A man of immense talent and foresight, Gopinath Das built the Prabhath Kalavidaru with care and concern. To mark his centenary a series of programmes have been planned

If you belong to Bangalore of yesteryear, and you’ve taken part in school fancy dress in which you played anything ranging from mouse to queen, then you would have surely made a visit to Prabhath Kalavidaru. It’s certain that the quintessential Kannadiga, in any part of Karnataka, would have watched a Prabhath Kalavidaru production. Gopinath Das and Prabhath Kalavidaru, synonymous with each other, became a household name in Karnataka and remained so for nearly four decades. Gopinath Das began as a modest raconteur (harikathe exponent), but brick by brick built the phenomenon called Prabhath Kalavidaru, through persistence.

“My grandfather Venkanna Das used to work in the Vyasaraya Math of Tumkur as a manager,” recalls Gopinath Das’s son Balakrishna, as they gear up to celebrate the visionary’s centenary. There was a point when Venkanna Das felt that he wanted to break free from the cocooned existence in the math and moved with his wife and eight children to Yelahanka in the early 1920s. “Then Yelahanka was not even part of Bangalore. My grandfather earned a livelihood through harikathe. But it wasn’t always strictly mythological, he would interweave it with nationalistic feelings and ignite the same in the huge crowd that gathered to listen to him,” he explains. In the years to come, Venkanna Das decided to move to Bangalore and just as he decided to build a house in Shankarapuram, he died an untimely death. The entire burden of the family fell on Karigiriachar and Gopinath, the oldest of the siblings. “My father used to tell us that they lived in extreme poverty. All the four brothers took to harikathe and they would ignite the stage with their anti-colonial discourses. People gave them rice, dhal, at times vegetables and they managed. The oldest of them, Karigiriachar was a school teacher and what he earned also kept the hearth burning,” says Venkateshachar, the other son of Gopinath Das.

Gopinath Das, undoubtedly the most talented among the brothers, was trained in the veena under L. Raja Rao. His mastery over the instrument left many leading musicians of the time speechless. To support his large family he started teaching the veena, even as the brothers together kept the harikathe recitals going. This was perhaps the beginning of Prabhath Kalavidaru. Family members recollect how Gopinath Das was exceptional in his skills as a storyteller -- he breathed new life into the harikathe form by adding music to it, and also made it charming with his intelligent humour. As their harikathe became popular and they began to draw massive audiences they realised that they needed a sound system. They pooled in all their resources and bought a sound system. Once they acquired it, they began to get requests from other groups to lend it to them. Gopinath Das realised that it was a good business idea, and Prabhath Sound System was born. “We were the only ones with a public address system that could cater to even an audience of 10,000 people. Our sound system went to government programmes, Congress rallies…,” recalls Balakrishna.

Gopinath Das believed that holistic education for children was very important. Having had a difficult childhood himself, education for children was uppermost in his mind. With his brothers, he started the Prabhath Shishuvihara, also heralding their entry into full-fledged theatre. They did plays like Sita Devi, Shabari, and also brought spectacular dance ballets for children – Punyakoti, Kindara Jogi, Cindrella and several others. “The stories were traditional but the approach was modern. With this, they could draw a wide audience,” says Balakrishna. From here, the enterprise was further diversified into a costumes section, where all costume needs of theatre groups and schools were addressed. If you went to Prabhath Kalavidaru you could hire a costume for any role. “The next inclusion was Prabhath Studios,” mentions Hema Panchamukhi, grand daughter of Gopinath Das. All productions of Prabhath had live music, but once their productions began to tour outside Bangalore taking the music team along became difficult. “That’s when we began recording our music. With it my grandfather set up the studio.” The studio generated a lot of excitement, and in those days, all the jingles used by AIR Vividha Bharathi were recorded at this studio. In the years to come, many film recordings also used to take place here.

Commitment to good art was never divorced from social vision for Gopinath Das. He believed that if the destination of art was entertainment, then it was bound to suffer. There are several instances of how art and society were interwoven in his vision. Gopinath Das, in his heyday, was an active campaigner for the government’s family planning programme. Whether it was a play or harikathe, he would make sure that a song or scene about family planning would be included. In 1967, when he travelled the country with his harikathe and plays, he spread the message of family planning in every place they stopped.

Through Gopinathdas Nyasa the family has attempted to take the multi-pronged mission of the man forward. They have kept many dying arts alive and now on the occasion of his centenary, it is also time to take stock.

The Gopinath Das centenary celebrations are spread over four weeks beginning June 7, at different venues. Here is the schedule for the first two weeks.

21st June 2014 - 6.00 pm to 9 pm - Kuvempu Kalakshetra

‘Uttara Gograhana’ by Prabhath Kalavidaru

22nd June 2014 -11.00 am to 9.00 pm – Kuvempu Kalakshetra

Natana (Shri Mandya Ramesh’s)

Shri R K Padmanabh

Vedike (Shri C R Simha’s

Gopinathdas Nyasa

28th June 2014 - 11.00 am to 9.00 pm - Ravindra Kalakshetra

‘Shri Rama Prateeksha’ by Prabhath Kalavidaru

‘Cinderella’ by Prabhath Kalavidaru

29th June 2014 -11.00 am to 9.00 pm - Ravindra Kalakshetra

‘Hari Sarvothama’ by Prabhath Kalavidaru

Benaka ( Shri Nagabharana’s Team)

Valedictory Function