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‘Stage artiste should keep in mind audience are the boss’

Publsihed in The Hindu, Nov 22 2009

“Every stage artiste should keep in mind audience are the boss. And the boss is always right. The major reason for the current scenario of many an auditorium remaining mostly empty is that the artistes have failed to draw the crowd,” asserts S.Ve. Shekher, a stage artiste of more than three-and-a-half decades experience and one who has acted in 95 films so far. He is a versatile personality.

Sattanathapuram Venkataraman Shekher, a Diploma holder in Mechanical Engineering with Post-Diploma in Airconditioning and Refrigeration, is a sound recordist, programme producer, still photographer and videographer, playwright, producer and director. He has even edited Tamil magazine ‘Naradhar’.

An expert in broadcasting, sound effects and theatrics, he won the Best All India Programme Producer Award for four years in a row from Radio and TV Advertising Practitioners Association of India. He has, so far, produced 24 dramas and staged 5,600 shows including in the US, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Arab countries, and even Japan. “I have staged plays almost in all the States in the country and most of the towns in Tamil Nadu.”

“I am beyond all grammar. I cannot be categorised. Some say that whatever Shekher does clicks. It is not that. I know my formula. I cater what the audience want and on those lines I am similar to superstar Rajinikanth. At the same time, audience may not like what I like and I have got to be careful. My formula has been 100 minutes (of drama) and 200 laughters,” he tells G. Satyamurty.

Mr. Shekher is here to stage two plays on Sunday.

He is candid enough to admit that popularity doesn’t always go with the talent.” There are artistes far more talented than me. But it is due to the grace of Almighty I have become so popular”, he adds.

When he started his stage career in 1970s, there were giants like R.S. Manohar, T.K.S. Brothers, V.S. Raghavan, Cho, Mouli, Visu, Suruli Rajan, Manorama, etc. “There were as many as 120 drama troupes backed by 150 sabhas.” Then Chennai was the only place in the country which had ready- made audience in the form of sabhas whose 90 per cent of the audience were its members. “Now most of this audience have used their subscription to buy TV in instalments, and of course, the State Government has given lakhs of TV sets free. Thus, the small screen has seriously hit the stage.”

He points out that producing a drama has become a very costly proposition now, almost 10 times that of 1970s. It is a very big process and involves a very high risk in terms of expenditure. This demands a substantial pricing in terms of ticket. But, when small screen is at your door step and at a far lesser cost, dramas have failed to attract enough audience.

Mr. Shekher minces no words in identifying the reason for the current scenario. “While dedication on the part of some of the artistes is wanting, some of them fail to understand that most of the people watch drama for entertainment. The education or message quotient takes a back seat.”

“As I happen to don the lead role, apart from being the producer, director and also playwright, the entire risk is mine as far as my dramas are concerned.”

“In the olden days, stage was the gateway to acting in movies. Now just a small chance on the small screen could be easily utilised. Thus, many artistes skip the stage and enter the celluloid world through the small screen. After all, it is Delhi Ganesh who has been acting on the stage, is doing very well even in the small screen. Similarly, director Venkat who has been directing dramas on the stage, is doing well even in the small screen.”

He points out that even now there have been a few attempts to stage the plays of R.S. Manohar on the grand scale in which he used to do.

He admits that he is very happy to note that there are as many as 20,000 sites on the interest related to his performances. “Hence, I have decided not to repeat even single dialogue in any of my dramas.” His dramas have been taken up by a US woman from Illinois University as the subject for her thesis. He considers himself as the one who has filled the void created by the exit of Cho in terms of political satire. How does he manage to draw crowds even now? “I do not give dramas to television. I am happy to point out that the TRP ratings of the Vannakolangal in which I acted in the 1970s have so far not been broken.”

He refuses to compare Tamil stage with that of other States. He plans to produce one more play by March. “Of course, I will quit when I am at my peak.”

Mr. Shekher considers politics as his ultimate destination. “I want to serve the society. I have been doing the same so far through my dramas.”

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