working on so hopefully we’ll be able to perform that by November.

As told to Aishwarya Dravid

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