A festival of multiple forms

Print edition : February 28, 2003

Inmates of the Bangalore Central Jail perform in `Madhavi', directed by Hulagappa Kattimani. - PICTURES: M.A. SRIRAM

Bahuroopi, a national theatre festival held in Mysore, helps bring folk theatre centrestage and highlights effectively the theme of marginalisation.

BAHUROOPI, a national-level festival of folk narrative theatre was held in Mysore from January 28 to February 2, 2003, organised by Rangayana, a theatre group. Inspired by the success of `Akka', a national theatre festival with its focus on women's issues held in November 2001, Bahuroopi was conceived around the theme of social justice. In the context of the Akka festival, Prasanna, director, Rangayana, had said that "the time was ripe for a theatre festival because people were rediscovering theatre; television and films no longer keep theatre audiences away." As in the case of `Akka', Bahuroopi attracted a large crowd of theatre enthusiasts through the week. People shuttled between the indoor and outdoor theatres of the Kalamandira complex, settling for shows that were dearer to their hearts. However, the staging of good plays simultaneously at different venues was an inconvenience.

Bahuroopi was named after Bahuroopi Chowdaiah, a contemporary of Basaveswara, the originator of the Veerashaiva movement in Karnataka in the 12th century. Bahuroopi Chowdaiah enacted many roles as a devotee of Shiva and that was his way of expressing his spiritual fervour. Prasanna conceived Bahuroopi in an effort to highlight the theme of marginalisation and explore ways to correct social aberrations through the medium of theatre. The attempt has been to accord equal status to contemporary theatre and the ever-living folk theatre. Social justice, according to him, has never been alienated from folk theatre. The latter has time and again reflected the truth that "theatre is by the people and for the people". And Bahuroopi attempted to bring about an interaction between the contemporary theatre and folk theatre.

The interactive dimension was extended to the domain of literature when renowned writers such as Devanoor Mahadeva, Siddalingaiah, Aravavinda Malagatti, Bhanu Mushtaq and Chandrashekara Kambar, met the audience on different days. Bahuroopa or the theme of multiple forms was reflected through literature, art, films and documentaries.

In theatre festivals, drama usually occupies centrestage, but at Bahuroopi, there were seminars, book exhibitions, a display of rare manuscripts and an exhibition of photographs of contemporary writers and those from the previous generations. Slides shows of productions of the Mysore amateur theatre and Rangayana were a significant inclusion.

The festival focussed on proscenium plays and street plays and the venues ranged from the indoor theatre to the open-air.

Veteran theatre personality Habib Tanvir inaugurates Bahuroopi by beating a gong. Others on the dais are Rani Satish, Minister for Kannada and Culture, Somasekhar, Director, Department of Kannada and Culture, and Prasanna, Director, Rangayana.-

Apart from plays in Tamil, Hindi and Assamese languages, there was a Swedish play too. At the inaugural function, the Rangayana director drew the attention of the audience to the fact that Bahuroopi was a festival of the have-nots. It was the poor of the land, he said, who had created the culture of Karnataka and not the rich. The musical form `Blues' was a creation of the Blacks; the great actor Charles Chaplin was the son of a beggar-woman; and many of the Vachanakaras who gave a definite character to the spoken language of Karnataka hailed from the lower strata of society, he said. The poor have celebrated life in their own way, amidst crushing poverty and hunger. He said he was happy that the festival was being inaugurated by Habib Tanvir, who has been in the forefront of the theatre of the marginalised.

In his inaugural address, Habib Tanvir explained the rationale behind choosing social justice, which he described as the `cry of the day', as the festival's theme. Tanvir said that committed artists could bring about change - usher in good governance and equity in a world where in the name of globalisation, liberalisation and consumerism the very fabric of human life was being threatened.

Tanvir's resounding words of warning against undermining the issue of social justice seemed to set the tone of the festival and that of the inaugural show `Kavyabhinaya', which was performed by Rangayana artists. The show reflected the theme of social justice in Kannada poetry since the 10th century. Poet Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy, who directed the play, employed well the expertise of the trained artists of Rangayana. He exhibited acumen in selecting poems dealing with social justice from the abundance of Kannada lore.

The Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) and Rangayana jointly organised the seminars on folk narratives from January 29 to 31. Cristina Nygren, a scholar from Sweden, inaugurated the seminar. In her keynote address she dwelt upon the need for interaction between artists and scholars in the context of disturbing attempts to obliterate the amazing variety in the field of arts. Keremane Shambhu Hegde, the doyen of the traditional dance form of Yakshagana, released a compact disc containing the folk songs of Jenu Kurubas, brought out by the CIIL to mark the occasion. Shambhu Hegde demonstrated the techniques of improvising acting and dialogue by citing a scene from the Mahabharata between Bhishma and Arjuna. After the seminar there was an interactive session led by Yakshagana scholar Guru Rao Bapat. Gopal Prasad Dubey presented the Saraikela Chhau dance form of Orissa. Earlier, tracing the concept of Bahuroopi, Prasanna focussed on the blossoming of numerous alternative artistic expressions in the aftermath of the downfall of the classical Sanskrit tradition.

If the theme of the first day's seminar was `Language of folk narrative', the second and the third day's themes were `Semiotic interpretation of the folk narratives' and `Communicative adaptation of folk narrative to modern theatre', respectively. Udaya Narayan Singh, Director of the CIIL, underlined the importance of such a confluence of scholars, intellectuals and performers on the margins of the festival in providing an appropriate forum for rich exchange of ideas. The linguist and playwright Kikkeri Narayan of the CIIL coordinated the seminars, assisted by his colleagues Rangila and Jennifer Bayer.

