I have been working as a stage helper in Ravindra Kalakshetra for the last 32 years. It’s been an eventful life -- an unanticipated turn that brought me to theatre and ever since my life has never been short of excitement.
I come from a poor family. My father used to work at the Minerva Mill and later had his own wood depot which had to close down as it was running under loss. I had completed my II PUC and couldn’t study any further, because my father died early and I had to take on the responsibility of the family. We lived in Jagjivanramnagar and I began to sell vegetables in the locality. A couple of years passed, and Nanjaiah, who was known to the family worked in Ravindra Kalakshetra as an attender. He said, ‘Enough of selling vegetables. You are an educated boy, come with me…’ He got me the job of a helper in Ravindra Kalakshetra and I joined on July 1, 1982.
My life took a completely different route from here. The first play that I watched was Gandhari, directed by Basavaraj. It was also the first play that I ever watched. I would get a salary of Rs. 180, but that was hardly enough. So I used to stick wall posters of plays in Jayanagar, Majestic, Seshadripuram, Rajajinagar, Malleshwaram and Southend. I would rent a cycle for Rs. 2 and start my day at 4 a.m. in the morning. After my work at Kalakshetra, I would start doing the rounds at 9 p.m. and do it till midnight. Once, Shankarapuram police caught me for going around late in the night and fined me. I did this for 8-10 years, till the culture of wall posters completely stopped.
I used to do whatever design the director wanted me to. Putting platforms, stitching cloth on them, making the lighting area… many things. I gradually realised that how I love to decorate the stage, work with challenges and do new designs. I worked very hard and earned a good name. I have gone to Kolkata, Delhi and Bombay with local groups. I have always been a keen observer of new designs and tried to do them on a trial and error basis.
I have been fortunate to work for some of the best theatre directors like CGK, R. Nagesh and even B.V. Karanth. CGK used to be very adamant and there was no room for compromise. I used to like working with him, because he would make sure that we gave our best. I have done set design for all the government functions including major award ceremonies, film award presentation programmes etc. Both Srinivas Kappanna and I.M. Vittal Murthy have great trust in my work.
It is easy to be an actor, but hard to be a backstage worker. No one even recognizes you. Over the years, I feel even theatre groups have lost their sincerity. Earlier they used to practice for three full months and strive for perfection, now after two plays you have to go and look for your actor on the sets of a tv shooting. Chandrakant, Appaiah, and Chaddi Nagesh are all backstage workers who are dedicated to their work and love theatre.
For ten years I was a daily wager, later I became a permanent employee. The early years of my life were difficult, but now life is kind to me, I have no worries.