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All the city was a stage for them

This is the fourteenth of a 16-part series on Bangalore, which will culminate in several competitions, including a Quiz, Paint Your City, Photograph Your City, Treasure hunt, and so on for The Hindu NIE participants.

Gubbi Veeranna: He brought grandeur to Kannada theatre.

THEATRE IS a popular art form. One of the earliest known dramatic groups - Hindu Theatrical Company - was started by a businessman named N.G. Bullappa sometime in late 19th Century, popularly known as Bullappa's Company. Scholars place the year of starting this troupe anywhere from 1850 to 1880. Other dramatic troupes of the period were the Bangalore Union, Siddikatte Rasika Manasollasini Nataka Sabha (Periswamy Iyengar, 1883), Gollarapete Nataka Sabha (1883-85), Sangeetha Sagara Chandrodaya Sabha (Periswamy Iyengar), and City Opera Troupe (Kaiwara Brothers).

Troupes established in the early 20th Century were - Sree Gandharva Nataka Mandali (Kavalappa), Sree Sharada Vilasa Nataka Mandali (Ranganatha Mudaliar, 1917), Sree Samrajya Nataka Mandali (Doddamallappa, 1920), Rasika Jananada Sabha (1922), Sree Varadacharya Smaraka Kala Sangha (Kamalakshamma and Group, 1926), Kalaseva Mandali (Phelwan Annayyappa, 1934), Sree Chandramouleswara Nataka Mandali (D. Muraracharya, 1940), K. Hirannaiah Mitra Mandali (Master Hirannaiah), Bangalore Theatrical Company, and Gubbi Bala Nataka Sangha.

Many troupes from outside performed frequently in Bangalore. Among these the Parsee Companies - Victoria Parsee Co. (1876) and Parsee Opera Troupe, Bombay (1899) - made an impact on spectators, the local artistes, and other dramatic troupes. The pomp and glitter, the beautiful scenes painted on the screens, gorgeous dresses, colourful lighting, body language, and dialogues that were a reflection of the western style, captured the imagination of people. These, in turn, influenced the dramatic literature, stage settings, dialogues, and acting in the local productions. But, two local troupes - Gubbi Company (Veeranna's Sri Chennabasaveshwara Krupa Poshita Nataka Sangha) and A.V. Varadacharya's Ratnavali Theatres - made their own changes and set up new trends, which were followed by others.

Gubbi Company first came to Bangalore in 1886 and Ratnavali in 1908. Gubbi Company travelled all over the state and gave several performances. The popular saying that "Gubbi Company's story is the story of Karnataka Stage" speaks volumes about Gubbi Company's contribution. Among the 300-odd names of actors/actresses listed by Bellave Narahari Shastri, more than half had acted in the Gubbi Company at sometime or the other. Gubbi Veeranna constructed his own theatre on the Subedar Chatram Road in 1924 and the Shivananda Theatre (the present Movieland) in 1930.

When the death of the famous A.V. Varadachar was mourned in 1926, T.P. Kailasam suggested that more plays should be written and produced in honour of the departed soul. He acted on the suggestion himself. He never wrote but dictated the dialogues of his famous play Ammavra Ganda to R. Nagendra Rao, who took the dictation the whole night! T.P. Kailasam broke away from the typecast mythological plays and was the first Kannada playwright to write on social issues. He wrote in colloquial style in Kannada. This brought about many changes in the history of the Kannada stage. A new stream of playwrights, directors, and stage artists emerged. T.P. Kailasam came to be called the one and only "Kailas" of Kannada.

The plays of Adya Rangacharya were heavy, thought provoking, and were marked by sarcasm. He was known as the "only Ranga of the Kannada Ranga (stage)". Kaiwara Raja Rao and N. Kasturi were probably the first to write one act plays in Kannada, and Pu. Thi. Na. was known for his dance dramas. While Dasharathi Dixit wrote humorous plays, Gundanna and A.S. Murthy were known for farces. There were also other well-known dramatists and actors - K.V. Iyer, H.K. Ranganath, and C.K. Nagaraja Rao to name a few, and they made an impact on stage. It was Dr. Ranganath who popularised radio dramas, much before televisions took over.

The first amateur troupe was probably Saghana Vilasa Sabha started in Cantonment in 1895. One of the earliest and thriving troupes is the Amateur Dramatic Association started in 1909 by a group of students, teachers, and lawyers lead by the famous Bellary T. Raghavachari. A lawyer by profession, he was a brilliant stage artist in Andhra and Karnataka. ADA deviated from mythological dramas of professional companies and staged historical and social dramas. ADA has encouraged writing and production of new dramas, and has staged plays of many a Bangalore based dramatist such as T.P. Kailasam, Masti, Taranath, Bellave Narahari Shastri, Sosale Garalapuri Shastri, Anakru, and C.K. Venkata Ramaiah.

Many artists such as Devudu, T. Raghavachari, Motaganahalli Subramanya Shastri gained prominance through ADA. Sarojini Naidu and Rabindranath Tagore attended its annual functions in 1920 and 1919.

Many amateur troupes worked in the first half of 20th Century - Varadachar Smaraka Sangha (1926), The United Artists (C.K. Nagaraja Rao & Chi. Sadashiviah, 1936), Ravi Kalavidaru (K.V. Iyer), Jolly Amateur League (E.R. Sethuram, 1936), and Chaya Artists (B.S. Venkataram, 1943). There are 50 such troupes.

Amateur acting became quite popular and groups were formed in schools, colleges, factories, and banks to enact dramas on some occasion or the other. This brought to the Kannada stage a wide variety of people involving playwrights, artists, and directors from the college level to experienced veterans.

The various forms that were popularised were solo acting, miming, farces, street plays, folk and social dramas, and plays were sometimes even translations. Drama competitions, training camps and seminars organised by these troupes have enhanced the quality of writing and production of plays.

Master Hirannaiah of Hirannaiah Mitra Mandali is another gifted actor known for his prolific vocabulary and dialogues. He fearlessly attacks the current-day evildoers in his plays. His dialogues are always flexible to include a harangue on the current politicians and bigwigs. His impromptu dialogues and observations are relevant. His is a theatre version of pungent journalism characterised by "Kidi Seshappa" of earlier times. He has given a new dimension to play-acting.

Artistes such as Gubbi Veeranna, A.V. Varadacharya, Mohammed Peer, T. Raghavachari, K. Hirannaiah, Master Hirannaiah, R. Nagendra Rao, Tamasha Madhava Rao, D. Jayarao, Honnappa Bhagavathar, B.R. Panthulu, D. Murarachar, K. Ashwathamma, B. Jayamma, M.V. Rajamma, and B. Tulasamma are remembered by theatre goers of earlier times.

(The author would be grateful for additional information, old anecdotes, and old photographs on the subject. He can be contacted on 6520122 or


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