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For a change of scene

MURALIDHAR KHAJANE

Hulugappa Kattimani has been working with prison inmates in the firm belief that creativity transforms people like nothing else does



NEW COMMITMENT Hulugappa Kattimani is now working with hijras

While the likes of Kiran Bedi are credited with attempts to transform the lives of jail inmates, theatre person Hulugappa Kattimani has found his own way to aid the process using theatre. The idea of using theatre to change the lives of prisoners struck him when he visited the Bellary jail in 1996 with noted theatre person B.V. Karanth.

He chose to begin the process at the Bellary jail and approached Minister M.P. Prakash, himself a writer, and Superintendent of Police, Gopal Hosur, who extended support to his endeavour. Kattimani conducted a short workshop for prisoners and the final product, Kalaniyama, a play by Manjunatha Balekere, received widespread appreciation. The success of the experiment encouraged him to conduct workshops in other prisons. These workshops have now become a passion for this Rangayana artiste, and in the past eight years, he has produced four such plays. He conducted a workshop for the prisoners of Mysore jail and produced Maranayaka (a Kannada version of Macbeth) and Taledanda. And with the inmates of Bangalore Central Jail he produced Madhavi, a play by Bhism Sahni and Jundi Sheshanayaka (a Kannada version of Julius Ceasar). Maranayaka was also staged at the National Theatre Festival at Kasargod.Born in Hagaribommanahalli of Bellary district, Hulugappa Kattimani joined the Neelakanteshwara Nataka Sangha (Ninasam) of K.V. Subbanna and secured a diploma there. After an enlightening stint with the institute's Tirugata, he joined Rangayana in 1989. He might have remained one of the crowd if he had not decided to reach out to prisoners with his art. The journey of eight years has been long and hard. When he first approached them, the prisoners were hostile to him as they were apprehensive of his intentions. But Kattimani was not one to give up so easily. Despite their overt antagonism, he stood adamantly with them in the line and ate what they ate and drank what they drank. Every day, he would spend hours with the inmates, becoming a sounding board for all their woes until his efforts yielded results.

In all his workshops, he has found that theatre has great power for catharsis. He recalls the case of one mentally ill prisoner, who was known for speaking to the walls of the jail. "The other inmates told me that it was a futile attempt. But I decided to include him in the team and he soon stopped talking to the walls. He later told me that he would speak to the walls because no one else would listen to him."

As trust in the man has grown, so has his popularity. "Now everybody wants to participate in the workshop, especially since it helps them win the hearts of the jail authorities and get their prison term reduced!" he says. "When I tried to stage Madhavi, I wanted a cast involving both female and male inmates. By the time, the production was ready, men and women who couldn't even talk to each other out of shyness became close friends."

Kattimani regrets that his attempts to exhibit the talents of prisoners at the National Theatre festival in New Delhi have failed because the organisers of the festival considered the production as social work rather than as "pure" theatre. The Human Resources Development Department in the Union Government also has a similar attitude, he notes.The future will see Kattimani working with another marginalised section of society. He is now planning to conduct theatre workshops for hijras. His interest in the subject of hijras began with an article published in a Kannada daily. After that, he met Femila, a hijra activist, and began to gather information about her life. This came to an abrupt end, however, when Femila committed suicide. Now he relies primarily on literature on the subject, but is planning to visit Kuvagam in Tamil Nadu to learn more about their lifestyles.

Kattimani has formed a group called Sankalpa with well-known personalities such as G.T. Narayana Rao on the advisory board. Kattimani can be contacted on 94489 38558.

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