What could be more fulfilling than seeing three legends coming together on a single stage?

Company Drama being the theme for Ranga Shankara’s festival this year, it was an attempt to bring back the grandeur of the bygone era. With all the worries of running a company, there were people who carried on bravely, there were those who came back with a revival, as well as those who had enriched those moments and had little choice but succumb to time. The festival brought all of them on one stage. Nothing could dampen the spirits of the 83-year-old R. Nagarathnamma, the pioneer of the all-woman drama company, Stree Nataka Mandali, which she established in the Fifties. She wore out herself just getting on to stage, “Kailaagodilla adre chapala bidodilla” (I have no energy, but thetemptation of theatre is too much), said the grand-old-lady who would put leading male actors to shame with her thunderous performance of Kamsa, Bhima, Duryodhana and the rest. She put on no make up and she could not move around on stage, but then does acting need any of these trappings? Sitting firmly in her chair and as she battled with all her physical pain, Nagarathnamma brushed every inability and made a brilliant escape into her roles; the crowd was so moved that they had to drown it in roaring applause.

She belted out an English dialogue from “Samsara Nauke” in which she played Sundru. “I don’t know a word of English; they taught me and I parroted it. Of course, I could identify with them,” said Nagarathnamma, referring to the emotionally-charged lines which spoke of the raw deal women got. She then gave snatches from “Krishna Leele” in which Nagarathnamma played Kamsa. Her mannerisms, the intonations, the expressions and the uproarious laughter — she captured every nuance. Even though she was helplessly tied down to her chair, her spirit was soaring Nagarathnamma was phenomenal. With folded hands she bowed and said: “Thanks for remembering I exist. It is a fulfilling moment.”

Sarita Joshi was a personification of grace and fluidity. “I come from Maharastra, but Gujarat gave me shelter. So Gujarati is my Yashoda maiyya,” she put it poetically. Sarita Joshi who had her roots in Company Drama, put out a lively bit on the mood in company drama just before a performance - both from the audience and actor’s viewpoint.

Sarita Joshi is among the few who has been able to handle with elan the transition from company to modern theatre and one could see that in her extract from “Sakku Bai”. In her, you saw that era of theatre which expected the actor to be competent in every faculty; dialogue delivery to body language to music. In Sarita, one saw the essence of that enormous degree of commitment and perfection.

Does the tongue ever age? Well, not in Master Hirannaiah’s case. It lashes just as forcefully and robustly as it did decades ago.

Haven’t we heard him hold forth endlessly, breathlessly, tirelessly in “Lanchavatara”, “Devadasi” and other plays? Now well past 70, Hirannaiah was no different. In that bit from “Nadu Bidi Narayana”, Hiranniah revelled in himself. If you have followed him, you’d know that many of the things (master of extempore!) he said came from his heyday. Of course, Hiranniah is too perspicacious not to be in tune with the present.

His sharp political mind, his spiky tongue as well as his moral fortitude, have spared none. And so you had him attacking everyone from Deve Gowda to Siddaramaih to Kharge to Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi. There he was ridiculing the Cauvery water issue even as he made sharp comments on the education system, in passing.

While Hirannaiah snickered, the crowd nearly fell off their chairs laughing.

Wish the middle class would take Hirannaiah’s verbal activism to yet another level. Nevertheless, it was gratifying to watch these old, yet passionate legends, one after the other.

DEEPA GANESH

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