It’s in her genes, people say of B. Jayashree. Once the arc lights come on, the otherwise soft-spoken actor transforms: Her voice booms, rich with emotion and depth, across the theatre. Granddaughter of Gubbi Veeranna, the renowned comedian of Kannada theatre and founder of drama company Gubbi Company, Jayashree debuted as a child artist under his tutelage. She studied at the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi, but returned to Bangalore in 1973 and established the theatre group, Spandana.
In the Capital for the 11th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, hosted by her alma mater, she has brought a recreation of Gubbi Company’s famous play, Sadarame, decades after it was first performed. “My play is nothing like my grandfather’s since I was just five or six when I saw it. We’ve recreated it with inputs from all those who saw the original or were associated with it,” says the winner of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1996. Sadarame is the story of a young middle-class girl married to a prince and who overcomes hurdles in her marital life with wit and ingenuity. Jayashree plays the thief Kalla, a role made memorable by Veeranna himself. She lists five directors and playwrights whose “all-rounder” qualities have influenced her work and life.
Jayashree worked in several of Alkazi’s productions and was taught by the doyen of Indian theatre and one of the founders of NSD. “I am enthralled by the way he brings out the characters in his actors, in his sets. He used to say that the sets should speak to the audience and reflect the theme of the play,” she says. Her favourite Alkazi plays are ‘Three Sisters’ and ‘Danton’s Death’.
Another of Jayashree’s professors at NSD, the Japanese master of Zen arts is known for adapting Western classics to Kabuki theatre. “The actor should not say no to anything, and should not know everything,” Sato used to say, recalls Jayshree. ‘Ibaragi’, a play based on the life of a Japanese warrior in which she acted, is among her favourite Sato productions.
Gubbi Veeranna and Malathamma
Jayashree learnt the nuances of acting from her grandfather. As for her mother, Malathamma, her passion for theatre led her not only to “become one of the first women in theatre”, but also leave her husband (who was against his wife acting and even threatened her with a gun). Malathamma never gave up acting even though she lost her legs in an accident during a play. Jayashree recalls how no one would “dare make a mistake” in front of Veeranna, but this is where she differs from her grandfather: “I encourage mistakes during rehearsals. Many times the mistake is better than the original.”
“Fantastic,” is how she describes actor-director Prasanna, who goes by one name only. “He taught us that actors should never be lazy,” she says, recalling how the director would get tense about his productions and get his actors equally worked up.
The former NSD director’s life story can itself make for a great play. He ran away from home to become an actor, and Jayashree’s grandfather took him under his wings. Karanth went on to “become one of the pioneers of Kannada theatre… He was the ‘ankur’ (seed) of the wave of revolutionary theatre in the 1960s and 1970s”—a period acknowledged as the golden era of Indian theatre.
Sadarame will be staged on 18 January at the Kamani Auditorium, part of NSD’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav. For more details on the festival, log on to www.nsdtheatrefest.com