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A new dialogue

MURALIDHARA KHAJANE

Jai Karnataka Sangha, a committed theatre group, has a heartening story to narrate

In an atmosphere where theatre has become just a fashionable accessory, it's heart warming to hear the legendary origins of the Jai Karnataka Sangha, a theatre group in the obscure village of Bellikere that rose above its calling.

Born from the philosophy and vision of an estate manager, Prasad Rakshidhi, the group got plantation workers to act in plays with a social idiom. Prasad and his friends saved money from harvesting an estate's orange crop to buy theatre equipment. They even contested election, won and provided schools and drinking water in their region.

Theatre movements that peaked in the Seventies later went through a struggle for survival in the bombardment of visual media. But the spirit never tires and a few theatre persons are striving hard to sustain this movement.

Jai Karnataka Sangha (JKS) in Bellikere, Sakleshpur taluk of Hassan district, is one such theatre group that has strived to sustain interest in theatre activities among rural people. They have been organising theatre workshops, theatre festivals and staging contemporary plays. The group has also attempted to employ theatre as a tool in bringing about change.

JKS is trying to do what the noted theatre personality, late K.V. Subbanna achieved in Heggodu village. JKS has recently constructed an open-air theatre in Bellikere and acquired theatre properties needed for theatre production — such as lights, backdrops and generators. It has also taken up the task of constructing a theatre complex to further accelerate theatre activities in this nondescript village.

Always hopeful

This theatre group, which started 27 years ago, has not given up hope since its inception, and has set a momentum by organising a string of theatre activities, says Prasad, the group's founder. Working as a manager in an estate in Sakleshpur, he is the driving force for the theatre movement in the area. After completing his studies he returned to Bellikere in 1975, with dreams of bringing about sweeping changes in his village. His role model was K.V. Subbanna.

With his inclination for an ideology veering left, and his connection with the theatre movement, he tried to address problems of people in the region. Responding to the "Sampoorna Kranthi" call given by Jayaprakash Narayan during the Emergency, he started opposing the regime of Indira Gandhi.

He found illiteracy to be the biggest challenge in organising people against the autocratic rule of Mrs. Gandhi. So he started night schools for plantation workers and their children by founding the Karmika Mitra Rakshidhi Sangha. He wrote plays like Namma Yelabugala Mele, Anamikaru and Satyakke Saavilla and produced them with the help of plantation labourers. Namma Yelabugala Mele became very popular, when the farmers movement was at its peak.

He, along with Uggappa and Srivijaya, took a contract to harvest oranges in one of the plantations and with the profit accrued, bought theatre properties. After participating in farmer and literacy movements, they officially started Jai Karnataka Sangha.

A few members of the Sangha, who played an active role in various social movements, contested in panchayat elections and won. They started serving Bellikere and surrounding villages by opening schools, hospitals, providing drinking water, power supply and constructing roads. Despite engaging in political activities for social development, they did not let the theatre movement slip.

The Sangha organised shows of Ninasam's Tirugata in 1985, and has not stopped staging Tirugata's productions since then. It also invited famous theatre groups and introduced major theatre productions to the people in the region. JKS has also produced Bheemannana Katha Prasanga a play that campaigned for literacy, and became an instant success.

Their Mayamriga bagged the first prize in a rural theatre festival organised in Gulbarga in 1993. Arahanta was a play they produced in association with Rangayana in 2002, and later introduced popular plays of Bertholt Brecht and Moliere to the people of Bellikere.

The Karnataka Nataka Academy organised a rural theatre festival in Bellikere and more than 4,000 villagers dared the biting cold in January 2003 to lap up the plays. The Sangha also conducted theatre workshops for children and produced Murkanna Gudda, Hunnime Bantu and Sirasingi Samsara for them. They held a three-day theatre festival in memory of K.V. Subbanna in January in Rakshidi village.

The Karnataka Nataka Academy has now bestowed an award to Prasad Rakshidhi for his contribution to amateur theatre.

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