After five years of hectic activity at Ranga Shankara, it's now time to pause; says Arundhati
Arundhati Nag, the force behind Ranga Shankara in Bangalore stands at that point where the past is moving into the present, and a future is seeking to be born. It is five years at Ranga Shankara and over 2,000 shows — “Looking back is daunting,” says Arundhati. “It has been both humbling and challenging,” she says, sounding cheerful and reflective at once.
True to being the artiste that she is, Arundhati has always felt lesser than the challenge that’s before her. She is, of course, happy the way Ranga Shankara has defined itself, but it is time to pause. “In the five years that Ranga Shankara has been around, Bangalore has changed so much. The mindsets of people have changed as well. Isn’t that reason enough for us to think afresh?” she asks. “The least I want to achieve is have at least 100 people for any performance. Is that too much to ask… well, that’s my goal…,” avers Arundhati, who, with a hundred things on her head, is adept at multi-tasking.
A call, a visitor, an email… attending to all of this, Arundhati speaks of the lacuna she feels as far as initiative from the rest of the theatre fraternity is concerned — it doesn’t function as one single, integral unit. “You can’t blame anyone. It’s an amateur theatre world. So, people have to do something else to sustain. We have to now think in terms of making it financially viable to some people at least.”
In the course of time, every artistic space ceases to be a structure, and assumes an ideological existence. Did Ranga Shankara have an ideological ambition? “It came as a space that was dedicated just to theatre. And, it had to be affordable. I also wanted it to be a bridge between Kannada and English theatre.” She recalls how when they were under severe financial crunch people asked them to put up soft drinks ads on their premises. Some even suggested that corporate companies could buy up rows of seats or each step… so on and so forth. “These things would have eased my pocket, but let me leave all that to the future generations, I told myself.” Arundhati believed in having a space that was free of visual clutter. “Without putting up a board that reads ‘plastic-free zone’ there is no plastic on our premises.”
Good old days
Running the theatre on a shoe-string budget doesn’t allow for many things to happen. “I love what used to happen on the steps of Kalakshetra… it was a celebration of idleness, people from various theatre groups just walked in and joined the conversation. In those days, theatre had a sense of community, there was an emotional connect between people, and it was a productive period. I want that to happen in Ranga Shankara. Theatre is not merely what happens on stage.”
What kind of aesthetic aspirations did Shankar Nag have? “We were too young to have any vision. Both Shankar and I were in a phase of assimilation. We had just about begun to create an identity. The only thing we dreamt of was a space for theatre. A place that was as less commercial as possible and a place that we could share with people who were as serious as we are about theatre. We wanted to talk theatre all the time.”
In a way, through Ranga Shankara, this dream has come true. Arundhati, in these five years, has been able to watch theatre from up-close. It has inspired and enthused her; it has also set her thinking. “The next generation is yet to be born. Rathan Thiyam, Neelam Mansingh, Veenapani Chawla have such rich visual language. There is nobody to match them. Maybe it’s gestation time…,” she muses.
Recalling the Berlin Theatre Festival that she went to two years ago and the stupendous performances that were showcased she says: “I was depressed. Why is our theatre so far behind, I wondered. But you know Germany spends two billion euros on its theatre. Here, we have no training, no money, no fame… but still we do it. Why do we do it? I have no answer, because even I’m doing it,” she reasons. “We have to at least revive the pure passion of yesteryear. At IPTA, when we were 16, we got to sit at the feet of Manmohan Krishna, Kaifi Azmi, and A.K. Hangal who would say, ‘hum sab kuch chodke aa gaye’. They took us home, they told us stories, they shared, they gave… today how many of us take youngsters home? Do we even talk to them? I want to do all that now… I want to watch Theyam, learn Samaveda… I want to become the eyes of Ranga Shankara,” she says dreamily.