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Stalwarts on a single stage

Ranga Shankara, along with the Karnataka Natak Academy, remembered some big names of the Indian stage

TRIBUTE In honour of K.V. Subbanna, a memento was given to his son K.V. Akshara, by Dr. Chandrashekar Kambar

As a part of their anniversary festival, Ranga Shankara in association with Karnataka Nataka Academy has organised a series of seminars on five famous theatre personalities. Various stalwarts from the world of theatre spoke about their experiences and opinions, personal and professional, about K.V. Subanna and Ebrahim Alkazi, in the first two sessions, on the first two days of the Ranga Shankara festival.

Renowned critic Sadanand Menon, writer U.R. Ananthamurthy, journalist and film maker Prakash Belawadi were among the speakers in the first session on Kannada's own K.V. Subbanna of Ninasam. To a packed audience, which comprised not just theatre buffs, but all those who had been touched by Subbanna in many different ways, the speakers shared their thoughts about him, some on a personal note, and some on his contribution to theatre.

Ananthamurthy, Subbanna's classmate and friend for over 50 years, termed it a personal loss. Recalling their early days as students, he spoke of how Subbanna was always a Kannadiga at heart. "He would seek an answer for everything in the Dhvanyaloka," he reminisced. Ananthamurthy chose to call Subbanna a revisionist in the positive sense of the term, who always sought to reinterpret tradition in a new sort of way. Prakash Belawadi recalled some interesting conversations he had with Subbanna and how for him a Kannada existence was something that came very naturally. He narrated the anecdote of how a foolhardy journalist who on his visit to Heggodu had remarked to Subbanna: "Everything is so beautiful here. But why have you done all this in such a godforsaken place." And Subbanna, just like himself said: "Because I live here." That sums up Subbanna.

The second session was on Ebrahim Alkazi, one of the best directors of Indian theatre. He revolutionised the theatre scene in India by bringing in discipline and dedication. The tenure of Alkazi, as the director of the National School of Drama (NSD) for over fifteen years, is considered the golden years of NSD. Alkazi, often accused of westernising the Indian theatre, gave the Indian theatre scene a whole new dimension.

The panel of speakers consisting of Alyque Padamsee, Anuradha Kapur, Keval Arora, Prasanna and Ashok Mandanna gave an insight into the man and his work. Alyque Padamsee, the noted adman and director, recipient of the Padmashri award, spoke about Ebrahim Alkazi from his professional experiences as also his personal interactions with the man. In fact, Alkazi began his tryst with theatre working with Bobby Padamsee, Alyque's brother. Alyque himself worked with Alkazi during his early years in theatre and even roomed with him for a short period at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. As Alyque quoted, theatre was life to Alkazi. Alkazi's dedication and vision was legendary and it was this vision that helped him overhaul teaching methods in the National School of Drama. "Alkazi had a sense of what a performing space should look like," theatreperson Keval Arora said. Adding to what Alyque Padamsee said, Keval Arora also spoke about Alkazi as a teacher, director and as an administrator. He applauded Alkazi's efforts in introducing new training methods through his productions and bestowing international standards to the plays of NSD. "Actors need to be exposed to the best world theatre has to offer," was what Alkazi believed even as he constantly reinvented and adapted new ideas onto Indian stage. The evidence of success of his principles lies in the fact the techniques are still used in NSD. Even though he hailed Alkazi's effort in this regard, he felt that Alkazi disregarded the viewer's comfort in watching a play. Anuradha Kapur, theatre expert, also talked about Alkazi's training methods saying: "Alkazi produced a new vocabulary and a new spectator by the meticulousness of detail.' She said his approach to theatre shifted the teaching methods out of the traditional mode, making it more approachable and creating a different kind of a viewer.

Director and playwright Prasanna who was a student of NSD during Alkazi's time hailed him as the `icon of Indian theatre'. Ashok Mandanna, a contemporary of Prasanna in NSD, reminisced about the interactions he had with Alkazi during his visit to NSD. In complete agreement with what Prasanna said, Mandanna remarked it was time that Alkazi was recognised as a great figure in contemporary theatre. "He was simply the most remarkable teacher, director and organiser."


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