On a weekday afternoon, Jagriti theatre, Bangalore’s newest performing space, is bustling with activity. A production crew is setting up for the evening performance, while the cast of Rajat Kapoor’s popular production, Hamlet—the Clown Prince, grabs a quick lunch before they begin rehearsing. “This is a big production and we hope it will bring the crowds in,” says Arundhati Raja as she walks around the building that is still undergoing some finishing touches.
Arundhati and her husband Jagdish Raja, theatre practitioners for 30 years, decided seven years ago to set up a space where they could show quality plays and help nurture theatre.
Located in Bangalore’s Whitefield suburb, Jagriti has an outdoor amphitheatre, a café and an auditorium that can seat up to 200 people. Barely a month old, it is waiting for the residents in the area to discover it. “Judging from the audience we’ve had, it is only the older residents who are coming in,” says Raja, adding that she hopes to attract young IT professionals and perhaps even the expatriate community that lives in the area.
In sync: Palazhy leads a rehearsal at the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts.
Seven years ago, in a similar effort, her namesake Arundhati Nag established Ranga Shankara, a theatre rental space modelled on Mumbai’s famous Prithvi Theatre. With a play-a-day format, Ranga Shankara, located in south Bangalore’s JP Nagar, heralded the return of theatre as an evening entertainment option for many who lived in its vicinity.
“It wasn’t always easy, we didn’t have people pouring in right from the beginning,” says Nag. She recalls that even though Ranga Shankara had several performances in Kannada, and was located in south Bangalore, which has a big Kannadiga population, it took more than a year to pull in crowds. Now, the theatre is chock-a-block with bookings for Indian language as well as English plays. And the Bangalore audience can’t seem to get enough of the performances.
The city has always had a reputation for nurturing an appreciation for the arts, but anecdotal evidence indicates Bangaloreans are taking a greater, and more varied, interest in culture these days. Yesterday’s simple auditoriums have given way to cultural hubs such as Ranga Shankara. Unlike other cities, communities here are finding spaces to meet and create. There is a bigger audience for experiments in contemporary dance. And more troupes from abroad are choreographing performances in collaboration with city-based centres.
Which is perhaps why Jayachandran Palazhy, who set up the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in 2001, saw packed houses everyday at the 10 day-Attakkalari India Biennial held earlier this month. “Bangalore is filled with young and adventurous people who are willing to make experimental choices,” says Palazhy. “It is an indication of a maturing society where people are willing to think beyond just wanting material comforts.”
Besides heartening audience numbers, the Biennial also saw large international participation in the form of troupes and master choreographers. This broadening of perspective can also be noticed in Ranga Shankara’s calendar, which regularly features productions from across the country and even overseas.
A parallel trend is seeing Bangaloreans making time to cultivate cultural activities in increasing numbers. As Palazhy puts it, perhaps their financial well-being allows them to devote their evenings to dance and theatre. “And I am not talking about those with entry- or mid-level jobs, there are also people in very senior positions who come to spend an hour to dance three days a week,” he adds.
Play time: Ranga Shankara has become a community space for theatre lovers. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
When he moved back to India from London in 2001, Palazhy chose Bangalore because of the climate, the welcoming population and the atmosphere of ease that it projected. He now feels validated in his choice. Dancer Madhu Nataraj points out that this was not always the case. “The audience has always been open, but at a time there were traditional artists, purists, who didn’t really appreciate contemporary dance,” says Nataraj, who started experimenting in contemporary dance at the Natya Stem Dance Kampni in 1995. “But that didn’t hold true for the city’s audience. They have been hungry for all things cultural.”
With an increase in the ticket-buying audience segment, opportunities to perform have increased proportionally, in turn creating more possibilities for a career in the performing arts. “While that means an increased quantity of dancers, it doesn’t mean quality,” says Nataraj, adding that an informed audience will ensure standards are good. The growth at least is visible. Palazhy, for example, has been collaborating with Nataraj and with the Bangalore-based dance-collective Nritarutya, for choreography laboratories for the Biennials.
Jagriti has opened at a time when new performance spaces in different parts of the city may well save Bangaloreans the trouble of grappling with traffic to get to a show. “Also, the past few years has seen an increased interest in theatre like never before,” Arundhati Raja says. Her theatre production company, Artistes’ Repertory Theatre (ART), has been producing plays since 1982, and she recalls performing with her young theatre group at venues such as Bal Bhavan and Guru Nanak Bhavan, and at the Ravindra Kalakshetra for the bigger shows. “All these spaces were very good for theatre, but they have been very badly maintained,” she says, happy that new halls and auditoriums dedicated to the performing arts have sprung up.
Seva Sadan in Malleswaram, an auditorium that was initially used for traditional dance and music performances, has been refurbished for theatre performances with the help of playwright M.S. Sathyu over the past year. Last year also saw the opening of a new government-sponsored space called KH Kala Soudha in south Bangalore’s Hanumanth Nagar area. It’s a change that is actively giving communities spaces to gather and create, one that Sanjna Kapoor, the director of Prithvi Theatre, says Mumbai is missing. “We haven’t managed to create new exclusive spaces. All the spaces that are coming up are being created for commercial purposes and none with a vision,” she says, noting that while the creation of the National CenPlay time: (above) Ranga Shankara has become a community space for theatre lovers; and Kalki Koechlin in Hamlet—The Clown Prince, performed at Jagriti. tre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) was vital in its time, it has lost much of its dynamism and there seems to be no attempt to revive it. “Sadly, we celebrated the birth of a new community space like Ranga Shankara on our 25th anniversary in another city,” says Kapoor.
Mumbai-based actor and playwright Jaimini Pathak has found himself travelling more often to Bangalore for shows in the past couple of years. The availability of spaces that have already developed a dedicated crowd saves a travelling troupe the trouble of advanced marketing. “Plus I find, unlike in Mumbai, one can land a few days in advance and put up posters in cafés and restaurants,” he says.
“There are spaces in Bangalore catering to every sort of performance,” says Ashutosh Potdar, programme executive, India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), adding that in the past couple of years IFA has seen an increased number of applications for grants from artistes in the field of performing arts. Potdar says projects in the pipeline stress on the imaginative use of spaces. “We hope that artistes will begin to think outside a space that is defined and instead use their creativity to make a performance stage out of random spaces,” says Potdar.