Theatre

Pioneer of Kannada theatre

Dignitaries releasing Gundu Rao's book at an event. Photo: special arrangement  

The cosmopolitan culture of Hyderabad was enriched by a large number of migrants from different parts of the country, Kannadigas making a considerable chunk. Among them Karody Gundu Rao, a playwright, thespian and director stood out for bringing on to stage many a Kannada play under the banner ‘Kannada Natya Ranga’ that he launched in 1968 and pioneered its growth.

Born near Udipi, Gundu Rao received education in Udipi, Mangalore and Chennai. His grandfather Karody Subba Rao was a celebrated theatre man during the dawn of the 20t century. He was a playwright and penned a book on Yakshagana that became popular across Karnataka. Gundu Rao’s father Narasingha Rao touched many fields including music and taught his son Hindustani music and also harmonium.

Gundu Rao was initially influenced by Kannada and Marathi theatres and bitten by this theatre bug early in life, he penned his first play Draupadi Swayamavaram at the age of 12 and got it staged in the courtyard of a large house. His father Narsing Rao had launched a theatre unit named after their family deity Lakshmi Narasimha. This provided aplatform for Gundu Rao to enact his early plays in the village. He then wrote plays Dhana Prabhava in 1941 and Pavitra Prema, a poignant story of a young girl married off to an old man basing on such happenings in those times. In 1942, his father organised staging of a musical Narakasura Vadhe, his son taking the role of Srikrishna. It was staged in Udipi’s Alankar Theatre to raise war fund. This play became trend setter for introducing musical elements in verse and song. In 1943 Gundu Rao wrote Swarajya Nishte adapting the story of William Tel, a folk hero of Switzerland. ‘Vajrayudha’ was another play he penned taking the enmity between Indra and Vrittasura, as his subject, in1944. He then got married in 1946 and migrated to Hyderabad in 1950.

Gundu Rao took to different avatar in Hyderabad, first working for the development of some schools, taking up teaching profession. Even his wife, after her post-graduation and taking up teaching profession, did so. But the death of his father in 1968 kept him away from these activities for a while. And then he tried to transmute his dream into reviving theatre initially in an amateur setting. Till then, but for an odd one act Kannada play, serious theatre was absent. A chance remark by an acquaintance set Gundu Rao to launch an ambitious theatre journey and bring out full length plays complete with songs, verses and technical paraphernalia. Though initially he struggled to assemble his cast including female artistes, once he could do that he launched ‘Kannada Natya Ranga' on July 27,1968 at Ravindra Bharati. This was inaugurated by Telugu cinema icon Akkineni Nageswara Rao, amidst a large gathering of audience.

Gundu Rao went on to direct many plays with good command on production. He was even involved in make-up, light effects and background music. He trained more than 200 persons as credible actors, who keep the Kannada theatre alive today in Hyderabad. He breathed his last in 2010.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 10:12:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/pioneer-of-kannada-theatre/article6745502.ece

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