Watch Indian epic come to life with augmented reality

Local theatre veteran Re Sommasundaram (above) is cast against a virtual background in the play Duryodhanan.
Local theatre veteran Re Sommasundaram (above) is cast against a virtual background in the play Duryodhanan. PHOTO: AGAM THEATRE LAB

Imagine being able to explore every nook and cranny of a stage set, interact with props and watch an actor perform before your eyes - all from the comfort of your home.

That will be possible with Duryodhanan, a new work by home-grown company Agam Theatre Lab billed as Singapore's first augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) Tamil-English theatre production.

Subramanian Ganesh, the show's director and executive producer, says: "Covid-19 may have changed the dynamics of the arts, but I think it also started to make artistes think out of the box."

Agam partnered with Vostok VR, a Singapore-based VR and 360degree video production company which has worked with the likes of Discovery Channel and Marina Bay Sands, to produce the play, which will be launched on Saturday.

Duryodhanan is a significant antagonist in the Mahabharata, which is one of the two major ancient Indian epics. It narrates an onerous battle for the throne between two branches of a family - the Pandavas and the Kauravas - and details the plots of Duryo-dhanan, who sees himself as the rightful heir.

Though he faces a painful death in the epic, Agam will be putting an alternate universe twist on his story. "We took the villain and made him justify his actions," says Subramanian, 36.

Viewers can watch the digital play via a free app. Those who own VR equipment will be able to interact with the digitally simulated three-dimensional palace and dungeon settings.

For those without such equipment, they can grant camera access in AR mode on their mobile phones, which will bring elements of the play to life on their screens in a fashion similar to the popular game Pokemon Go.

Viewers can interact with glowing objects and open a door, behind which Duryodhanan - played by actor Re Sommasundaram - will deliver a monologue.

The work took about eight months to complete. It involved recording Sommasundaram in an indoor green-screen studio and superimposing the footage onto a digital environment created from scratch.

Subramanian admits that marrying technology with theatre was laborious and riddled with technical issues such as creating complementary soundtracks and dubbing the original Tamil script in English.

  • VIEW IT/DURYODHANAN

  • WHERE: On all Android and Apple devices

    WHEN: From Saturday

    ADMISSION: Free, download app Duryodhanan on iOS App Store or Google Play Store

    INFO: www.agam.com.sg

It was also tough to find sponsors and cover the project's financial costs as the AR and VR technologies were expensive to combine.

He declines to reveal the total cost of the production, but says the majority was covered by the National Arts Council's Digital Presentation Grant for the Arts and the Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee.

"This is just the beginning," he says. "It's all about breaking the boundaries and I think if people can embrace this technology, there's a huge new world of theatre out there."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2021, with the headline 'Watch Indian epic come to life with augmented reality'. Subscribe