For an occasional visitor to a city, its growth can perhaps be judged by its real estate spurt, its traffic and its cultural evolution. All boxes can be ticked when it comes to Bangalore or Bengaluru. (Hopefully nobody will take offence and throw stones if the city is referred to by its more popular name.)
After Mumbai, where the theatre scene is the busiest and most varied, and a lot of new plays are written by young playwrights in English, the closest runner-up is Bangalore. And, the catalysts for this spurt are the two wonderful theatres - Ranga Shankara and Jagriti.
Both of them were established by theatre practitioners, and run with the kind of warmth and empathy only one theatre person can have for another.
Arundhati and her husband, the late Shankar Nag, who were inspired by Prithvi Theatre, wanted to create a vibrant and nurturing space for theatre lovers in their city. This idea led to Ranga Shankara — a state-of-the-art theatre facility in Bangalore, whose 10th anniversary will be on October 28. File pic
Ranga Shankara celebrates its 10th anniversary next week, in the presence of theatre folk invited from all over the country, and the big bash will be followed by the annual festival (from October 28 to November 9). In the midst of all the preparations, Arundhati Nag is dragged away for a Bengali meal nearby, as her colleagues S Surendranath (known to all as Suri) and Gayathri Krishna hold fort. Others who have been associated with the theatre over the years have wandered back in to help.
The lovely theatre, set amidst the bustling J P Nagar area of Bangalore, was inspired by our own Prithvi Theatre; it was the dream of Arundhati and her husband the late Shankar Nag to create just such a vibrant and nurturing space for theatre lovers in their city. It took all the fund-raising and organisational skills Arundhati possessed, to see the theatre slowly take shape and open on October 28, 2004. Theatre lovers from all over contributed to it and the 200 names are embossed on a beautiful brass and copper mural by S G Vasudev.
And once that welcoming space was available, theatre activity in the city boomed. It’s not as if there was no theatre happening in Bangalore before B V Karanth, Girish Karnad, Mahesh Dattani, Chandrashekar Kambar are from that city, after all, and people like Jagdish and Arundhati Raja, Arjun Sajnani, Prakash Belawadi, Vijay Nair, Vijay Padaki were already active on the theatre scene - but the inputs by young playwrights, directors and actors made Bangalore’s theatre particularly English theatre take off. It was the first space in Bangalore dedicated to theatre, and promised a show every day (except Mondays). Soon, names like Ram Ganesh Kamatham, Ajay Krishnan, Abhishek Majumdar, Akash Mohimen, Sandeep Shikhar, Swar Thounaojam, Swetanshu Bora, Gautam Raja, Chanakya Vyas emerged from Bangalore and joined the national theatre stream.
It also helped that people migrated to Bangalore from all over the country, since it became an IT hub. So while the old school Kannada theatre continued and Ranga Shankara encourages it
too original English theatre grew wings.
Ranga Shankara also had workshops and plays for children, international productions visiting, and just fun stuff like the Mango Party every year. Because it has Arundhati’s personal touch everywhere, the theatre became a magnet for the creative community, not just in Bangalore, but all over the country.
Arundhati, who was the driving force and managing trustee, decided last year to try to detach herself from the day-to-day operations of the theatre, but obviously could not manage to stay away. She watches over the space with a mixture of affection, patience and discipline. But, she believes it belongs to the theatre community. “My daughter will not inherit it. The Trust will be there to look after it,” she said.
At the other end of the city, in Whitefield, known for years as the place where Satya Saibaba had his ashram, and is now dotted with gleaming IT centres, is the small Jagriti Theatre, built by Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, around four years ago, on part of their own farmhouse. Jagriti has brought a different kind of energy into Bangalore’s theatre space. The Rajas continue to produce plays and act, as well as keep a lot of exciting events going in their annual calendar - including plays for children. Arundhati has the excellent system of a theatre season, when groups perform their new plays over eleven shows. This year, the theme was classics reworked, and five new productions that revisited old works are currently being performed during this season. She also has the idea of opening up the space for music, dance and stand-up comedy, and make it a complete cultural experience.
The going is tough, and funds always tight, but both Arundhatis are determined to keep the rentals of their theatres low and also cap ticket prices, so that staging a play as well as watching one is affordable.
Like with so many institutions that add value to society, these two theatres are fuelled by the passion and dedication of their founders, and sporadic bursts of largesse from donors.
Looking back over the decade gone by, and in response to the question on what has been her biggest achievement in the last ten years, Arundhati Nag replies, “That I still have hope.”
No more words are necessary...
Deepa Gahlot is an award-winning film and theatre critic and an arts administrator. You can follow her on twitter @deepagahlot