Every year, the Ranga Shankara theatre festival in Bengaluru presents a rich haul of Indian and international plays. Besides marquee names, a notable aspect is the festival’s changing annual theme.
It chooses its themes carefully, from 2018’s “Plays that Almost Weren’t”, staging banned plays to showcase how censorship in the arts is centuries old, to last year’s “Just Theatre”, which sought to explore the meanings held in the phrase “being just”. In this, its 19th year, the theme is “Narratives”, each of which influence our perspectives subtly.
“Narratives can be straight, linear, layered, subversive, political and so on,” says the press note for the theatre festival, which will see six plays being staged till 1 November. And because the medium is theatre, “narratives” also represents the way the story is staged for the viewer.
On the list is an interactive play, ‘Patigalum’, by the Chennai theatre group Thinai Nila Vasigal. “There is a scene where the characters perform a folk dance called kummi adi. We will invite audience members to the stage to dance along with the actors,” says the play’s director, Bagrudeen M. The play, a comedy, is centred on four-five grandmothers playing the titular characters. With the verandah as the main setting, these grand old women discuss the local, national and international news of the day rather creatively: They intersperse news with old but apt proverbs.
The play tackles the topic of gender, with male actors playing the old women, and features five songs by the late transgender artist O. Mutthumari. “As a drag artist, Mutthumari was a pioneer. He sang songs on womanhood and feminism for over 40 years dressed in a sari and hair adorned in flowers...” Bagrudeen says.
In stark contrast to this chatty Tamil play is Aasakta Kalamanch, Pune’s Marathi play, ‘Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta’, directed by Mohit Takalkar. The dialogue of its protagonists, Feroza and Aditya, is sparse, since their country has passed a law that limits the number of words its citizens can speak daily to 140 words. Ghanta is an adaptation of playwright Sam Steiner’s 2015 play, ‘Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons’.
‘Urmila’, an English play being presented by Adishakti Theatre Arts, Puducherry, takes inspiration from the Ramayan. It shines the spotlight on Urmila, sister of Sita and wife of Lakshman. According to less-known folklore, she chose to sleep for 14 years so that her husband, blessed by a boon, could remain awake for those years to perform his filial duties. For the play’s director, Nimmy Raphel, the tale hit a raw nerve. Calling Urmila’s boon of sleep a “curse”, she says: “There is an obliteration of her life as she gives up 14 years to sleep. She is in a state where the mind is working but the body is inactive.” For Raphel, sleep also holds metaphorical meaning. “I view her ‘sleep’ as a mode of non-participation too,” she observes.
The other plays are ‘Jo Dooba So Paar’ by the aRANYA Theatre group, Mumbai, and ‘Mahilabharatha’, by Dhrushya Rangatanda, Bengaluru.
For Arundhati Nag, theatre actor and artistic adviser of Ranga Shankara, “celebrating 19 years of consistent service to theatre in Bengaluru and India is a very gratifying feeling.” Nag did a reading of the novella, ‘Slices Of The Moon Swept By The Wind’, by Surendranath S., translated in English by Prathibha Nandakumar, on Friday, the opening night.
The festival is on in Ranga Shankara, JP Nagar and Jagriti Theatre, Whitefield, till 1 November, 7.30pm. Tickets and schedule on Bookmyshow.com.