For the love of theatre

For the love of theatre

For the love of theatre

The conception of Nataka Benglur initiative seems like a scene straight from a play. One evening in 2008, some Kannada theatre personalities including R Nagesh, A N Ramesh, Shashidhar Bharighat and Nagaraja Murthy had gathered in the premises of Ravindra Kalakshetra.  They were recalling theatre activities in the 1970s and 1980s, said to be the golden period of Kannada theatre. They also reflected upon the reasons for the lack of new plays and experiments.

Before they departed for the day, they had come up with a blueprint for the revival of Kannada theatre with stress on innovation and relevance. To ensure this, an annual theatre festival where both old and new troupes  would be given opportunity was planned. It was decided that only new plays would be staged in this event.  

"When we started this, we didn't imagine that it would last this long. Though we hoped that it would be a theatre movement, we were also aware of the challenges. We always planned like the proverbial 'one more step' and it has brought us till here," says Shashidhar Bharighat. After a decade, Nataka Benglur has made its mark, with around 200 new plays and some 2,000 shows being staged so far at the annual event.

Over the years, the Bengaluru-based initiative has evolved as a brand. Though it could not develop into a theatre movement as planned, it has definitely provided the much-needed platform for many aspirant directors and troupes across the State. The fame of the event is such that both  beginners and veterans plan their productions well in advance for the event.

While new theatre groups and avenues are opening, the enthusiasm of audiences has remained encouraging. Many plays staged here for the first time have got good response later. Some of the plays that were first staged in Nataka Benglur and had a good run afterwards include Agnivarna by Dakshayani Bhat, Shivaratri by K V Nagaraja Murthy, Narigaligeke Kodilla? by N Mangala and Male Mantrika by GPO Chandru.

The plays are staged at theatre spaces like  Rangashankara, Kalagrama, K H Kalasoudha, etc. The festival is generally scheduled for 20-25 days and every day a new play is staged. Though the Department of Kannada and Culture sponsors a majority of the plays, in some cases the troupes pool the resources on their own.

The initiative also pitches in to celebrate cultural milestones. For instance, when Ravindra Kalakshetra celebrated its golden jubilee, Nataka Benglur presented 50 new plays. "There was no limit to my excitement when I was told that I would be directing a play for Nataka Benglur. It is a rare opportunity as many talents from the field will be out there watching the play," says Sitara, a budding director.

This year, the works of major Kannada personalities like Samsa, P Lankesh, B V Vaikunta Raju, Prasanna and B Suresh are being staged. Dakshayani Bhat, Suresh Anagalli, Nataraja Honnavalli,
S V Kashyap, etc are directing the plays. This year, the event is being held at Kalagrama from January 1 to 23. "It is not like we offer remuneration to the troupes. We book the theatre, get the tickets printed and publicise the event. The teams come forward in great numbers to participate in the festival. It is their dedication and perseverance that helped the festival reach greater heights," adds Shashidhar.

Indeed, there is a magic in theatre. It is that magic that keeps it ticking. Theatre does not just entertain, it makes you think, it teaches you to question, it makes you observe and analyse. In this 'virtual dark age' it is the theatre that helps us brighten up our lives.