D Srinivasan and T Babu perform free plays in public spaces in Coimbatore

Undeterred by rising costs and a decline in interest for theatre, D Srinivasan and T Babu’s passion for the stage drives them to perform free plays in public spaces

D Srinivasan and his friend T Babu recollect how they saved every paisa of their pocket money to buy themselves movie tickets at Kennedy Theatre, R S Puram. “It was only 55 Paisa for a ticket and Shivaji Ganesan was our hero. We would dance when he danced and cried with him. At school, we dressed up like him and enacted scenes from his movies,” remembers Srinivasan. The acting bug stayed on with them and they are now founders of Poonguil Kalai Mandram, a theatre group that has staged more than 50 plays. “We started in 1987 and our first play was called Oru Vidiyalai Thedigiron. It was about the life of a freedom fighter and it was staged at Kalai Arangam, R S Puram,” he says.

They present a new play once in three months. “Srinivasan is the script writer and I am the director. We are popularly known as Poonguil Srini and Poonguil Babu after our theatre group,” Babu says.

The pair brainstorms to come up with ideas and it takes Srinivasan one month to finalise the script. “My house doubles up as the office. We practise on weekends,” says Srinivasan. The actors have day jobs as painters, advocates, drivers and goldsmiths.

D Srinivasan and T Babu perform free plays in public spaces in Coimbatore

It is not all fun and games, though they do love theatre. The first staging of each play is stressful, admits Srinivasan. “The audience’s response will tell us if our jokes were really funny or if we conveyed the story well.

Till the end of the play, our hearts are racing,” Babu says. Their recent play Kalyana Galatta was performed for the first time at Gandhi Park two weeks ago. “It is a comedy and revolves around a girl who wants to get married. It was a great show and we had a good response from the crowd.”

Speaking of the unfortunate demise of theatre in the city, Srinivasan says, “The popularity of plays decreased due to televisions and computers. Auditoriums increased their rents and many local theatre troupes had to shut down. It was a difficult time and many of the theatre artistes had to look for other jobs. I now work as an assistant director in the film industry and Babu drives an autorickshaw.” This difficult time inspired them into presenting Viruthukal. “It was first performed in 1997 and has now covered 30 stages. It is about the lives of theatre artistes and is based on the tragic life of a friend who was an actor. As the number of plays decreased, he found it difficult to make ends meet. He ended up committing suicide. Such cases are very common among this field,” Babu rues. Viruthukal is one of their most popular plays. Most of Poonguil Kalai Mandram’s plays are staged in public spaces.“We cannot afford auditoriums. Our shows are non-ticketed and we believe that it helps to bring in more people. Our mission is to make stage plays popular again,” explains Srinivasan. In the last 10 years, they have performed in Chennai, Neyveli, Puducherry, Tiruchi and Thanjavur. “We found cheaper stages there. Most of our actors are volunteers. For others, we pool in our resources to pay them,” he reveals.

Srinivasan was honoured with the title ‘Kalai Choodamani’ by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 2006, for his contributions to theatre . “It was a proud moment and I never expected it,” he says.

The team has also done a short film called Marupakkam (The Other Side). It was released on YouTube in 2019. “My experience in the film industry helped me in its production. It was well received and now has more than 7,600 views,” he says.

Srinivasan and Babu are now working on their second short film. “It is a comedy and the shooting is in progress. We will release it online in the next few months. We have also recorded a play on cyber security for All India Radio and the first episode was aired last Saturday.” Srinivasan speaks for Babu too when he says, “We dream about making a feature film with theatre actors in the future”.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 4:12:35 PM |

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