Theatre

Multiple hues

Can a nine-hour-long play based on a 700-page novel draw an audience in a time and age when viewers' attention span is measured in split seconds?

Yes, if the success of “Malegalalli Madumagalu”, based on the eponymous magnum opus by the late Kuvempu, one of the tallest literary figures in Kannada, is anything to go by.

The play, staged by Mysore-based theatre repertory Rangayana, recently had shows on every alternate day for a month and people queued up every morning to buy tickets for evening shows. It proves that there is always an audience in Karnataka if there is a good play, says its director C. Basavalingiah, an alumnus of the National School of Drama (NSD).

Despite apprehensions that a form like theatre might fall by the wayside with the increasing popularity of technology-driven forms of entertainment, Kannada theatre has stood firm. The number of people involved in amateur theatre with little or no monetary support or expectations remains reasonably large. On the other hand, professional theatre (called Company Nataka) also survives against all odds, particularly in the districts of northern Karnataka.

As K.V. Akshara, playwright and director who heads Ninasam (the theatre repertory based in the village Heggodu in the hilly Malnad region), puts it, there are over 100 troupes small and big operating out of Bangalore alone today. There is greater diversity in terms of gender, caste and class background of people involved in theatre as compared to earlier, says Akshara.

Encouraging diversity

Theatre director Shashidhar Barighat says that there have been about 30 new plays staged and 10 new troupes formed in Bangalore in the last four years. There is plenty of active theatre in smaller towns and villages too. The growth in Kannada theatre now could be interpreted as more horizontal than vertical, he observes, considering that fewer plays get canonical status as greats compared to say the 1970s and 80s. There was a time when a play by B.V. Karanth or Prasanna stood out as landmark production, he says.

T. Surendra Rao, secretary of Samudaya, a theatre group that questioned traditional definitions of culture in the 1970s with a state-wide Jatha, agrees that Kannada theatre is getting increasingly de-centralised. The response to Samudaya's recent travelling cultural festival with the theme ‘Samudaya for hunger-free Karnataka' not only shows that Kannada theatre continues to enthuse people, but also that theatre has essentially retained its egalitarian and democratic spirit. A theme like this will not attract corporate sponsorship, but that is not a deterrent, he says.

In fact, theatre in languages like Kannada, Akshara argues, is a constant source of resistance to globalisation since it has not grown as an industry with the possibility of uniformity and homogenisation.

Do vibrant regional theatre traditions like Kannada get their due on the larger national map? Theatre personalities like Prasanna have long argued that the very demarcation as regional and national theatres, the latter comprising Hindi, is unconstitutional and undemocratic. He says it is only national theatre that gets pampered through central funding, national institutions and international exposure.

Meanwhile, a branch of the NSD granted for Karnataka after much persuasion by theatre activists is yet to get off the ground and start functioning. Symbolic, perhaps, of the national-regional divide.


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 3:57:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Multiple-hues/article16148443.ece

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