Drama is considered a poor cousin of cinema and other popular art forms in the State. While singers and mimicry artistes are paid in lakhs for their stage shows, drama artistes get a pittance. Kalidasa Kalakendra, one of the most respected drama troupes in the State, is attempting to change the profile of theatre, with their new production, Macbeth.

“If the response is anything to go by, it seems we could succeed in our attempt,” said Sandhya Rajendran, who has been part of the Kalakendra for the last 25 years. “We invested about Rs.40 lakh on the production of Macbeth to give it a world-class look. We charge Rs.1 lakh per show and we are happy that people are willing to pay. If we have to raise the profile of drama, we have to show the world that we cannot be bought cheap.”

Macbeth has been staged 12 times so far, after its premiere on August 19. “We will have performed 20 shows by the end of October,” said Sandhya. “The success of Macbeth will be an inspiration for other drama troupes in the State. Some troupes are already planning quality productions like ours. That is the only way forward for theatre here; you have to invest hugely and charge accordingly. Things have become so bad for theatre that there are just 15 troupes in Kollam where we had as many as 450 in the past.”

That is the situation in rest of the State too. You cannot sustain a troupe with Rs.15,000 you get per stage, after investing something like Rs.5 lakh on the production. And a theatre actor is expected to survive on something like the Rs.700 he gets per performance.

“I do not know why our organisers are unwilling to pay our theatre artistes,” said E.A. Rajendran, director of Macbeth. “They happily pay what a singer who has appeared on a television show demands. We knew we were taking a risk when we decided to invest such a huge amount into a drama production. When you need quality sets designed by Sabu Cyril, you have to spend.”

Money seems to be well spent by the Kollam-based troupe, though. It is a spectacular production. Pradeep Kumar Kavunthara has adapted Shakespeare’s celebrated tragedy for the Malayali audience rather well. There was a big crowd to watch the play at Tagore Centenary Hall, Kozhikode, recently and they were entertained by fine performances from the cast, led by Wilson KPAC, Biji Raja, Manju Reji, and Gopan.