Flying high in the world of drama

Kathadi Ramamurthy

Kathadi Ramamurthy  

"We do plays which reflect generation gap. But today's youngsters do not come to watch plays. We tell parents to bring their children to watch our plays. But they are just not there in the audience."

He has been known by his nickname and for his admirers he is evergreen. But he regrets that the younger generation is moving away from a major art form: drama. He would like to revive the art but it is difficult, he says. Veteran stage artiste Kathadi Ramamurthy thinks aloud in his meeting with R. Sujatha about the future of drama and the reason for apathy among youngsters for this art form.

HIS TRYST with the stage began in 1953, not taking into account his first appearance on as Charlie Chaplin as a student of standard IX. It has been his passion though he would like to call it a hobby. He is disappointed that "there are rasikas for Carnatic music and dance," but few people make the effort to come to watch a play. What does he believe is the reason for the lack of interest? Kathadi Ramamurthy has no answers to this apathy among the younger generation. It is worthwhile to borrow the clich� that comedians are generally philosophers off the stage. Mr. Ramamurthy is looking for answers, yet. He wants youngsters to come up to him and talk. In the age of communication, it is amazing that youngsters have yet to learn to communicate with people - in flesh and blood. Instead, they are content talking through computers, living in an imaginative world through Internet chat rooms, he feels.

He has done small but significant roles in cinema. But stage holds an attraction for him. "We do plays which reflect the generation gap. But today's youngsters do not come to watch plays," he says. "We tell parents to bring their children to watch our plays." But they are just not there in the audience.

He was the branch manager at Jenson and Nicholson, the paint makers. To him work came first and he devoted weekends to drama. "Writing 70 pages of dialogues is the most difficult thing in the world." It is easy to write for a television serial or for a film and also lucrative.

He is contemplative by turns. Perhaps that is not so, he says of his opinion of the younger generations. "I used to travel by motorcycle in seven minutes to my Parry's Corner office from my home at Alwarpet." Incredible speed, you would think. But he says, "Today can you think of such a thing?"

There was a time when people refused to move to the suburbs. They could make it to a play even if it was late in the evening. "Today, it is so difficult to go home and then come back for a play." All people want to do is to get back home and relax, he says. "Rasikas are falling because of traffic, travel and the distance they have to travel to watch a play." Earlier, plays would be staged for two-and-a-half hours. But by 1990s, they were brought down to one-and-a-half hours, he says.

Mr. Ramamurthy has been on stage for 50 years now. He has staged 32 plays with his production house, Stage Creations. His troupe has staged more than 4,000 plays while he has appeared at least 5,000 times on stage. He has seen several artistes join him and leave. Yet, his dramas have held their appeal.

`Kathadi' stuck to his name after his appearance in "If I get it," a drama by Cho Ramaswamy of Vivek Fine Arts, for which he has done 7 plays. "People said, `That is kathadi' whenever they passed me." He is a slender man and no, he did not get his name because of his appearance. In the play, he enacted the part of a cartoonist named Kathadi.

In 1964, Mr. Ramamurthy started Stage Creations and specialises in situation comedies. "I used to set apart 10 per cent of my salary for drama." Even now staging a play is not easy. "Sometimes the artistes would not turn up for rehearsal. Their excuses are genuine but they depend upon situation." He is grateful that his troupe has been allowed to rehearse for no charge at the Narada Gana Sabha.

From May 6-9, his troupe would celebrate 40 years on stage. Mr. Ramamurthy says, "I want the younger generation to know what stage plays of the 1970s and 1980s were like." His plays would include Devan's `Thupariyum Sambu,' Visu's `Dowry Kalyana Vaibogame,' besides `Iru Veedugal,' `Nijamalla Kathai,' `Anandam Paramanandam' and `Ayya Amma Ammamma.'

Mr. Ramamurthy regrets that "false prestige is attached to foreign language plays." Even badly- made play in Western languages are better received than a good Tamil play, he says. In his play this time round, his sister's grandson will act as his son.

Stage has its limitations, he acknowledges. On the effort that goes into staging a play, he says: "every play is like performing a marriage."

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