A space with a voice
Arundhati Nag's grand dreams of Ranga Shankara will be realised in August this year
Arundhati Nag: `Once this space is ready, theatre people will have no excuse. They have to get the audiences back.' Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.
"RANGA SHANKARA already has a life of its own," declares Arundhati Nag, smiling warmly as she elaborates on her raison d'etre since 2000, a 12,500 sq. ft. J.P. Nagar complex, which could trigger a theatre renaissance. Come August 2004, it will open to Bangalore audiences with the premiere of a new short play by Jnanpith-awardee Girish Karnad, already in rehearsal.
The Rs. 3-crore state-of-the-art complex on a government-donated site, whose foundation stone was laid on Nov. 9, 2000, by former Chief Minister S.M. Krishna, boasts of many South Indian theatre firsts. Designed by Mistry Architects, it has a revolving stage with a trap door for stage experiments. An air-conditioned thrust stage encourages audience-actor interfaces. A unique computer-based script, sound, costume bank and video archive enriches research. A latecomers' gallery permits watching without intrusion. A cafeteria, book, and music outlet, and even an art gallery, perhaps allied to Gallery Sumukha, are in store. Sensitive to our times, it makes the physically challenged feel at home.
Pledged to the memory of the late Shankar Nag, Arundhati's husband, who "saw the role of theatre as a unifying language, a forum for creating sensitive experiences," the complex is backed by the Sanket Trust. With Karnad at its helm, it includes theatre stalwarts M.S. Sathyu and Vijay Padaki.
"Let the theatre speak for itself. The trust has done the construction part," stresses Arundhati. "We know we want to showcase theatre, maybe music and dance once a year. It should become the nerve centre to address community issues such as the environment or human rights. Theatre has lost that link, where it addresses issues close to the hearts of the people."
"Theatre has landed in a chicken and egg situation in Bangalore, where all the actors in search of a livelihood are working in TV or films," observes this multilingual actress, equally at home in Hindi, English, Marathi, Kannada and Tamil. "Once this space is ready, theatre people will have no excuse. They have to get the audiences back."
No matter what Arundhati says, Ranga Shankara would not have been this close to completion without this totally committed woman at its very heart. Despite a dearth of funds, she never gave up. Those who chose to fund it including MSIL, Biocon, L&T, Himatsingka Seide Ltd., and Volkart are shaping a space where 1.5 lakh visitors are expected annually. Ironically, not a single IT major contributed its mite to this cultural landmark.
"All of Bangalore knows I'm building this theatre," Arundhati laughs. "There's only one song I've been singing for three years. For someone who was doing 42 shows a month 25 years ago, that's been the journey. But it's been worth it."
By November, Ranga Shankara will host Mumbai's lauded Prithvi Theatre Festival. Two months later, the Footsbarn thespians come to town.
What will Ranga Shankara project? "We have the riches of Kannada theatre. There's always been English theatre in Bangalore. But the two have not met," Arundhati stresses. "In Ranga Shankara, both would happen."
Face-to-face with this woman of amazing grace, it makes us wonder. Who else would see such a major project through with an initial corpus of Rs. 20 lakhs, faced with an insensitive corporate sector? Or champion theatre as an educational tool, starting with German GRIPS-style plays for 20,000 city students between seven and 12 round the year? Or envisage four similar theatres around Bangalore to beat the public transport system?
"This theatre was born with the foundation stone. That's when I relinquished my power over this project," Arundhati reiterates. "It will have a life of its own, even if I kick the bucket this very minute... "
Ranga Shankara is a tribute to the never-say-die vision of Arundhati Nag and the Sanket Trust, who fought for this dream against all odds. Could a theatre movement begin on a more promising cue?
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