C.C. Jaswant and K.V. Siddhartha are doing every thing they can to make a noise in Coimbatore with their brand of entertainment. They tell Pankaja Srinivasan how and why they started CATS, the Coimbatore Art and Theatrical Society
There was bisibelebaath and Mysore bonda and R.K. Narayan would have felt right at home. His fans would have read out to him from his writings, and the background music from the popular Swami and Friends would have pleased him. He would have enjoyed the company of menfolk in veshtis and women in saris and flowers in their hair, and the petti kadai in the corner would have reminded him of Malgudi. And, he would certainly have thanked C.C. Jaswant and K.V. Siddhartha for organising the evening in his honour. These two have been toiling to provide Coimbatoreans wholesome entertainment that is enjoyable and inexpensive. In order to do that, they started Coimbatore Arts and Theatre Society (CATS).
The idea for CATS came about in the 80s. Siddhartha was staying in a lodge in North Coimbatore; Jaswant lived with his folks. They were both from Madras Christian College (MCC) and decided to ‘make some noise in Coimbatore’. They organised a variety programme with the Walden Nature Society, an affiliate of WWF. Its success made them want to produce an annual event. They realised they would need sponsors and a bank account. So, they started CATS. “We had a clear understanding between us and neither of us wanted to be answerable to anyone. We did it for the sheer love of it,” says Jaswant.
But the company went into hibernation around 1992 when their careers took precedence over entertainment. In 2008, with enough time on their hands, they revived CATS. One of the earliest big performances they brought to town was that of The Madras Musical Association, and since then they have organised nearly 40 events, big and small.
Jaswant and Siddhartha like the idea of holding smaller events with not more than 50 attendees. So Cat-A-Lyst was born. It experimented with art and literature, and became a platform to showcase individual talents. At these events, people are encouraged to share their poetry, prose, opinions and views. They debate current issues, read from their favourite poets and tell stories. CATS has also invited published writers such as Judy Balan and Saaz Aggarwal to the city. And provided a platform for Coimbatore’s own published writers.
Short and simple
“We usually have our dos in the middle of the week. People can come after a day at work, enjoy the evening and still get home in time. Since there is a meal thrown in, there is no tension about getting back home and cooking,” says Siddhartha. The events begin around 6.30 p.m. and wind up by 8 p.m. Thanks to these two, simple and long-forgotten pleasures have been revived. They have organised events where the gathering has spent evenings listening to Simon and Garfunkel favourites or the Beatles, or songs from old musicals. CATS even brought performers from West End who put up a show and held a workshop in voice modulation.
The theatre part of their activities comes under Black Box Theatre Works that conducts workshops where participants are introduced to the nuts and bolts of theatre, from sound, lighting and directing to script-writing, voice modulations and improvisations. Black Box also organises Supper Theatres, an informal, intimate affair where guests are treated to short skits after which they share a simple supper with the cast and crew.
Simple pleasures they may be, but keeping CATS going is a lot of hard work. “You cannot entirely recover production costs from the audience. And we need the cash to bring bigger productions. That is where City Buzz comes in,” explains Siddhartha. City Buzz is a tourist brochure on Coimbatore with information on restaurants, places to see, taxi services...
Says Siddhartha, “City Buzz primarily brands Coimbatore for the touring groups. It also subsidises Cat-a-Lyst events where a cover charge is collected from guests. While it provides the seed money to kick-start affairs, we are heavily dependent on sponsorship to see a production through. We could do a lot more if corporates stepped up support. By lending their names to such events, they will also encourage youngsters to enhance their creativity.” Jaswant and Siddhartha are, however, grateful to the individuals and organisations that have generously supported them.
Pulling off the Nostalgia 2011 Musical Concert was special, they say. The logistics of handling 65 musicians of the Toccata Musical productions, U.K. and working with their sound and light engineers, generating resources and marketing it, was a challenge. But they pulled it off and it instilled tremendous confidence in themselves.
The big productions have come their way solely by word of mouth, says Jaswant. “We were once invited to a banquet organised by the Australian High Commission. When we asked them where they had heard of us, they replied, ‘the Internet’!”
CATS promotes other city live art events by alerting those on its database. It is a gesture that earns them goodwill. It is also their way of giving back to the city, like they did recently when they handed over money made from a performance to a social cause.
Their dreams for CATS? Jaswant says, “We want to take home-grown productions and artistes to other cities”. For Siddhartha, it is being able to say one day, ‘Sorry, but we are sold out!”