The scope of the word political is not limited to the Congress versus the Bharatiya Janata Party debates, lampooning politicians or wearing a khadi kurta. “The truth is, everything is political. To speak is political, to not speak is political,” says Arundhati Nag, founder, Ranga Shankara, on the phone from Bangalore—and that is the thought behind this year’s week-long festival which began on 15 October in Bangalore.
“Theatre itself is a political medium. The minute you decide to put something in the public domain, you are making a political statement,” says Nag. This year’s festival, curated by theatre-person Prakash Belawadi, brings together six plays in English, Hindi and Kannada from all over the country, as also four street plays by college groups on “deliberately negative themes about India”, says Belawadi on the phone. “The idea is for some critical inquiry into the way we live. For instance, we examine the idea of Indians having shame morality and not guilt morality. An example of that is if nobody is supervising, we will jump the red light,” he says. One of the plays being performed at the festival is Comrade Kumbhakarna, written by Ramu Ramanathan and directed by Mohit Takalkar, which examines the Ramayan and issues of perspective and representation (Ravan as hero, as is the case in certain versions of the Ramayan). Other plays at the festival include Tango, written by Slawomir Mrozek and directed by Anmol Vellani, and Nammoora Benkibaakaru, based on Max Frisch’s The Fire Raisers, directed by S. Surendranath.
“Theatre is representation. When our theatre seeks to please the audience, takes care not to challenge belief and prejudice, it is theatre for the way things are. But when it begins to ask ‘why’ and ‘why not’ critically, sometimes even dangerously, it becomes consciously political, even when it is not necessarily about kings and politicians,” says Belawadi.
There will also be a Yakshagana performance centred on the scene from the Mahabharat where Krishna tries to talk the Kauravas out of declaring war on the Pandavas. Yakshagana is a traditional theatrical form from coastal Karnataka—the performances are based on well-known incidents which are then developed entirely extempore by the actors on stage. “Because of this, it always ends up commenting on contemporary political debates,” says Belawadi. In addition to the theatre component, there will also be a week-long exhibition of political cartoons designed by cartoonist V.G. Narendra, film screenings, a graffiti wall at the Ranga Shankara café which will be free for people to scribble on through the year, and a three-day art appreciation course on the last three days of the festival. “This will discuss ideas of protest—implicit or explicit—in painting, sculpture, writing and performance. It will be capped by a seminar that will talk about the hubris of the powerful, and about our given morals, held customs and claimed entitlements. The festival seeks to stand up for the hurt, angry and bewildered.
The Ranga Shankara Theatre Fest is on till 23 October at Ranga Shankara, JP Nagar, Bangalore. The street plays and foyer performances run from 6.30pm every day of the festival.