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A mirror to society

Denchanala Srinivas receiving the award  

Janapadam Theatre Repertory, a brainchild of theatre personality Denchanala Srinivas, was born out of folkore (janapadam) and the voices of people (jana signifying people). As the group turns 33 this year, its founder was honoured for his contribution to Telugu theatre on Telangana Formation Day. He says that the award has given him a renewed joy to pursue his passion for many more years. “I feel this recognition is for the growth of modern Telugu theatre, through which I have tried to represent the state’s culture and people,” reveals Srinivas, whose stay in Khammam in his late teens exposed him to theatre.

Born to parents who belonged to the artisan community in Telangana, his initiation into art forms was rather organic; his father was a sculptor and mother, a singer. The love for storytelling began when he overheard folk tales that his father would narrate at a kottam (open place) in his village, mirroring the lives and the sorrows of tribals.

Another source of inspiration was the monthly festivals at the nearby villages and the occasional jataras, where theatre forms exclusive to the community shaped his ideologies. He reveals, “The time I spent with theatre personalities like Papa Rao, Mushtaq Ahmed and Veeraswamy in my stint with Praja Natya Mandali, the stories I heard on jeethagallu, Lambada-exploitation laid the foundation to my theatrical interests. The first time I conceived a play from scratch was during graduation, titled For Sale. It talked of the unemployment scenario in India.” Srinivas even left a telecom job for his love for the stage.

A scene from a play that Denchanala Srinivas directed

A scene from a play that Denchanala Srinivas directed  

During a Sangeet Natak Akademi fest held at Ravindra Bharathi, he was exposed to several theatre styles with plays by Habib Tanvir, Girish Karnad and other theatre luminaries. That made him re-look his approach towards theatre. His tutelage under the likes of Habib Tanvir, Badal Sarkar, Kavalam Narayana Panikar, B V Karanth and Prasanna refined his sensibilities to craft plays that not only reflected happenings in society, but also score high on technique and aesthetics.

When evaluating his career in theatre, he is content at having developed a signature style. A style that’s developed through a focus on language and specific issues rooted to the region. “Another person whom I look up to is K V Subbanna who brought the world to his village, where he took up a three acre land to develop a cultural centre, inviting Russian, American directors to teach the tribals.”

Srinivas has also authored books like Guri Tappina Padyam and Bhasma Sarangi. Next, he is pinning hopes on his play Komaram Bheem, calling it his magnum opus for which he had researched over three years and has hand-picked artists from a theatre workshop he hosted in Khammam. The formation of Telangana State has benefited his quest for quality theatre. Though he is happy with the financial assistance from the government, he insists, “Theatre isn’t only about finances; it has to be a cultural movement. States like Karnataka, West Bengal and Kerala where theatre is strong, are more culturally rooted and people understand life better.”

The change in Telugu theatre should happen collectively from the theatre fraternity and the audiences, he adds. He feels people should study theatre and participate in theatre festivals to know how deeply it can impact them.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 9:32:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/denchanala-srinivas-30-years-telugu-theatre/article19094110.ece

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