Theatre and management may seem like two divergent professions, yet Vijay Padaki straddles both worlds with ease.
Theatre and management may seem like two divergent professions, yet Vijay Padaki straddles both worlds with ease. “I have worn the two hats of theatre and management all my life, but each influences the other,” Padaki says as we chat on the porch of his an old-Bangalore bungalow. Padaki traces his 50-year association with theatre and his path-breaking initiatives in theatre and management. Padaki has been actively involved with Bangalore Little Theatre (BLT), the city’s oldest theatre group. But theatre in the conventional sense of performance and production is not what BLT focuses on. Padaki stresses that it is the only theatre organisation in the country that is not founder-centric. “Most cultural arts foundations are personality driven.”
Since its inception, BLT has had a series of leaders, directors, presidents and secretaries, despite these organisational changes, BLT has always staged quality productions. “The Ungrateful Man, one of BLT’s greatest productions, was performed thrice, once in the 1960s, once in the late 1970s and once in 2007. It was a success each time, but every time the director has been different, the star actor has been different. That’s continuity. That’s not the case for most theatre groups.”
Among the many initiatives Padaki has introduced in BLT are the annual Summer Project on Theatre (SPOT), which celebrated 25 years last year, and Training Trainers Programme. He is now actively involved with BLT’s Academy of Theatre Arts. “The Academy was created by BLT as a programme division. When BLT turned 45 there was a lot of excitement of it turning 50. They were wondering about an appropriate way to celebrate the Golden Jubilee. At the Annual General Meeting, of which I was president, I said we have always been a socially responsible endeavour. Let’s give it a serious thought. So the group set up a three person task force to do some strategic planning.”
For their research the BLT members, including Padaki, looked at the histories of theatre groups in India and at non-profit theatre in other countries. After their findings, the team recommended to BLT the establishment of an academy in theatre arts. “But it is not a drama school,” Padaki clarifies, “We will not be turning out actors and technicians because in our country the context is such that there are no jobs for actors.” Instead, The Academy of Theatre Arts endeavours to make theatre a curriculum subject, train teachers and revive dramaturge. “We want to make theatre a legitimate pursuit in schools and colleges. Theatre education is a specialised pursuit. You learn how to teach theatre. You don’t have a concept of theatre training; any and everybody can go into school and conduct a theatre workshop.”
Padaki contends that teacher training in theatre is essential. “In every profession, the best practitioners aren’t necessarily good teachers. The job of a good teacher is to produce a great practitioner. So teaching theatre is an aptitude in itself. Just because you have acted in four plays doesn’t make you a good teacher. You have to learn how to be a good teacher of drama.”
Padaki speaks of mental blocks to taking theatre seriously in India. “Educators think of theatre as entertainment. That’s where the block is. I usually ask the principal these questions. I said why do you teach physics? If you have a class of 50 kids, are you going to turn out 50 physicists? Of course not. So you teach physics because somewhere at the back of your mind you believe it is good in itself. I give them researched evidence from all over the world of how theatre is important in overall development. It’s a long haul, but it’s a start. We have completely moved away from doing ad hoc workshops in schools. We help, instead, in capacity building in schools.”
BLT has staged landmark productions, The Prophet And The Poet, written by Padaki, Partition and more recently Tiger! Tiger!Each production has emerged from a participatory process and has actively engaged the community. “BLT has a highly transparent, participative ethos with elected office bearers and managers and a constant crop of new leaders. This tradition can be traced to one of BLT’s founders, a British couple Scot and Margaret Todd. “He was a trained director, she a trained actor and they brought very healthy traditions of high quality theatre, but with an amateur status. From the beginning BLT acquired a certain character. It positioned itself as community theatre.”
The Academy of Theatre Arts has three thrust areas, Padaki explains, “It works in schools and with children, with youth and in colleges and with the public. “In the public appreciation thrust, we have the History of Ideas programme. We did a play nine years ago based on the life of Ramanujam, the mathematician. It was nothing short of a hit.”
Padaki has written over 37 original plays. “I give most of time to writing and training. The joy is in the act of writing. I love to write. I try to be as honest as I can. For me, it’s not important to be seen as a playwright. I write for the enjoyment of writing,” says Padaki, who has even translated and adapted several plays. His translation of two Gujarati plays was recently published by Seagull Books.
Padaki observes that writing in theatre, which is essential for the development of the art form, is lacking in India. “If you see the history of theatre in any society, theatre writing has always been vibrant. There’s hardly any writing in theatre in India.” He agrees there is some good writing happening of late, though. “The signs are hopeful now. We do have a lot of writing in theatre in the recent past. But it will take a long time for that writing to acquire depth. People prefer quality over quantity, but I believe quality comes out of quantity. We need a whole lot of mucky grape juice to make good wine. It’s a distillation process. We must encourage quantity, make people go out there and perform, learn and get better at their art.” Padaki also started Kathakar, the Theatre Club at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore. “I have built a relationship with Alliance over the years. It is a very good example of what a partnership can achieve without any commercial implications.”
Padaki has had an illustrious career in management over four decades. He was a member of the founding faculty at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, the founder of a Centre for Management for the textile industry in Ahmedabad, and a Visiting Professor at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, to initiate a programme in R&D Management. He is the founder-director of P&P group, a management resource centre. His team at P&P presented the country’s first position paper on Corporate Social Performance, which was sponsored by 5 development agencies, Oxfam, ActionAid, CRY, Centre for Environment Education, Consumer Education and Research Centre.
Padaki’s passion for theatre, endures. “Theatre is a deeply involving pursuit. The longest lasting of several pursuits. Each of these has taken a lot of my time and involvement, and has had accomplishments, not just dabbling. Photography, shooting and firearms, automobile engine overhauling, electro-acoustics and hi-fi systems, woodwork, singing, swimming, dogs, pigeons, among others. They came and went. Drama remained. It has always been clear to me that it is a serious pursuit,” he concludes.