Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Theatre of Rangashankara

Part of the thrill of doing Lucky Lobster was performing in Rangashankara. The place is as inviting as ever and the cafe is serving great food. But there was another reason why I was so excited about being in the space. I have a history with Rangashankara and have been told many times by different people that my plays are banned there. But it never really made any difference. If at all I started feeling very important that the staff out there was discussing how they are not going to allow me to do any plays when I had consciously made a decision not to do theatre for the last few years.

The last time I felt somewhat mobilised to stage a play was three years ago and that was because I had an excellent production manager Veena Appiah working with me. Then she found out she was going to have a baby and quit and I lost all enthusiasm. The thing is when you are starting out, you have the energy to chase actors and ensure they are kept happy during rehearsals. Most actors I have worked with are like little children wanting to be pampered all the time and I find that very difficult as I am growing old. In any setting I feel I should be pampered. Why should I pamper someone else?

The bad blood was about a mail I wrote to Arundhati Nag because Rangashankara had changed the dates of some play that was being done by another playwright director under the Still Waters banner. I was irritated that day about something and when this guy landed up all upset, I dashed off a mail to Arundhati accusing her of surrounding herself with a coterie. In hindsight I feel I should have just gone across and spoken to her and sorted out the matter. It is always worse when you make accusations in writing. It just leaves a lingering residue.

A few months later I met her and realized the mail hadn’t made much of a difference to her. She was cordial as usual and talked about how tired she was after all the running around she had done to raise funds to build the theatre. But the coterie found it difficult to forgive me, especially since I have never subscribed to this ‘adulatory’ stance we take to performers and performing spaces. I think any creative person or space needs a healthy dose of valid criticism to flourish and invariably it is the chamcha types with no skill or talent who are always schmoozing the powers that be. So I would make it a point to be critical about Rangashankara in the columns I would write on theatre. And it was not criticism for the heck of it. The world is a small place and the world of theatre even smaller. So I was supplied with a constant flow of cribs about Rangashankara by those who were staging plays in the space.

Those days I used to write a column for a Bangalore tabloid and one day when I visited the office, I found the editor in a very good mood. He told me he had a phone call from some idiot who claimed he was from Rangashankara and demanded my columns be banned. Of course nothing of that sort happened. Eventually the tabloid folded up and I moved on to writing columns for Bangalore Mirror and wrote a few more columns criticising Ranga Shankara until I got sick of it. I wonder if Arundhati Nag knew about this phone call. I suspect she didn’t and if she does find out about it someday, she may find it as amusing as the editor did.

It is very strange but all through this tension with Rangashankara, I have never stopped respecting Arundhati Nag. I have always felt she is a diva and I am fascinated by divas. Besides she is such a fantastic actor on stage and screen. We are fortunate to have her in the city. A number of theatre folks who were close to her at one time now speak about their disillusionment. But I think they are idiots. You should never expect a great artist to be a nice person. If you want to meet nice human beings you should work in an ashram. Artists have to be selfish to protect their art and vision.

As for the coterie, I don’t know if anyone in the audience noticed I had my tongue out during the curtain call.

It was meant for the guy who made that mysterious call.

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