A performance by artists from Rangayana.-

Vanaranga, the renovated open-air theatre, was dedicated to the nation by Rani Satish, Minister for Kannada and Culture. Jenu Kuruba tribal artists enacted `Biduru Mandala' before a packed audience. The finesse and flexibility displayed by the tribal boys and girls were spell-binding. M. S. Sathyu, the film and stage director, had trained them for three months. Since they had difficulty remembering the dialogue he reduced it to the minimum, supplying narration in its place. The energetic movement of the actors made up for the inadequacies in other departments of theatre. `Biduru Mandala' depicts the story of a maid who takes care of a child, which is abandoned by its wealthy mother during the days of distress.

`Madhavi' narrates the saga of how a woman is exploited by her husband who uses her for his selfish ends and rejects her in the end. The play ends with the message that women should fight for their rights. `Madhavi' was enacted by the inmates of the Bangalore Central Jail, who picked up the finer points of theatre under director Hulagappa Kattimani's tutelage. Director Kattimani has made it his mission to direct plays for prison inmates across Karnataka on a regular basis.

Hindi plays such as `Zahreeli Hawa' (directed by Habib Tanvir), `Par Hame Khelna Hai'(Mohan Agashe) and `Antar-Yatra' (directed and acted by Usha Ganguly) caught the attention of theatre lovers. The Assamese play `Jatra' (directed by Baharul Islam) was received with equal enthusiasm. Habib Tanvir's play dealt with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Mohan Agashe's play centred on the theme of communal divide and the eventual coming together of the estranged communities. Usha Ganguly traced the growth and development of an actress and the condition of women in society in her play `Antar-Yatra'. The one-woman show, marked by versatility and depth of acting, was described by many people as an able reminder of `Sakkubai', staged at the Akka festival. `Jatra' narrated the tendencies of male domination persisting in the Muslim community. Baharul displayed a lot of courage in dealing with such a theme.

Preetam Koilpillai produced `Songs of Protest' with his company, Black Coffee, from Bangalore. The 11 songs he used were compiled largely from Western sources from many decades and dealing with different issues. Although he used songs and pictures effectively, the singers did not know the songs by heart. It was felt that songs of protest must dance on the tongues of the singers. However, on the whole it was a novel attempt by the Black Coffee group.

The Rajasthani folk performers won the hearts of the spectators, so did the Burra Katha performers of Andhra Pradesh and the Kalaripayattu artists from Kerala. The Therukkoothu performance from Tamil Nadu won its share of applause. The Thannane theatre troupe of Pondicherry staged `Baliyadugal' (The Sacrificial Goats) and won appreciation. The play depicted the conflict between upper caste people and the downtrodden community.

The films and documentaries had their fair share of viewers at the Sriranga indoor theatre during the post-lunch sessions on all the six days. Some seven documentaries were viewed by a dedicated band of viewers. Anand Patwardhan contributed the lion's share with four documentaries - `In the Name of God' (Ram Ke Naam Se), `We are not your Monkeys', `Ribbons for Peace', and `Occupation'. `Ram Ke Naam Se' depicted the erosion of secularism and explored the rising tide of Hindu fundamentalism. With its candidness and grim realism, the film has redefined the dimensions of the art of documentaries. `Chaliar', `Suits and Savages' and `Kanavu' were the other documentaries shown. Documentaries were presented by the Mysore Film and Cultural Society.

A number of street plays were staged in the open-air theatre adjacent to Kalamandira. Jana Natya Manch of Delhi staged two plays, `Yeh dil mange more, guru' and `Bolo kya banogi thum'; Chitra Kalavidaru of Bangalore staged `Hesarillade Hodavaru'; Bhavaikyate of Hospet produced `Naavu Manujaru' and `Shoodra Shakti'; Janamana of Mysore staged `Patre Sangappana Kole'; and Pragna Tanda of Sagara staged `Santeya Hunnara'. `Santeya Hunnara' was a powerful satire on contemporary issues such as globalisation, liberalisation and consumerism.

The audience, consisting mainly of youth, were not satisfied with some of the answers given by speakers to their pointed questions. Bhanu Mushtaq, the firebrand feminist writer narrated the story of her development as an author against many odds. She hails from a conservative Muslim family.

Kannada poet and folklorist Chandrasekhar Kambar dwelt at length on the past, present and future of folklore, especially in the context of the globalisation juggernaut. Each day there was a `face-to-face' programme with the directors with regard to plays staged the previous day.

On the last day, Vanaranga was flooded with spectators as the Swedish production `Cassandra Now', directed by Erick Norlin, was enacted by actors of Theatre Slava. The play is based on Euripedes' `Trojan Women' and is considered an ode to female strength in a world of male brutality. The coordinated movements of the 10-member cast were marked by grace and fluidity. The weaving of ballet dancing with the energy and adventure of acrobatics was remarkable. The play lasted one and a half hours and the audience did not face a language barrier at any stage.

The holding of the national theatre festivals `Akka' and `Bahuroopi' in Mysore has been made possible by the efforts of Prasanna and the support of the State government's Department of Kannada and Culture, and several other organisations.

C. Naganna is Professor of English, Maharaja's College, Mysore.

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