This Village Theatre Group Can Knock Off the Best in the Business
How are people in this little village of Karnataka so well-versed with the works of Shakespeare?
In the pristine hamlet of Heggodu, located 350 kilometres from Bengaluru, one can hear farmers and shopkeepers rattle off names of playwrights within the batting of an eyelid.
Be it Shakespeare, Kalidasa, Girish Karnad or D R Nagaraj – the residents of this village are well-versed with the theatrical works of each of these literary greats. It is not uncommon, in fact, to find villagers mouthing dialogues or humming snatches of music from some of these plays at gatherings or within their homes.
Heggodu shares a unique relationship with theatre and that is a result of the work done by Nilakanteshwara Natyaseva Sangha, or Ninasam as it is popularly known.
Ninasam was founded in 1949 in this tiny village in Karnataka as an amateur theatre group by a bunch of enthusiasts. The idea was to fuse together culture and activism while creating a bridge between rural Karnataka and the urban milieu.
Since then the group has won several accolades – both national and international – including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Creative Arts, Communication and Journalism that was conferred on its co-founder, the Late KV Subbanna, in 1991.
In the past six decades, Ninasam has grown by leaps and bounds with a theatre institute, a travelling repertory company, a publishing team, a film appreciation society, a cultural course and festival having been added to its scope of activities. While Tirugata, the travelling repertory, has been hailed by theatre commentators like Rustom Bharucha as “one of the most dynamic ventures in the contemporary Indian theatre”, the institute has become a nursery for aspiring theatre practitioners to learn a blend of the traditional and the contemporary.
Girish Karnad, considered the face of Kannada theatre, said in a previous interview to Mint: “They [Ninasam] create people who know theatre, who have done or read the great plays, they know the vocabulary of theatre.”
Manjunath Badiger, a 34-year-old Bengaluru-based theatre director, has seen different facets of Ninasam – first as a student and then as a visiting practitioner. Every time he visits the place, his first memory of Ninasam springs to mind.
The very environs around Ninasam are inspiring. When I came as a student in 2002, I was greeted by a heady cocktail of green hills, the calls of the wild animals from the neighbouring forest and the incessant rain.
– Manjunath Badiger
Since then he has taught at several theatre schools but hasn’t found one which can measure upto Ninasam. “The rest of the schools are very clinical in their methods – there is a department for this, a department for that. It’s almost like coming to a hospital. At Ninasam, you won’t feel like that. The teachers and students all stay together, upholding the guru-shishya tradition,” he says.
The campus is not an alien architectural creation. Rather, each part is inspired by the village houses, with local materials having been used.
His thoughts are echoed by yet another alumnus. 39-year Joseph John, who recently staged the Tempest at Bengaluru’s Ranga Shankara. Hailing from Kerala, he was the first non-Kannadiga student to be admitted to Ninasam in 1998. “Every aspect of theatre is focussed on here – from props, sets, children’s theatre, movement and more. It’s just theatre 24/7, unlike at schools in Delhi where you attend an acting class and then wander around the city.”
The theatre fraternity cherishes the symbiotic relationship between Heggodu and Ninasam.
Some of our productions make use of cutting edge technology, which we don’t expect people from a rural scenario to be comfortable with. But at Heggodu, the audience is not just well aware but can also discuss and question the philosophical and aesthetic aspects.
– Jayachandran Palazhy, Founder, Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts
(Avantika Bhuyan is a freelance journalist who loves to uncover the invisible India hiding in nooks and crannies across the country.)
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