New Delhi: India's unsung regional theatre will be at the centre of attention at the seventh annual Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META), one of the leading theatre awards, March 7.The awards, given for playwriting, set design, costume and light design, performance and lifetime's contribution to theatre, will be hosted by Kabir Bedi. The hosts, Mahindra & Mahindra, will Jan 10 close submissions for the award.

The best play carries a purse of Rs.100, 000 while the cash prize for the other categories varies between Rs.45, 000 and Rs.75,000. A lifetime achievement award carries a Rs.500, 000 kitty.

The entries, sent on DVDs, will be judged by sex-member juries which will shortlist 10 for the awards in various categories after a period of intensive screening at the end of January 2012. The 10 best productions will be staged in the capital March 1-6.

'We are looking at plays by groups of Indian origin in any regional languages of the country. Last year, we received more than 240 entries in 30 different languages from Assam to Kerala. The entries have to come along with a DVD -- and should a theatre group not have funds to make a DVD, then we, as the founding committee, will fund them,' META creative director Ravi Dubey told from Mumbai.

The plays have to be new productions staged in 2011, said Dubey, a senior stage actor, theatre activist and a former corporate honcho.

Highlighting the importance of language theatre in META, Dubey said: 'Last year, only three of the 10 productions were in English and Hindi.'

'The rest were in regional languages,' Dubey added.

'The jury has been planned in a way that it includes representatives from across the country,' Dubey said.

This year, the jury, which is yet to be announced, is likely to include National School of Drama chief Amal Allana and filmmaker Shyam Benegal, Dubey said. Last year, the jury had brought on board Arundhati Nag, Mahesh Ekluncher, Anuradha Kapur, Utkarsh Mazumdar and Neelam Mansingh.

Theatre awards, which are a few compared to the exploding cinema awards across the country, help smaller groups to set goals for themselves, Dubey said.

'For example, META has become an aspiration for theatre companies even from the tribal areas -- they all want to qualify for it,' Dubey said.

'META, when it was constituted, had tried to create two segments, emerging theatre and established theatre, to recognise young theatre as a separate category. But we had to drop the idea.'

The principal problem in theatre was finance, Dubey said. 'People who want to be in theatre say they cannot sustain themselves. A very senior theatre personality who was once a member of our jury said he did not have money to make a DVD of his production that he wanted to submit as an entry to META. There is no lack of talent or ability,' Dubey added.

'We have no original scripts because we are constantly re-adapting. The crying need of theatre continues to be the original script,' he said.

Jay Shah of sponsor Mahindra & Mahindra, who manages the company's cultural initiatives, said the biggest incentive that awards like META can provide to Indian theatre is a 'platform to stage plays from the remote corners of the country'.

'The whole idea of supporting theatre rests on the fact that we give it the right platform,' Shah told from Mumbai.

The novelty of META this year will be its 'quality and expanse of the entries'.

'The word gets carried around the country through the diverse group of participants, jury, enthusiasts and the media,' Shah said.

Last year, an 80-minute reality play in English, 'The Interview', directed by Akarsh Khurana won the best lead actor, best supporting actor and best stage design awards. Badal Sircar, known for his radical Bengali plays, was awarded for his lifetime contribution to theatre.

(Agencies)