Down memory lane as local theatre turns five

Ranga Shankara is an excellent initiative to keep “Theatre Alive”, as the fifth anniversary tagline goes and keep theatre affordable and available for citizens.

It’s as if it was just last weekend I realised that the strange-shaped building coming up near my home was ready and would be a new hub for theatre in south Bangalore. The years that followed established this role firmly, and it was with pride that I took my place in the queue for the first of the plays that Ranga Shankara was staging to celebrate its fifth anniversary. It’s time to take stock, perhaps, of what Ranga Shankara has achieved and what it yet needs to do.

Srinivasan and Jagadish of Ranga Shankara ensure that all aspects of plays go smoothly. Pic: Deepa Mohan.

The first and most remarkable goal that Ranga Shankara set for itself was, of course, staging a play every day, except for the weekly holiday. It is really laudable that this promise to the theatre-going public has been kept, in spite of some fairly rough times. Money has been fairly tight sometimes, to put it euphemistically; the financial backing from Vodafone, a mobile phone company has been the factor that has allowed the Ranga Shankara team to keep going.

Over the years, people, both full-time staff and volunteers, have come and gone, and a fairly stable core group has emerged. Jagadish Malnad smiles as he and Srinivas pose for me from behind the ticket counter; both of them can be seen, of course, all over the theatre space, as they ensure that all aspects of plays go smoothly.

Dhivya Hemachandran has been with Ranga Shankara as its public contact for the past few months. I have seen many talented youngsters like her, contributing their skills to the Ranga Shankara effort. “It’s been a fascinating time since I joined,” Divya says; “putting together the AHA! Children’s Festival for this year, and now this fifth anniversary fest, has been a full-time job.”

Anju Sudarshan of the Ranga Shankara Cafe has her own story to tell. Pic: Deepa Mohan.

Anju Sudarshan of the Ranga Shankara Cafe has her own story to tell. In the initial years, there was a small cafe which for a brief period was followed by a very unsuccessful contract with a caterer. Then Anju came into the picture, and somehow, the equation just clicked into place. Anju has been an innovative cafe-entrepreneur; I cannot forget the “teefee” that used to be on the menu, after one famous actor liked a mix of tea and coffee! She often designs menus that go with the theme of the play being staged, and the Ranga Shankara Cafe has become a popular space for lots of people to just sit and catch up or exchange notes.

The audience, that essential part of the theatre scene, has its own story to tell. “Having Ranga Shankara is a real boon,” says Nandita Srinivasan, an architect living close by, who stands with her 6-year-old daughter, Shreya, in the queue. “Shreya is so excited about seeing a play meant just for her!”

Is the Ranga Shankara space elitist? “Oh, of course you will always get (some elite crowd, at any play),” grins Sharath M, who attending a play in Ranga Shankara for the first time. He also adds, “But the rest of us just come if the play is interesting-sounding.” Certainly, the neighbourhood is well engaged with the theatre in their midst and I find the demographic fairly varied as to age and interests. Both English and vernacular theatre draw their own crowds, and an orderly queue of patrons is a regular feature of Ranga Shankara, where earlier, I have attended plays with just 20 or 25 other people!
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Arundhati Nag, Ranga Shankara’s creative director, spoke to Citizen Matters last year on her life and her journey with Ranga Shankara. She explained how Ranga Shankara was started in JP Nagar. Click here to read the article.

The Sankar’s Bookstore, too, seems to have become a fixture at Ranga Shankara. Part of a chain, this outlet is managed by Umesh, who seems to enjoy his job very much. “It’s nice to see so many different people dropping in and browsing, and buying books,” he says as he sits in front of the rows of books. “We added the children’s reading corner during this year’s AHA! Children’s Festival, and it continues to be quite popular.” He finds it a plus to see so many celebrities from different fields coming in and standing in the queue at Ranga Shankara!

Umesh’s words bring me to the other major achievement that I think Ranga Shankara has to its credit the introduction and fostering of theatre for children. It used to bother me in the initial years that there were notices everywhere, saying, “Children under eight not allowed”, and that there were no performances for children; but Arundhati Nag has rectified the situation.

The AHA! initiative, with its flagship plays, “Gumma Banda Gumma”, and “The First Leaf”, has brought children to the theatre, and taken theatre to the children (there was a recent showing in Chennai also) in a very large way.

As I stood in the queue for “Zappedockel and the Wock”, and watched Arundhati speak to  children (children from less privileged backgrounds were special invitees at the show that I attended), bringing them on to the stage, I felt Ranga Shankara is an excellent initiative to keep “Theatre Alive”, as the fifth anniversary tagline goes and keep theatre affordable and available for citizens of today and tomorrow.   ⊕

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