Dhanushkoti – Curtain Raiser in ‘The Hindu’
Ardent lovers of theatre come together to form a very different kind of troupe. To know how different, read on…
REHEARSAL SESSION: Standing (L to R) Moorthi. Kathadi, Preethi, Prema and Balaji with TDS (seated left) and Shivaji.
An interesting confluence of theatre actors from various troupes welcome me at Shivaji Chaturvedi’s home in Nungambakkam, Chennai, where the rehearsal for an innovative venture is on. The group calls itself Shraddha. Though Shivaji has been a stage actor for long, another facet too – that of a magician – comes to the fore often these days. (Remember ‘Crazy’ Mohan’s magic outing, ‘Chocolate Krishna’? It was Shivaji who made it possible.)
Shraddha draws its talents from major troupes in the city and helming it are ‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy, T.D. Sundararajan and Shivaji Chaturvedi. Theirs is a four-decade old association, when they, along with Bobby (who is no more) formed Stage Creations. It included theatre doyens such as ‘Gemini’ Mahalingam, Manakkal Mani and Muthanna Ramabhadran. “All of us were amateurs nevertheless theatre pursuits continued,” says ‘Kathadi.’ Later TDS became a part of Mother Creations, while Shivaji’s job took him to Dubai where he stayed put for the next 25 years! However, ‘Kathadi’ keeps Stage Creations active till today.
When Shivaji returned to Chennai for good, the stage itch was only stronger. “But this time we didn’t wish to make it just another troupe that churns out plays for near empty halls. We began studying the flaws that sent Tamil theatre hurtling down from the pedestal of popularity it enjoyed some years ago,” says Prema Sadasivam, an actor with Kala Nilayam and now a part of Shraddha too, and a classical dancer who has been into theatre from childhood. “We can’t keep blaming the small screen for the state serious theatre is in. We should give stuff that will keep the audience riveted. Shraddha plans to do just that,” she contends.
“Avid theatre goers have shifted to the suburbs,” observes ‘Kathadi.’ “We’ve lost a whole generation of young viewers. We have to get them back. We have to show them that Tamil can do as well as English theatre in scripting and production value,” says Prema.
“Let’s face it. There’s no money in Tamil theatre. Sponsors aren’t easy to come by. Naturally paucity of funds gets reflected in the poor quality of props and set design,” says M. B. Moorthi, another experienced stage actor from Original Gurukulam Boys
“The name Shraddha should say enough about the diligence behind our endeavour,” smiles Vivek Shankar, the writer of the group’s maiden attempt, ‘ Dhanushkoti,’ which is to be inaugurated on October 26, at Narada Gana Sabha.
New theatre experience
Tamil stage troupes are dime a dozen. How is Shraddha going to be different? “I’ll tell you how,” begins Shivaji, key player behind Shraddha. “For starters, all of us are producers here and the binding factors are our passion for theatre and complete lack of ego among us. Next we plan to stage just four shows of the play for an invited audience till October 29, after which Shraddha will move on to its next play which is to come out in three months.” (For invitations call 2827 2655; 98402 08583.) So if I miss it now I may never get to watch ‘Dhanushkoti’? “Exactly! It’s a costly production and we can’t have more shows. For the first time you will get to watch one and half hours of rain on stage,” says Shivaji. Brothers Ramesh and Krishnamurthy of Mayapuri Graphics Workstation will be bringing the deluge and downpour on stage. “The real challenge is controlling the noise caused by the havoc-causing backdrop. We’ve got to ensure that the sound of lashing water doesn’t drown the dialogue,” says Ramesh.
United Visuals’ Balaji is an actor of few words. “I consider Vivek Shankar a guru and he wanted me on board,” smiles Balaji.
Preethi Hari is a surprise. I never thought youngsters ever watched Tamil theatre, leave alone act in Tamil plays.“True, in college we’d not heard beyond ‘Crazy’ Mohan and S. Ve. Shekher. Only later did I discover serious stage personalities,” says Preethi who is now with Dummies Creations. “More women should take up Tamil theatre. It offers a very congenial ambience,” says Prema.
At Shraddha, playwrights will not pen stories with a given set of actors in mind. “The story will decide the cast and we’ll bring actors suitable for the roles to Shraddha. Generally it’s the other way round,” says TDS. “We’ll give them all the props they ask for. No compromises,” assures ‘Kathadi.’ “And we are sticklers for time. The play will begin on the dot at 7 p.m. and it will be curtains at 8.30,” he promises.
Visu, Venkat, Sivasankari, Augusto, Srivatson and Chandramohan are among the seasoned writers who will be supplying plays for Shraddha. And Prayatna’s Kaushik, Kavithalaya’s Venkatraman and UAA’s Girish are other actors in the Shraddha team.
Will the revival effort work? “No reason why it shouldn’t. And even if it doesn’t we’ll again go in for a detailed study, plug loopholes and redress inadequacies. But we’ll never give up,” they chorus with optimism.
‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy rues the fact that theatre gets little mileage in the media. “Cinema sells, I agree. But theatre, as an art, also deserves notice,” he says. “Pan bad products, but shouldn’t worthy endeavours be encouraged? Many of us are still passionate about the stage. That’s why Shraddha has come about. Give us a hearing too,” exhorts the veteran.
The story, written by Vivek Shankar, is set in 1964 and the day, December 22, when relentless rain submerged an entire township.