Wearing multiple hats

Laxmi Chandrashekar   | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy

After the usual squabble between Kapinipathi and Bhageerathi, the protagonist couple in the play Adaddella Olithe?, they finally decide to decorate their old house for an upcoming festival. Kapinipathi covers his nose with an old scarf and goes about cleaning the house. When the old Bhageerathi peeps from the kitchen window, she mistakes him for a thief. Unable to find her husband, she quickly climbs up a 15-ft tall ladder, hoping to escape from the intruder!

Senior theatre personality Laxmi Chandrashekar as Bhageerathi leaves the audience in splits: she belies her age with swift and demanding movements in this play directed by Pramod Shiggaon. At 67, she continues to act for various theatre groups in Bangalore, also bringing out original productions from her own troupe Kriyative Theatre, founded in 2005. An accomplished TV and cinema actor and a translator of repute, Laxmi remains deeply involved in theatre to this day.

Wearing multiple hats

“Theatre for me is a medium I have chosen to engage with society,” says Laxmi, who started out four decades ago. “In fact, the seeds of concern for the society were sown in my college days, in Mysore and London,” she informs. Laxmi was fortunate to have eminent thinkers such as U.R. Ananthamurthy, Balagopal Varma and others teach her at the University of Mysore. She was part of ‘Samathentho’ (Saraswatipurada Madhyada Thengina Thotada kalavidaru), one of the first amateur theatre groups in Mysore. “I got to play prominent roles when I was still in college. There I was exposed to discussions on society and politics,” she recalls. She remembers Dr. Na. Ratna, founder of All India Institute of Speech and Hearing (AIISH) take just one meal a day when the country was short of food during Indo-China war. “It was this modest sacrifice and commitment to humanity by these stalwarts that instilled social awareness in me,” recounts Laxmi.

After marriage, Laxmi left for London with her husband B.K. Chandrashekar, where she studied at the University of Leeds. “It gave me the opportunity to participate in discussions from economics to politics which ripened my half-baked ideas about State, society and rights of people,” she says.

On her return two years later, Laxmi acted in a play by British director Peter Coe based on the life of anti-emergency activist, Snehalata Reddy. “Though by then I was clear that I wanted to involve in social activities and was aware that theatre was my strength, it was only after witnessing the response from the audience after this play Snake Pit, did I realise that I should be taking up theatre as the medium for my creative expression.”

Wearing multiple hats

From then on, Laxmi immersed herself fully in theatre while she simultaneously taught literature at NMKRV College during the day. Her love for theatre and her desire for activism merged seamlessly and flowed abysmally. She did theatre that left a striking imprint on society -- which addressed issues concerning societal institutions, labour disputes, violence against women, environmental crisis and so on.

In the initial years, it was Samudaya that gave her a conducive atmosphere and platform. “With the support of playwright Prasanna, professor Narendar Pani and others, we did a number of thought-provoking plays in the 80s and 90s, including translated works from the West. Scripts based on real incidents were also performed with the hope to bring justice for the dis-empowered. For instance, when a factory in Bangalore announced lockout and its labourers went jobless, we did a street play on it. This forced its owner to immediately reopen the factory,” narrates Laxmi.

Wearing multiple hats

Another area which Laxmi has explored widely is women’s issues. From presenting Medea, a Greek mythological story by Euripides from the perspective of its protagonist Medea to showcasing the immense pressure that a modern-day woman is put through in Eddelu, Laxmi has performed monologues on women all over the world. The idea of doing monologues came, “only when I was required to present a play in an International conference on women in the US. For my first monologue I took women characters from different plays such as Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Sakavva from Devanuru Mahadeva’s Odalaala and Grusha from Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. Later this monologue Hennallave took a better shape when Sowmya Verma stepped in as director.”

Monologues for Laxmi were a great opportunity to master enacting different characters at once. “For stories that required two actors to be present simultaneously on stage, we began with two actor shows. For such plays, I invariably depended on actor Sundar with whom I have done several plays,” acknowledges Laxmi.

Wearing multiple hats

In the recent times, with comedy becoming the most sought-after genre, Kriyative Theatre that is known to produce original scripts, started looking for humorous stories by Kannada writers. T. Sunandamma, Dundiraj, M.R. Srinivasa Murthy, G.P. Rajaratnam and Na. Kasturi are some of the writers whose works have successively been showcased by the troupe. Humour for Laxmi has to be hearty and healthy and not possess vulgarity. “We have followed this principle in all our comedies,” she explains.

Another long-time desire of hers was to produce a play that addressed environmental crisis. But to present scientific facts in an interesting manner, she admits, “was a challenge. However, we finally managed to make actor-director Rangayana Ramnath who also has a M.Sc. in Chemistry write a script for us on global warming.” Their play Carbon Cake that narrates the story of a dedicated scientist looking for solutions to environmental problems was first staged in 2015.

The idea of producing bilingual plays came to Laxmi when she saw a Malayalam troupe doing their play both in Malayalam and Kannada. Adept at both Kannada and English and a translator herself, she began presenting some of her monologues in English abroad and in Bangalore to other language audience.

Wearing multiple hats

The characters Laxmi has played and the plays her theatre troupe has produced have been wide-ranging. She has been acting and producing plays with uninterrupted regularity and has created an audience base.

Does she have a word of advice for budding actors? “Get familiar with literature based on which the play has been made. It gives not just a background to the scenes but enhances your acting. You also get to choose better roles and scripts only if you have read them. Therefore theatre and literature go hand in hand,” concludes the acclaimed theatre artiste.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 7:38:38 AM |

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