T.Saravanan finds S.P.Shrinivasan to be a silent traveller on a creative journey
At 82, his enthusiasm knows no bounds. His dynamism is infectious and draws you close to him. S.P.Shrinivasan may not be a popular name among “aam janata” but theatre aficionados swear by his name.
Having spent most of his time backstage designing sets, costumes, writing and directing plays, his rich experience is well respected. Shrinivasan is also a master painter with exemplary knowledge of colour schemes, set and costume designs. He is an expert in theatre and lover of music and dance... The list is endless.
Residing in picturesque Thambithottam, Gandhigram, enveloped in greenery, finding his house is no big task as the brightly painted fluorescent green house with white and yellow complementing strip is visible from distance.
Talking about past, his eyes sparkle. Born in Madurai and having lost his father quite early, he had his job cut out. Though mediocre in academics, his interest in drawing and inspirational stories of freedom fighters took him to the Student Congress Movement.
“I used to entertain fellow students and neighbours with my silent pictures and that helped a great deal.”
Mr. Shrinivasan terms himself a “political sufferer”. “That was the period when British Government was trying to wipe out any oppression with an iron hand and I was also on their ‘hit list’ and was forced to go under cover. I was studying in Fifth and had to discontinue.”
Congress leader K. Kamaraj, N.M.R. Subburaman and M. Ramachandran, Gandhigram director, noticed his talent in drawing and helped him to get into Shantiniketan Visvabharati University in 1946, for pursuing Diploma in Fine Arts with specialisation in painting and sculpture.
“I mellowed after joining Shantiniketan as everything there was poetic. You could sense it even while planting a sapling as beautifully dressed girls would carry saplings to the venue swaying to drum beats. It used to be a visual treat and I cherish every moment of my stay there.”
Though Shrinivasan focussed on painting and sculpture, his love for music and dance propelled him to frequent ‘Sangeeth Bhavan’.
“I helped them in designing colour patterns for their costumes and that brought me closer to them,” he recounts.
With pride he shares that he was a pupil of Nandalal Bose, an authority in modern painting. His foresight and inquisitiveness earned him laurels. At a time when not many thought of robots, he wrote a script highlighting how over dependence on machines could inflict harm. This skit was directed in 1947.
“I wanted to stress on the value of labour. But its relevance found mention even today in Shantiniketan where the play was staged recently,” he beams.
Shrinivasan found a suitable job in Revathi Studios, as Assistant Art Director for a sum of Rs.15 a day. During his 18-month stint he worked for films including B.R.Banthulu’s ‘Mudhal Thethi’, with Sivaji Ganesan, ‘Kanavane Kankanda Theivam’ starring Gemini Ganesan and ‘Kulebahavali’ starring M.G.R.
But Shrinivasan realised film was not his cup of tea and joined Kalakshetra as an Art Instructor. His hard work earned him a berth in Asian Theatre Institute to pursue a Diploma in Theatre Arts. It is here he got introduced to different dramatic techniques which stood him in great stead in future endeavours.
While at Kalakshetra, Shrinivasan mingled with others from departments of music, dance and drama and became an integral part of several dance dramas staged there. He also gained experience in Montessori system of education from Ms. Rukmini Devi Arundale and joined Gandhigram as an Art Instructor at Family and Child Welfare Training Centre.
“My job was to groom creativity in children. I helped them with poster making and flash card. Years of working with them enlightened me,” he says.
Shrinivasan served in different capacities at Gandhigram: as member of cultural committee and Principal of Kalabhavan (an evening school for music, painting, dance and drama).
Though his forte is painting, his heart goes out to children’s theatre. Having extensively experimented, he has evolved a module for age-wise activity.
“Children are extremely sensitive. They get easily offended. It doesn’t help if they are instructed to reach the target. Rather, they have to be guided to achieve the goal. It is purely scientific.”
Shrinivasan describes three stages: Early childhood, three to eight years, which is the foundation period requiring guidance in every sphere. The other Stage II (9 to 12 years) and III (above 14), children are more aware and enjoy concepts in learning.
He advocates involving children and evolving scripts instead of broaching children’s theatre with a well written script in advance.
“The felt need of the child is important as it ushers in a sense of belonging. I play with them on the sand and ask them where the road is and then the location of their school, house and temple. In the process, the script is evolved,” he describes his work pattern.
For those in the 9-12 years he picks subjects from their syllabus and for those above 14, he introduces different concepts in dramas like realistic, impressionistic and absurd plays.
“Modern day drama teachers are more academic-oriented. Some of them don’t even know the difference between shade and tint,” he feels and believes that children are the main driving force behind his successful ventures.
Worked in more than 200 plays and written 10 plays.
Resource person for numerous workshops on theatre. His extensive research on different topics is well reflected in his papers on ‘masks’, ‘puppetry’ and ‘creative ideas’.
Published a book on use of colours in dramas titled “Nadaga Kalangalil Vanna Alaigal” in 2004.
Is a senior visiting lecturer for National School of Drama Regional Resource Centre, Bangalore.
Conducts workshops and activities related to children’s creativity all over south India.
Has designed the Gandhiji Centenary Pillar and Nehru Memorial at Gandhigram.