You don’t have to travel back in time to experience company theatre, or natak mandali, that ruled the Indian stage in all its glory between the mid-19th and 20th centuries. Bangalore’s popular theatre space, Ranga Shankara is celebrating the golden period of Indian theatre in its fifth theatre festival in four years. The 10-day festival will revive and showcase plays that were runaway successes in the beginning of the previous century.
“It’s a tribute to our heritage, a tribute to our theatre history,” says creative director Arundhati Nag with a twinkle in her eye. Nag opened Ranga Shankara, modelled on Mumbai’s Prithvi theatre, four years ago in memory of her actor-director husband, Shankar Nag. “I wanted to make theatre accessible to everybody and remove the concept of elitism from theatre. Company theatre was similar. Everybody went to the theatre, the affluent sat in boxes, the common man sat on the floor,” says Nag looking quite pleased with the programme line-up.
The festival will open with Theatre and Television Associates (New Delhi) performing Amal Allana’s Nati Binodini. Although the play is contemporary, it tells the story of Binodini who lived and experienced the era. Also part of the line-up of six plays are two Kannada plays that have been commissioned by Ranga Shankara. At 95, Yenagi Ballapa, who is probably the only surviving actor of the company theatre era in Karnataka, will put colour on his face after 25 years and return to stage as Harallaya (a Dalit who marries a Brahmin girl) in the revolutionary play Jagathjyothi Basaveshwara. The second Kannada play in the festival is Gubbi Veeranna’s Sadarame, directed by his daughter B. Jayashree who will also play the role of Kalla that was played by Veeranna in his times. Jayashree’s male portrayal as Kalla brings theatre a full circle in gender impersonation.
Also look out for Surabhi Company’s revival of their ever popular mythological play Maya Bazaar in Telegu, complete with special stage effects. The Surabhi Company is one of oldest theatre groups and have toured with their plays since 1885.
A theatre and arts appreciation course will be conducted during the festival by culture critic Sadanand Menon and if that’s not enough activity there will be documentaries screened in the breaks between the plays. “The idea is that people must walk in and experience theatre, talk about it, ideate and be inspired, and even if 50 people in Bangalore do that, we’ll be happy,” says Nag who points that the cast and crew of all the productions will be available for comments and discussions to the audience.
The Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival 2008 starts on 31 October and runs until 9 November at Ranga Shankara. 36/2, 8th cross, 2nd Phase, JP Nagar, Bangalore.
Tickets for the plays are priced at Rs70 for morning shows and Rs100 for the evening shows and are available at the venue, at four Vodafone outlets (Brigade Road, Indira Nagar, Sheshadripuram, and Koramangala) and at Sankars—The book people in Koramangala. You can also pick up tickets online from bookmyshow.com. Log on to www.rangashankara.org/home/rangatest/ for details.