G.S.N. Sastry shares his years of rich experience in ‘verse theatre’ through his latest book ‘Abhinaya Koumudi’.
Garikapati Subba Narasimha Sastry (popularly known as G.S.N. Sastry) is a well-known name in theatrical circles. He’s been a mentor for the present generation artistes of verse theatre. As an actor he must have given 3,000 performances playing prime roles like Srikrishna, Arjuna, Harischandra, Yogi Vemana, Kalidasa and many more. He had witnessed the evolution of verse-ridden mythological and historical theatres both of older generation and the modern. Now all his experiences are presented through his latest book Abhinaya Kaumudi commenting on theory and practice. In short he is a bridge between the past and the present, having gained experience by staying with the veterans of the past and guiding youngsters of the present generation.
He expressed his agony, in his introductory remarks, how Telugu verse drama evolved out of original Sanskrit slokas and those adapted into Telugu verses are faring badly now.
He recalls how the earlier generations gave equal importance to prose and verse, something that he does not find now. “Those whom we regard as masters of theatre were well versed in ‘sahitya’ and ‘raga’. It is not so now.” He feels even the taste of audience has changed, because they have got used to the styles of the present generation of the artistes. Lack of proper education or study in this art among the performers has diluted the verse drama. In his journey through theatre GSN learned a lot from greats like his father Lakshmi Narasimha Sastry, Jammalamadaka Madhavaraya Sarma, actors like Madhavapeddi Venkataramayya, Banda Kanakalingeswara Rao, Addanki Sriramamurthy, Pisapati. He says he took nearly a decade to pen this book putting all his experiences on paper. In short this book is meant to be a guide for artistes learning classic verse theatre, with a scientific approach.
G.S.N. Sastry arrayed the subject into 20 chapters to explain what he has learnt from the past applicable to the present.
He quoted extensively but with brevity in explaining the works like Bharata Natya Sastra, Dasaroopakas, Kalidasa, Jayapasena’s Nritta Ratnavali and also modern day writers like P.S.R. Appa Rao, Charla Ganapati Sastry, Bhamidipati Kameswara Rao down to Diwakarla Venkatavadhani.
He encompasses all the subjects that deal with drama from explaining ‘Dasavidha Rookas’, the role of heroes and heroines of the plot, the nine rasaas (moods) to even dealing with ancient works, the history of Sanskrit theatre, the abhinaya modes, the role of music verse and song rendition techniques and how to play a role. – all with considerable detail.
Telugu theatre was born in 1860, according to him, and Telugu playwrights banked mostly on mythologies. They evolved a language that went well with historical and mythical characters. While the verses were metrical, prose too carried the vein of Sanskrit. Dialogue delivery was shaped accordingly, that was carried in mythological films too.
Cinema at that time was an extension of drama and even artistes were borrowed from verse theatre. That diction continues even now. G.S.N. Sastry discusses a lot in this subject. In the chronology of development of theatre, even those in services jumped into the fray, attracted by the charm of drama and popularity of artistes. That was in 1886, he says. By 1900 the theatre attained the commercial colour that led many to turn professional. Even stage craft improved and harmonium and tabla were added to the orchestra, he says.
G.S.N. Sastry also devotes considerable space to acting in the book. He explains in this chapter how the style of acting should change according to advancing of the age of the character. It is necessary, Sastry advises the artistes, to first study and understand the character and only then descend on the scene to perform.
There is also considerable explanation in the book of costuming and makeup. He writes about ‘Angikabhinayam’ (body language) and ‘Vachikabhinayam’ (dialogue delivery) as well. The book in short is history and science of verse theatre acting, worth studying by students of drama in general and verse drama in particular.