Women Power: Creating a niche in Tamil theatre

Bombay Gnanam is not only a calm and composed woman, but also one who emanates self-confidence and high determination. Splendid is her articulation prowess, as she unwinds her memories and the path she has treaded all these years to carve out a niche for herself in Tamil theatre. She is one of the few to reach the drawing room of homes through cinema and drama. Hailing from a Tamil Brahmin family in Mayavaram, she has touched the hearts of her audience in all the roles enacted by her through stage plays. She does not believe in just sprucing up her talent but also that of others through the Mahalakshmi Ladies Drama Group that was founded by her in 1989. The group is unusual- all the male roles are performed by women.

The script written by Gnanam most of the time revolves round problems faced by women. “More than acting I am quite adept at script writing and directing plays,” says Ms. Gnanam. How did this idea of a women theatre group dawn on her? She traces the birth and growth of her venture. “I was interested in drama from a very young age. In the 1980s, when I was a resident of Bombay, I happened to read a comment by leading theatre artistes that there are no women in the field of Tamil drama to write plays or direct them. It dawned on me to take it up as a challenge and I invited housewives to join me.”

“Three decades ago, it was not easy for women to act in plays. The family members, however, did not mind the women acting with their own gender. This is the reason why my troupe members are only women.” The Mahalakshmi Ladies Group thus moved on to stage its first play in a Bombay Sabha. There was no looking back. Gnanam was introduced to the Chennai TV audience by K. Balachander through his serial ‘Premi'. Since then, she has acted in more than 15 serials – ‘Kolangal', ‘Kudambum' and ‘Chellamma' to name a few.

The artistes in her group are also talented and hardworking. Determination, commitment and hard work are what she expects from her troupe members, although physical appearance and acting talent matters.

According to her, if a person has excellent capacity and an inherent interest to perform, they are sure to excel as an artist. To play the role of a man, one needs to be tall, have broad shoulders and a masculine walk.

All characters are given equal importance in her plays so that one does not outdo the other. She is also confident that if a woman is genuinely interested in acting, she can train them to bring out the best in her. Apart from acting and direction, backdrop and props play an important role in a play. “A true picture can be revealed with the help of the set,” says Ms. Gnanam.

“All this put together creates an impact on the audience. People can relate to our pro-women themes such as dowry harassment, problems of working women, suicides and child marriages. It leaves an indelible mark on the audience. Most of them are eye openers,” she says.

Gnanam feels that the television has slowly eaten into drama time. As most couples go to work, by the time they get back home they are too tired to travel all the way to a sabha to see a play. Instead, they find it convenient to switch on the TV and watch a serial. She claims that there is not much publicity given to stage plays. “Maybe more posters, curtain raisers in magazines and reviews will inform people about the plays.” Drama fests are a great outlet for the artistes. She feels that sabhas can try to organise such fests during summer or Pongal, when children and women are relatively free to visit the sabhas.


Gnanam has many awards to her credit. A recipient of Nataka Choodamani by Krishna Gana Sabha, Vani Kala Sudhakara by Vani Mahal and Nataka Padmam by Brahma Gana Sabha, the Kalaimamani was also conferred on her. She plans to initiate an award for youngsters who are interested in theatre. A humanitarian by nature, Gnanam wants to stage her plays in the rural areas. But paucity of funds does not allow her to go ahead. “If anybody is willing to sponsor the plays I would like to stage plays which would throw light on the domestic problems of rural women and educate them about their rights.” In spite of busy schedules she is a devout wife, a proud mother of two sons and an affectionate grandmother. The humble artist concludes: I am happy with whatever God has given me in life. Theatre is my passion and I do not look at it as a money making proposition.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2021 12:49:30 PM |

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