Theatre

Bold and creative

Veteran Drama Artist S V Sankaran. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

The all-in-one man of theatre



Bold and creative



S.V. Sankaran’s association with Cho had him multi-tasking from being a stage manager to prompter, writes Malathi Rangarajan



Malathi Rangarajan



A mélange of emotions crisscross S.V. Sankaran’s visage as he recalls a plethora of experiences that life has offered him. A life entwined with Cho and his Viveka Fine Arts Club (VFAC) for half a century and more! Neither being physically challenged nor being employed with the Life Insurance Corporation deterred him from his pursuit of theatre – a passion initially nurtured by his brother S.V. Venkatraman.



“It doesn’t mean my job with LIC took a back seat. I served sincerely till I retired and my diligence fetched me quite a few promotions,” the octogenarian clarifies.



He had had a fall recently, which may have added to the discomfort of being bound to the wheelchair for a few years now, but his face showed no pain or self pity, as he sat talking on the cot with a plastered leg.



Polio affected Sankaran’s mobility, but his perseverance and punctiliousness helped him to excel in his work. “No troupe can stage a play without a manager to organise, oversee and ensure smooth conduct on stage. Yet the importance of a stage manager goes unnoticed.” The angst is evident.



Except Mylapore Academy, which honoured him some time ago, no forum has recognised stage management as an indispensable part of theatre activity, Sankaran feels. Multi-tasking is essential for a stage manager to prevent gaffes on stage.



A master in the art of prompting, the VFAC team would insist that Sankaran stayed on in the wings throughout a play, to unobtrusively help them out in case they goofed up their lines. “It was possible because I knew every line of the dialogue in all of Cho’s plays. So I would concentrate on the happenings on stage and simultaneously have an eye on the materials that had to be ready for the scenes,” he recalls.



For all this, Sankaran was said to be a martinet at rehearsals and during shows. “I had to be a disciplinarian. Otherwise if an actor forgot a few lines, the others on stage with him would begin laughing unperturbed by the presence of a packed hall. Cho gave me the freedom to rein the actors in. Every show is vital because watching you is an audience which wants a worthy evening.”



Indiscreet prompting could mar a play. Others had tried to step into Sankaran’s shoes and had shied away because they couldn’t do it to perfection.



Sankaran pushes a sheet of paper towards me saying, “Just see what Ambi had to say about me.” Cho’s brother Ambi was a commendable actor and a significant face of VFAC. Complimenting Sankaran as a stickler for perfection with a memory that never allowed even minor discrepancies to go unnoticed, Ambi had written that with Sankaran around the actors didn’t have to memorise their lines. “Did you read his description of me as a ‘Wheel-Chair Hitler’? I had to be so,” Sankaran sounds happy with the metaphor.



“A play is an entertainment for the crowd. Not for you, so stop laughing and get on with your work,” he would goad the team on.



It appears that Sankaran has been the only differently-abled person on the Tamil theatre circuit. From keeping the props for every scene in order, seeing to it that appropriate scrims moved seamlessly in the background, checking the acoustics, giving cues to the lights department for every scene, being the stand-in for minor characters who failed to turn up and training a replacement when an actor was suddenly unable to make it for a show, to holding the mike backstage and welcoming the audience (“where I would ring the telephone bell, and begin speaking into the mike”) Sankaran has done them all for every VFAC play!



Beginning with its inaugural play, ‘Kalyani,’ till the very last show when Cho decided to hang up his boots, Sankaran has been with VFAC. “Not just me, all of us came in together and stayed on till the troupe shut up shop. As Cho never brought new faces into VFAC all of us aged together. The dilemma arose when we needed young characters in our plays. We would say a character was 25, when the actor was actually 40, and Cho would typically remark, ‘He’s grown old really fast. That’s all’,” guffaws Sankaran.



He calls up Cho often. “I get emotional while talking and he cuts me short. My association with him is deep and strong.” Cho has been the fulcrum of Sankaran’s life for long.



Thanks to Cho, Sankaran’s other talents too came to the fore. He was a film critic and columnist for Thughlak and an assistant director for Cho’s television serials and DVD productions.



Sankaran could straddle profession and passion successfully for decades only because of his wife, who was his tower of strength.



“From office I would go to the rehearsals or the sabhas, while my wife would return home to take care of the children,” remembers Sankaran. Both were employees of LIC. Soon he gets nostalgic and emotional as he talks about his wife of 49 years, who passed away a couple of years ago.



When Cho gave his play, ‘Endru Thaniyum Indha Sudhandhira Dhaagam’ to T.V. Varadharajen, he told him, “The best person to guide you about my plays is Sankaran.” Sankaran is now an advisor for Varadharajen’s United Visuals.

Bold and creative

'According to Sankaran, Cho’s guts and brainpower are unparalleled. “Half a dozen folks would be chatting in his room, but you would see him dictating the editorial for the next edition of Thughlak to his assistant, totally oblivious to the din! He would book a room at Hotel Woodlands to write a play. Every 15 minutes he would come out to give us a scene he had completed writing. Neelu, others and I would read the scene and discuss it, and he would be out again soon with the next! It was as though the scenes were flowing out from his head on to the reams of paper!”

The troupe was to stage a play in Madurai that evening when Cho got to know that anti-social elements had planned to create a ruckus at the hall, after the lights went off, and before the curtain rose. VFAC never let the curtains down between scenes. All necessary changes were always made in the dark. (“I was used to getting materials in order in the dark,” says Sankaran.) “So Cho decided that the moment the stage darkened, two huge, bright lights would be beamed on the audience. ‘The miscreants won’t be able to do much then,’ he said, and very rightly the play went on without a hitch,” smiles Sankaran.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 5:55:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/bold-and-creative/article8649703.ece

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