E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I bumped into yesteryear’s Ace Dramatist (AD) at the Ranga Shankara last night.
AD is an actor, playwright and producer who has seen better days. He even the played the role of a thief—kalla known as chor to Hindi audiences—in Gubbi Veeranna’s classic Sadaarame.
As we ordered coffee in the canteen I asked him how theatre was faring these days.
“Our company could survive talkie cinema, cricket, television, even the internet, but now we are being wiped out by another drama company from our own State.”
AD looked down and out.
“You now face extinction from one of your own? Et tu brute!” I sympathised.
AD continued: “You may say so, Ramanna. Ours is a small group of just 8 to 10 artistes. So we do multiple roles in a play, we squeeze ourselves in a small car and go around playing to small audiences in obscure corners of the State. It is hard life but we were eking out a living somehow. But with the entry of KaraNaama, nobody will call us to stage plays anymore.”
“KaraNaama? What is it? A new drama company?”
“Yes. KaraNaaMa is a short form of Karnataka Naataka Mandali. It’s a government company specialising in ‘theatre of the absurd’.”
“What do they do?”
“They do what their name says, naama haakodu, on the gullible public! They also stage plays.”
“How big is this troupe?”
“KaraNaama has 224 members. They have a loudSpeaker and a speedGovernor, making the total 226.”
“This is the age of liberalisation, you must learn to face competition from market forces, kanaiah.”
“Ayyo, Ramanna, KaraNaama is a huge company with bottomless resources. They have artistes for any role: drunkard, debaucher, broker, agent, killer. If they fall short of cash, they can create fictitious companies and make banks give them crores of rupees. They can play the role of politicians on a padayatra and dance on the street wearing goggles. They can play devout, religous roles. They can play incurable lovers.”
“Some can even cry at the drop of a hand kerchief. Cauvery and Kabini are always ready to start streaming down their cheeks at a moment’s notice. Even Master Hirannaiah says he is nothing compared to these pros.”
“This is a big compliment. How do they travel?”
“They move around in A/C Volvo buses which their sponsors have donated for the cause of theatrics in the State. Every now and then they go and stay in exotic resorts for days together and depending on the situation, kidnap their own members, threaten them and sometimes even auction themselves.”
“Don’t they fight when they travel? After all, 224 is a big number?”
“Yes, they do. Some of them even tear their shirts on stage. That’s where the loudSpeaker comes into operation. Through the loudSpeaker comes the voice repeating itself hoarse: ‘I say, keep quiet!’ or ‘Dayamaadi,dayamaadi, koothkoli’.”
“What about the speedGovernor?”
“Avankathe ne bere. The speedGovernor makes sure the bus stays within the prescribed speed limit but sometimes when the bus exceeds the speed limit, passengers and public hear words such as ‘Ulta chhor Kotwal ko daante!’ from the microphone attached to the speedGovernor.”
“The problem is, the troupe members are unable to see who is the Chor and who is the Kotwal. I understand the speedGovernor is gradually getting defective and needs either an overhaul or some tuning.”
“Ha, ha! Where has KaraNaama staged their plays so far?”
“To a wide variety of audiences actually. The bootleggers association of bewdaas. The illegal gold diggers’ association of Bellary. The benaami land holders’ association. When the attention flags, they manage to get the TV stations to simultaneously stage their plays”
“Which are their most famous plays?”
“They have reworked Hiranniah’s Lanchavatara. They have done an English play called The Last Resort. They have a Telugu bilingual called Reddygaaru-Cheddygaaru. They have a medico-criminal play called Nursoo-Purseoo.”
“With so many artistes don’t they fight among themselves.”
“Fight? They call each other loafers, liars, landgrabbers, they come to exchanging blows, they kidnap each other, they stand on their seats and tear their shirts etc. But when money is offered in crores they hug each other and declare their undying loyalty. Even the experts at NIMHANS can’t explain their behaviour.”
“That explains everything. Do the artistes have any personal ambition?”
“It seems they all aspire to become MLAs one day.”
“What about the loudSpeaker and the speedGovernor?”
“They are disposables. As the Speaker gets old and cranky, they may sell it off and get a new one; when the speedGovernor loses control and goes crazy, her Boss will throw it and replace the same with a new one,” replied AD.
File photograph: Chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa after inaugurating a forest camp project at Sakrebylu in Shimoga district in July 2010 (Karnataka Photo News)