For actor and theatre-person Arundhati Nag, the path to success has not been easy.
If the world is a stage and we the actors, theatre and film personality Arundhati Nag is surely scripting her success story. “The Arundhati you see today was built over 20 years,” she says, looking comfortable at Ranga Shankara, an exclusive theatre space in a Bengaluru suburb, which has been her dream project.
Despite the slew of awards she has been honoured with, including the Padma Shri, Arundhati says it was Ranga Shankara, the theatre she founded, which has earned her the respect she commands. “Shankar (Nag) would have definitely done a better job. He would be happy to see it today!” she smiles.
Since childhood, Arundhati has soaked in the varied experiences thrown at her, enjoying every bit of it. Her early life in a Government colony in New Delhi as the daughter of Government officers was, in her own words, “magical”. With her two older brothers and younger sister, Arundhati grew up interacting with people from all over India, and watching the riot of colours and emotions that surrounded celebrations like Ram Leela.
While she learnt Hindi in Delhi and soaked in the cultural atmosphere there, she went on to learn five more languages later, thus widening the horizon of her work. When she was 10 years old, Arundhati's father resigned from his job and the family moved to their home state — Maharashtra. The city of dreams, Mumbai, pretty much steered Arundhati's course of life. It was when she was 16 that Arundhati got her big break in theatre while in college in Mumbai. “I got a double promotion twice in school. So I started finding it difficult to cope with the curriculum in high school. As academics took a beating and the need to express myself became stronger, I veered towards the arts,” she says, explaining the start of a love affair with the theatre and arts.
Being one of the few Hindi-speaking students in her college, she got a part in a Hindi play being staged at college. Later, she joined the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) where Kshama Zaidi noticed Arundhati who was carrying a bunch of comic books. “You girl with the pigtails, she called out to me, and before I knew it, I was playing the lead in ‘Macbeth'!”
Her acting prowess earned her a scholarship for her graduation in Bachelor of Commerce, which she never completed, much like her husband and iconic Kannada actor Shankar Nag, whom she met in theatre, and moved to Bengaluru after getting married to him. The couple came to Bengaluru at a time when the theatre scene here was not very promising. “There was no commercial theatre in Karnataka. We came during the end of the ‘golden era' of theatre in the State. The existing one was of a dated company style. All of a sudden, there was no work,” she recalls, adding that for a person who used to do 20 shows a month in Mumbai, this was a difficult transition.
It was at this juncture that the seed for Ranga Shankara was sown, as “every theatre person needs his or her own space.” When many proposed collaborations did not shape up well, a civic amenity site that was up for grabs offered the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
Ranga Shankara, which is formally administered by the Sanket Trust founded by the Nag couple along with other theatre lovers, was realised in 2004, though Shankar could not live to see it. It is one of the most affordable, well-equipped theatre anywhere, according to Arundhati. “It was the catharsis I needed. When I went on stage after Shankar's death, it was the first time in years,” she shares.
The actor, who was recently awarded the 57th National Film Awards for 2009-10 for Best Supporting Actress in the Amitabh Bachchan-Abhishek Bachchan starrer “Paa”, has no film assignments in the pipeline. But she is not complaining. “I can't do random mothers' roles in films. I am much more comfortable in theatre. Theatre is an actor's medium. A bad actor can botch up the entire play. I have plenty of work otherwise,” she says.
Unlike in films, the woman running Bengaluru's proud theatre space says, urban Indian theatre today is appropriated by women in many parts of the country. Before signing off, she adds: “The world needs many more idiots like me and many more Ranga Shankaras!”