Bangalore’s Ranga Shankara, named after Sandalwood actor Shankar Nag and as a tribute to Lord Shiva as Nataraja, is the most equipped multi-lingual theatre company. It was established in 2004 with a 300 seated auditorium capacity that has been functioning every day since January after the lockdown opened — with shows round the clock. It pertains to varied aspects of theatre like performances, acting, voice culture, teacher’s training workshops and is accessible to everyone including the marginal section of the society, with minimum costs. There is a particular section for theatre for children too headed by veteran theatre personality and administrator Padma Shri Arundhati Nag. We caught up with her to know more about the theatre.
How did you get involved with theatre?
I was born in New Delhi but at the age of 11, shifted to Mumbai and during my formative years, my parents took me to theatrical shows in the city that left a lasting impression on me. Watching Marathi plays of Dr Shreeram Lagoo, Vijaya Mehta or Gujarati plays by Sarita Joshi, was the most beautiful experience of my life. In fact, I would say theatre is the most beautiful accident of my life.
I enrolled myself as a student of theatre at the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA)and was also involved with the Indian National Theatre (INT) and during the Inter-college festival, I won an award for my performance in the play Rangmanch Rota Raha and was a student of Narsee Monjee College and interacted with personalities like Kaifi Azmi, MS Sathyu, Paresh Rawal, etc. Due to my upbringing in varied cultural backgrounds and being an actress, I realised the importance of languages, hence learnt to speak Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, which definitely was helpful in multilingual avenues.
How did you meet Shankar Nag?
Shankar Nag was a student of Lala Lajpatrai College and during drama competitions, we used to meet briefly but later, he shifted to Bangalore and started acting in Kannada movies. In 1978, he asked me to come over to Bangalore, as he wanted me to act in his play and he was quite tired of mindless running around trees and dancing in movies. He wanted to do theatre and the first Kannada play I acted with him was Anju Mallige, the play was written by him and was quite sensational as it dealt with the topic of incest.
How do you select a play for presentation and what is the basic purpose of theatre?
I think it is the story which is most important and it has to move the audience. The stagecraft and the ultimate intention of theatre is to take a message that you can take it home and keep you thinking — theatre is not just entertainment, it is much more. In Ranga Shankara, the auditorium is available at a modest cost of Rs 2,500 and 10 percent of the ticket sales. The idea is to give back to the audience as it is run by a Trust and we have a special group for children as they are the adults of tomorrow so we can’t take children for granted. Hence, we have to give them quality and philosophy that would be useful in their lives. Theatre should not become prerogative for the rich alone — poor children can also become actors. We have 30 plays and 400 performances around the year with puppet shows of different countries like Australia, Japan, Korea, etc.
Your experience with Girish Karnad?
Girish Karnad was the Chairman of our Trust and he used say about me that I am a good actress, but a bad administrator. He was a great source of inspiration and encouragement and I acted in his play Nagamandala.
Your favourite role?
I play five different women in the play of Badal Sarkar’s Pagla Ghoda, wherein the men visualise the spirit of women after their death. This role is complex and intense too as I play five different women. Other plays include 27 Mavali Circle based on Wait Until Dark, Jaywant Dalvi’s Sandhya Chhaya, Girish Karnad’s Naga Mandala, Kannada play Hulaguru Hulliyavva based on Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage.
Were you not fascinated with Kannada cinema?
Not really, but I did act in some. In the film Accident, I play the mother of Shankar Nag, other Kannada movies include Paravesham Prema Prasanga and Nodi Swamy Kunda Navirodu Heege. Then I was quite busy raising funds for Ranga Shankara as it was not easy to raise 5 crores, but I received donations from the poor and rich too, hence it was possible to establish Ranga Shankara.
After Shankar’s demise, was it difficult for you to pursue that?
His spirit lives on, hence the name Ranga Shankara. Theatre is a social commitment for the betterment of the society, hence the show must always go on.