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A new stage is set

KARUNYA KESHAV
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Chatline Theatre stalwarts Arundhati and Jagdish Raja open up Jagriti to Bangaloreans tomorrow. They tell KARUNYA KESHAV how it will create a space that nurtures creativity and encourages new voices in the arts

INTERNALISING THEATRE Jagdish and Arundhati Raja hope Jagriti will become “the third place” people go to, after home and work photos (cover and above): Murali Kumar K.
INTERNALISING THEATRE Jagdish and Arundhati Raja hope Jagriti will become “the third place” people go to, after home and work photos (cover and above): Murali Kumar K.

W hen a building has healthy silver oak and teak trees where you might have otherwise walked into concrete columns, you suspect it bodes well for creative thought and contemplation. When you learn the building is the dream project of theatre stalwarts Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, you expect nothing less than a manifold increase in the collective creative quotient of the city.

Nearly seven years in the making, Jagriti theatre is set for its unveiling tomorrow. Situated amidst the high rises and bustling markets of Whitefield, on land that was once a farm owned by the couple, Jagriti houses a 200-seater, state-of-the-art auditorium, as well as more informal performance areas and rehearsal spaces that replicate the stage.

For Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, who have over 30 years of experience in theatre and communications, the objective is clear — to create a space that nurtures creativity and encourages new voices in the arts.

“We all play-act as children, making up stories. It's only when we grow up that we lose this,” they say, explaining the role that theatre and performance can play in our lives.

This particular space will be open for “anything from cooking demonstrations to flamenco lessons” and HR exercises, Jagdish says. “It is a centre for performance, a space for community,” the couple adds with a passion that is impossible not to be affected by.

And it looks set to do for the community in this burgeoning part of the city what spaces like Ranga Shankara, Chowdiah and Ravindra Kalakshetra have done at other far corners.

For theatre enthusiasts, for whom the drive to Whitefield is but an easily forgotten scene before the main act, the space could, as Jagdish hopes, become “the Third Place” they go to after home and work. “The informal setting makes it ideal for interacting with artistes and meeting performers,” he adds. Residents could eventually even volunteer to host performers in an empty room in their houses.

Adding to this intimate, rather romanticised setting is a bookshop and The Fat Chef restaurant, “An active, supportive restaurant would give people an experience of a full evening out,” Jagdish says, as he throws in the idea of a “supper-theatre package” or sophisticated “wine and cheese soirees”.

Yet, despite all efforts to encourage participation of corporates and young professionals on one hand, and fashion a warm, intimate space — even the thrust stage is designed to reflect that — for everyone on the other, the emphasis here remains on high quality, professional theatre.

The auditorium boasts high-tech lighting, sound and projection equipment, with plans afoot to have in place the infrastructure to offer simultaneous digital subtitling and hold shows for the hearing impaired. “What happens in the auditorium will be of a certain standard,” clarifies Arundhati. While the open areas will help amateur artistes understand what stagecraft is about, both performers and spectators can expect a level of ability of anyone that takes centre stage in the auditorium.

Writer Anita Nair, whose “Nine Faces of Being” will be part of the Jagriti launch, echoes the enthusiasm of the creative community when she says she is encouraged by the couple's vision that insists on professionalism. As a writer, it is important for her to see a work, into which she has put her heart and soul, be performed on stage with the same level of commitment, she says. “I can see my work as part of their vision.”

At Jargriti, the focus will be on English language theatre, the couple clarifies. Their own 28-year-old theatre group Artistes' Repertory Theatre (ART) with over 75 productions to their credit will be the resident performing company. Rajat Kapoor's “Hamlet, the Clown Prince” as well as classics by Shakespeare, Chekhov and Tagore have found their place in the calendar for the year.

The Rajas speak in one voice as they laughingly express a hope – only half in jest, I suspect – that the community is “energised and awoken” by what they see, as the very name of the theatre suggests. “In five years, we hope to have built the cantilevers that create bridges,” Jagdish says.

Jagriti's week-long launch celebrations will kick off on Saturday with the unveiling of a mural by sculptor-artist Yusuf Arakkal. There will be concerts by Madhu Natraj, U. Tara Kini and Vidushi Shanti Rao.

From January 12, ART will perform Anita Nair's “Nine Faces of Being” adapted by the author from her novel “Mistress”. Tickets are available on indianstage.com or at the venue. Check www.jagrititheatre.com

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