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All the rooftop is a stage

M.C. Anand pushes for a more intimate theatrical space — on a terrace or in a basement



M.C. Anand describes his dream theatre space. — Photo: K. Murali Kumar

M.C. ANAND shuffles around his basement. Arms spread, he demarcates it into different parts. These walls for art exhibits. This length for proscenium-type theatre. This corner can give the depth for larger productions.

Anand's basement is also the realisation of his dream. An engineer with the Ministry of Defence, Anand's passion is clearly theatre. He constructed his new house in Basavanagudi with a basement meant to be a "cultural space". Seminars, performances, art exhibitions, workshops will all find form in the 30 foot-by-40 foot space.

The concept is based on "intimate theatre", popularised in India by Mumbai's well-known Prithvi Theatre. The name comes from the experience this kind of theatre is intended to generate: artistes perform so close to the audience that the two seem to merge into one as the play unfolds.

Anand traces the origins of this concept to his frustration with current Kannada theatre performances in Bangalore. "All the troupes invariably perform at Ravindra Kalakshetra," he explains. "People who want to watch a play have to battle the traffic and parking hassles and drive across town." Anand wanted to provide people a local alternative. On your evening walk, you can just make your way to your neighbourhood theatre and watch a play.

Anand and Karnataka Nataka Academy's chairman R. Nagesh have been pushing the concept of locality-specific theatre since the 1970s. While this larger dream did not materialise, Anand shifted to what he calls "culturally rich" South Bangalore to open his own theatre space. He asked Karnataka Rajyotsava Award-winning architect and fellow theatre aficionado, L. Krishnappa, to design not just the basement, but a terrace which will also be used for theatre. He calls this space Sinchana, meaning sprinkling. It opened earlier this year with an exhibition by various young artists and is now preparing for a play on May 30 — Mallinathana Dhyana by Dhyana Repertory.

Anand's dream-child is intended to draw people away from the TV. "Theatre is special," Anand says with conviction. "While TV shows Lilliput images, films produce larger-than-life demons. It's theatre, which is true to life. We want a space where great actors can perform live close to the audience."

Anand himself began acting as a young man in the 1960s. He was disillusioned by the absence of any repertory theatre and turned to engineering to sustain himself. Love for the stage, however, constantly drew him back. His involvement with local theatre has been as an actor first, and now as a full-fledged director.

Anand plans to stage initial performances at Sinchana free of cost to convince people of his experiment. He is certain that soon enough, good performances will buy them over to the concept of easily accessible theatre in a personal setting. He is, in fact, excited with the response he has received from his neighbours. They all came to ask what was going on, he remembers.

His immediate neighbour, whose house is under construction, takes great care to remove any falling construction debris from Anand's terrace. "He knows that he will have to sit here for the performances!" Anand jokes. The terrace can seat about 200 people, but should there be an overspill, Anand has a ready answer: the neighbour's terrace. Here's to locality theatre, bringing together not just arts lovers, but entire neighbourhoods!

HEMANGINI GUPTA

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