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A thousand cheers

At least two generations of Bangaloreans have grown up on Prabhat Kalavidaru's ballet, Cinderella. HEMA VIJAY profiles the group that has seven decades of history behind it.

Gopinatha Dasa (top), who took the group to new heights, and scenes from the perennial favourite, <145,4>Cinderella

MENTION PRABHAT Kalavidaru, and you evoke a certain response in your listener even in the face of drama's dwindling appeal today. This theatre group, founded some 70 years ago, partly to express solidarity with the Freedom Movement, has evolved over the years to cover a variety of themes ranging from Indian mythology to Western classics. In the process, the group has staged over a lakh of performances in a number of Indian languages all over the world. And now, it is all set to stage its 1000th performance of Cinderella, easily its most popular ballet that has regaled two or even three generations of Bangaloreans.

The Prabhat team has created over 20 ballets, most notably Mohini Bhasmasura, Karnataka Vaibhava, Kindara Jogi, Rama Pratiksha, and Punyakoti. In fact, Prabhat has staged Mohini Bhasmasura over 5,000 times.

"Prabhat Kalavidaru was not created in a single day," says Venkateshachar, son of Gopinath Dasa, one of the four sibling-founders of the group. The brothers — Gopinath Dasa, Karigiri Dasa, Jaisimha Dasa, and Dwarakanath — began their early career in Tumkur before moving on to Bangalore in the '30s in search of a bigger audience. It was Gopinath Das who was largely instrumental in giving it a certain character and identity by incorporating technology at a time when purists abhorred it, but which brought in the crowds. "Prabhat imbibed various theatre, dance, and folk traditions and came out with performances that the audience found interesting. That has always been the key to its success," says Mr. Venkateshachar.

Historians acknowledge that in some ways, the evolution of Prabhat Kalavidaru contributed to the heralding of a cultural renaissance in Karnataka, with its plays spurring contributions from artistes, musicians, writers, and technicians in the State. It was also among the first to present Indian classical dance forms through ballet. This theatre group has also contributed film artistes like actor/director C.R. Simha, actors Srinath, Manjula, Lokesh, and Hema Panchmuki (of America, America fame) who began their careers here.

Interestingly, at one point of time, Prabhat was a family affair with 60 persons across four generations playing active roles in it, living under the same roof, travelling together across the country and the globe. Today, outsiders have a presence, but the family hand still rules through Venkateshachar, who actively guides the group. Prabhat's male lead happens to be Harish Tumkur, Gopinath Dasa's grandson. Hema Panchmuki, Gopinath Dasa's granddaughter, is the group's choreographer. Ms. Panchmuki insists on amalgamating dance styles in Prabhat's plays, creating a semi-classical style, which traditional theatre groups stay clear of generally. "Fusion of Bharatanatya, Kathak, and Odissi, for instance, is extremely expressive and has great audience appeal," she notes. In Cinderella, Panchmuki also incorporates Western classical dance styles. Script adaptations like the introduction of a mantravadi into the story of Cinderella all go to give colour to the play. Apart from ballets, Prabhat also gives performances showcasing Indian culture to foreign audience.

Prabhat was also among the first theatre groups to introduce pre-recorded dialogues and lip-synchronisation in the country.

It takes about two years and about Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 15 lakh for Prabhat to produce a play. "When we produce a ballet, we start off with research to ensure authenticity and to get a feel of the nuances of the period before preparing the script. That by itself is a time-consuming process," Mr. Venkateshachar points out. For instance, research is well under way for Kittoor Rani Chennamma, the play the group is working to produce at the moment, which is based on the brave queen who single-handedly fought the British. The group is talking to historians, including Suryanath Kamat.

Prabhat is very meticulous about lighting effects and the music score. For its soon-to-happen 1000th rendition of Cinderella, which also happens to be on its silver jubilee year (Cinderella was first staged in 1978 to overwhelm-ing response, something unprece-dented for a theme of foreign origin), the group has roped in stalwarts such as S.P. Balasubra-maniam to lend his voice.

Cinderella has several magical movements. The appear-ance of the Godmother's genie, the transformation of Cinderella, the appearance of the pumpkin chariot hauled by the four mice, and the lovely boat that appears in Cinderella's dream — you wouldn't mind seeing the ballet a thousand times.

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