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Arundhati Nag: making theatre accessible to all

  • As the curator of the theatre segment of the Serendipity Arts Festival 2019, Arundhati Nag is focusing on the idea of “home” and the “margins”
  • She also looks back at 15 years of Ranga Shankara, one of Bengaluru’s best known theatre spaces, which she founded

Arundhati Nag

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Even as award-winning actor Arundhati Nag gets ready to co-curate the fourth edition of the Serendipity Arts Festival (15-22 December), Goa, she envisions newer ways of making theatre accessible to all. Looking back at 15 years of Ranga Shankara, one of Bengaluru’s most well-known theatre spaces, founded by her, Nag spoke with Lounge on the phone. Edited excerpts:

What can one look forward to at Serendipity Arts Festival 2019?

Both Atul (Kumar, the co-curator) and I like the idea of “home”. There is the possibility of installations with a component of poetry in them. And I am also thinking of inviting a play, in collaboration with Germany, which is about migration and the theme of home. We are also focusing quite a lot on new creative work: I am looking at commissioned work, as is Atul. One of these works focuses on the community in Goa, particularly on a local poet, and I am hoping that will become something we can leave behind. Hopefully, it will be performed every weekend or at least once a month.

Also, in my curation last year, I tried to shine the spotlight on the “margins”. This year, I am hoping to have the Chhara community from Ahmedabad, which has been living with the stigma of having been branded as thieves by the British. I think it would be interesting to open it out as a dialogue and let people realize a stigma like this continues to exist in 2019.

How has Ranga Shankara and its audiences evolved?

It is challenging to travel in a city like Bengaluru. I salute the audience that takes the trouble to travel all the way and reach on time. There are also more young people coming to see plays, and that’s heartening. Also, when we opened 15 years ago, we had around 60 theatre groups; today we have more than 100. A trend, more so in English-speaking theatre, is a more non-linear style, not based on scripts, taking an idea and expanding it. A lot of movement has come in, the dialogue has lessened. This originated in the West, so sometimes they just look like they have been plucked off from some other plant. That’s all right, I think—to be inspired by something else. But I personally miss the rigour of the spoken word in many of the newer works. I miss the power of the gesture that holds.

Ranga Shankara has always worked towards democratization of theatre. Has it made a difference, and is it sustainable?

Just head 20km out of any city, and English just doesn’t work there. It’s time we realize English can be a beautiful transactional language. We should be using it, but not allowing it to kill our roots. Ranga Shankara gives us the opportunity to become that space that encourages the regional language, but we are facing a problem.

About 15 years from now, we may not get Kannada-speaking actors in Bengaluru. Also, we are not in the business of theatre. If you are, then you have to do plays like bedroom comedies and crime thrillers and Mughal-e-Azam. Ranga Shankara fulfils a very different need and that is beyond money. So we get money from the rich and distribute it equitably.

And the result is that you have 400 performances a year in that space. These become nerve centres, you can’t apply the marketplace rules to them.

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