Folk at the forefront

Indianostrum offers a free space for theatre and strives to revive the local performative art forms of Tamil Nadu

The founder of Indianostrum, a Puducherry-based theatre group, Kumarane Valavane was hardly 14 when he left to France, and had stayed on there and completed his PhD in theoretical physics. Theatre being his passion, he trained under Ariane Mnouchkine, one of the iconic and influential stage directors in Europe, and also the founder of Theatre du Soleil.

Folk at the forefront

In 2007, he returned to Puducherry and launched Indianostrum with a mission to revive traditional folk theatre of Tamil Nadu. “Inspired by Mnouchkine, I was determined to save the declining culture and heritage of folk theatre art forms. My career as physics professor or my success as an artiste with the Theatre du Soliel, did not deter me from returning to India and launch Indianostrum (India of our dream),” says Valavane.

No other country in the world has such a rich and ancient folk art form such as therukoothu or kattabommalattam.

“Even though these artistes have safeguarded the art form, it is on the path of decline. Today only five therukoothu troupes have survived with all the aesthetics intact, thanks to our village festivals,” he says. Kattabommalattam, another unique puppet theatre, is already marching towards extinction. “One or two of the surviving troupes tell me that till 1980,they were running housefull shows in Tambaram area (near Chennai). Later with the invasion of cinema, they were rendered without opportunity to perform.”

Folk at the forefront

Indianostrum is currently working with these kattabommalattam artistes for a collaborative performance which will be staged in April 2018. The building was originally a colonial cinema hall, Pathe Cine Familial, on the beach front, controlled by the Our Lady of Angels Church. Valavane approached the then parish priest of the church, Rev Fr Michael John, and convinced by the dedication of Indianostrum, the church agreed to rent the space in 2010. “I had to completely renovate this old theatre; close the sides, build a kitchen, office space and toilets. Where the screen existed, I built a gallery for audience and on the opposite side, the stage was built. Today, anyone can stage their plays here free of cost,” says Valavane.

Folk at the forefront

A major fire destroyed the theatre in 2013, and the French community in Puducherry collected donations to rebuild it in 2014. “In 2015, Mnouchkine visited India and came to Puducherry. Fascinated by Indianostrum space, she shifted her Encole Nomad workshop location from Delhi to Puducherry. This was a big leap for us as 100 theatre artistes from all over the world converged here for three weeks,” Valavane points out.

Mnouchkine’s play A Room in India, which had Indianostrum as its background and therukoothu as its theme, was a huge hit, and this was another milestone that familiarised Indianostrum among international theatre audiences.

Folk at the forefront

Later in 2016, Mnouchkine invited Indianostrum to perform in Paris. “We premiered our production, Karuppu in Paris and also staged two other plays in Theatre du Soleil. And this year, we staged Karuppu during the month of November, and nearly 1,000 people have watched it.”

For Valavane, the next big challenge is to renovate the existing building and renew the contract in 2020. Plans are on to renovate and build rooms above the theatre as suggested by the church. “We look forward to the Government recognition for our efforts, as this transformation from a colonial theatre to a performing space is A unique and significant development,” says Valavane.

Indianostrum firmly believes that theatre is not the threshold to enter cinema as is believed by youngsters today. “Theatre and cinema are not interrelated. Cinema is not the next level of theatre. The language and grammar of drama is completely different from the film media,” he points out. Valavane therefore does not encourage youth with film aspirations to join theatre. He instead suggests that they learn any one of the traditional folk performances such as therukoothu, devar attam or oyil attam.

“The only way to revive our culture is to save declining folk performances. Why can't the Government come up with a plan where at least one % of the total budget of any Tamil film is contributed for the revival of folk arts? ” he asks.

Goverment must also create performance spaces and make the rent affordable, and only this can make theatre vibrant and bring in more talents. “If our theatre scenario thrives, the quality of cinema will also evolve as an artistic form rather than just entertainment,” says Valavane.

(Indianostrum is open for donations to stage its upcoming Kattabommalattam production, and those interested can contact 9578302087)

Vintage Classic

Rev Fr Michael John shares the idea behind transforming Pathe Cinema into a dedicated space for Indianostrum Theatre performances

Rev Fr Michael John, who was the then priest at the Our Lady Of Angels Church (2007-2015) in Puducherry, had a significant role in transforming the colonial cinema hall, Pathe Cine Familial, into a space for theatre performance to be used by Indianostrum. “The building was rented out for small parties and for Yoga classes for a nominal rent, just to ensure the building was in use. The French people are artistic and culture oriented, and they also conduct many events to cater to the French population in Puducherry, and those who visited the town,” says Fr John.

“I have observed Kumarane Valavane and his dedication in his chosen field of work and when he approached me with the request to rent out the building for their theatre performances, I agreed and I was encouraged by the French people as well,” he says.

The building as such, he says, is not a great work of architecture or built in artistic manner, but it was huge, with a big podium, and larger seating capacity. “Valavane used his artistic vision to recreate the interiors of the hall according to his imagination after we signed the contract,,” he says, adding that the idea of signing the contract was not oriented towards the income but to preserve the colonial building and put it to better use.

Ecole Nomade 2018

Ariane Mnouchkine will be conducting her Ecole Nomade, a three-week workshop in Puducherry in collaboration with Indianostrum.

The workshop sessions in English, will deal with moments of practical reflection, in which the participants will get clarity and approach to theatre, using improvisation, masks, music, dance and movement.

Anyone over the age of 16 years old is free to apply.While the workshop is free, the participants need to take care of their accommodation and living expenses.

École Nomade is supported by the Institut Français in India for Bonjour India!, the Consulate Generale of France in Pondicherry, the Lycée Français de Pondichéry, The Alliance Française of Pondicherry and the Government of Pondicherry (Department of Tourism).

@Indianostrum, Romain Rolland Street, Puducherry

January 9 to 26, 8 am to 5 pm, Phone: 9578302087

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 9:47:50 PM |

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