Theatre has always been a vehicle for a two-way communication between the performers and audience. Through the times, activists have deployed theatre as a didactic tool to send across messages. Bengaluru too has its fair share of the theatre groups who actively choose, promote and popularise socially relevant issues.
It’s not only a passion for theatre, but an eagerness to sensitise the community about various issues that inspire these groups to put on their best.
Although it’s not a commercially viable proposition, theatre enthusiasts and performers claim that profit is secondary; their motive is to get their message across to as many people as possible. Rashmi Rajan feels that theatre groups must cater to a wide spectrum. She has been active in the theatre circuit for the last 20 years and is a member of ‘Ranga Nirantara’. “Theatre has always been about sensitising people on the problems existing in society. The idea is to bring in an element of reality to all our plays,” explains Rashmi. She says that their troupe concentrates on issues such as women’s safety, gender discrimination and connections such as the relationship between water and the caste system. “These things are happening around us almost everyday and we can see that our audience connects with it and relates to it at some level.”
While theatre has branched out into several forms such as street plays, musical movements, abstract and devise theatre method, the latest sprout is to use video screen projections during a performance.
Chris Avinash, a theatre person who recently collaborated with theatre artistes Abhijit and Karthik for a play called ‘Art’, says that there are no takers for theatre performances that delve into social and political issues. “Most people consider this category of theatre artistes as ‘rebellious’. Most groups want to belong to the ‘popular category’ rather than take a different path,” he adds.
He points out that directors too shy away from talking about issues that affect a larger group, and would rather pick on subjects that are ‘entertaining’.
Plays with a social message stand a better chance to grab attention, feels Abhishek Iyengar of ‘WeMove Theatre’.
“It’s fine to choose themes that are socially important but the popularity of the play depends on how well it is marketed. If you don’t project the theme in the right perspective, how will people know what you are doing and why you are doing it?” he wonders out aloud. Film director and theatre artiste KM Chaitanya points out that theatre has always been an effective tool to garner support from a large group of people.
“There are groups that don’t shy away from talking about women’s issues and child safety. All these subjects are tweaked and packaged to suit the psyche of an urban audience. There were many such groups that promoted and popularised issues that affected a large segment of society but now those groups are far and few,” he says.
People like Sreenivas G Kappanna, former chairman of Karnataka Nataka Academy, finds that a lot of Kannada plays are knit around social and political issues, and are adapted and translated to English. “Theatre impacts and influences like no other medium. Any form of theatre rests well with people. Street plays were popular during the freedom struggle and even today, street plays steeped in strong issues are a head turner.”