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Home Personality Interviews Bhaskar Shewalkar

Bhaskar Shewalkar

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“Theatre is an itchy disease, like cancer”

Professor Bhaskar Shewalkar, a theatre veteran with over four decades of experience. He was formerly Head of the Department, Theater Arts, Sarojini Naidu School of Performing Arts, University of Hyderabad. He has directed over 90 original and adapted plays in many languages and specializes in Theater Education and Creative Drama (For Children). He has conducted a number of workshops and participated in seminars organized by Sangeet Natak Academy, New Delhi; Central South Zone Cultural Centre, Nagpur and Tiruvanantapuram; National School Of Drama, New Delhi; Regional Research Centre, Bangalore; Centre Of Cultural Resources And Training, Hyderabad and Max Mueller Bhavan. He is also the Founder-President of Rangadhara – one of the oldest theatre groups of Hyderabad.

Q. How did your tryst with theatre come about?
A. I was born and brought up in Andhra Pradesh. In our colony, there used to be Ganesh Melas, like in Maharashtra, wherein we were made to enact plays and other cultural activities. I did that for about eight years before getting into theatre professionally and academically.

Q. How do you perceive theatre?
A. I perceive theatre as a low cost medium of communication. The aim of theatre is not to teach anything. Natyashastra says that theatre that teaches is biased. A play must only bring awareness by placing a problem in front of the audience. It is not even necessary that a play should have a message. Message-oriented plays will die soon because the culture, ethos and literature of any city, including Hyderabad, changes every 10 years. Ramesh Tendulkar’s ‘Kanyadaan’ and Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Sacrifice’ had no messages. They merely reflected society at its truest. Shudraka’s plays spoke of why people changed to Buddhism during his times. He used theatre as a medium of historical documentation. More importantly, theatre must not have a time limitation for enactment. I did a minute-and-a-half play on a pregnant beggar. If the content is well conceived, it’ll be well received. I believe ‘I’ can communicate because ‘I’ doesn’t require an investment.

Q. Would that mean to say theatre is merely a source of entertainment?
A. You see, theatre cannot bring about a revolution. It may only cause a general awareness. One cannot deceive oneself and the audience by believing that one can affect a change. Every medium has its limitations and theatre too has its own cultural and religious limitations.

Q. How would you respond to claims that theatre in the city has fizzled out?
A. Doing solely English theatre in five star hotels and then calling it ‘meaningful’, which I don’t understand the meaning of, is not theatre. How can you claim that theatre within the city has died without having seen vernacular plays? I think that dramatics should be beyond barriers of language. See Kannada, Marathi, Hindi and Telugu plays; then pass judgments. We get 50 – 60 new scripts every year from within the city and marvelous ones at that. To say there are no trained actors is mere escapism. Is an actor one who arrives in a car or by plane? Amateur theatre groups are thriving in the city. Let’s not claim that we are a ‘first-time-in-the-city’ initiative. Kitne log marr ke beh gaye isme; naam tak yaad nahi. (So many have died and been forgotten in this medium; not even the names are known). There are no doyens. The medium will live on.

Q. What is relevant theatre to you then?
A. Theatre is like an itchy disease, a cancer. Relevant theatre is done without ego or individual identity attached to it. Its aim is to establish a direct rapport with the human being for it is a medium of immediate feedback. For example, all the actors of a play ‘Dharti ki Pukar’ were killed after it was staged. It hasn’t been staged since. That is an immediate and intense feedback. You are only as good as your last play. A senior artist might fail, so might a junior; we are all living a human life. And please don’t claim that you are doing ‘experimental’ theatre that is new. It’s all been enlisted in the Natyashastra. Call it research and do it honestly.

Q. What do you plan on achieving through workshops that you conduct as a part of Rangadhara?
A. The entire idea of a workshop: technical or acting is to recognize and hone local talent in a way that they are fit to be employed in big theatre productions. It’s not about doing the theory; theatre is a performing art, it must be performed. Every workshop churns out or helps in a production. Theatre is ‘doing’, not just ‘reading’ or ‘knowing’.

Q. Is the government doing enough to promote plays and theatre in the city?
A. Government is sponsoring us but it need not necessarily. They have their limitations, in spite of which the government comes out with great books in local languages, they organize competitions, hold numerous workshops and recently the Government of Andhra Pradesh sanctioned Rs. 3 lakh for a technical workshop on theatre.

Q. What is amiss in the picture?
A. Private organizations must conduct workshops in the local language and train people in the various aspects of theatre. There is a need to promote community theatre that addresses localized concerns. Don’t confine plays to a Ravindra Bharati or a hotel. Take it on the streets and let people stand in the hot sun to watch it. That would be a welcome change. We must take the classics, adapt them to our situation, because we are here and stage them on terraces.

Q. Do so many plays have sufficient audience?
A. An audience creates itself, it can’t be created. Rohini Hattangadi’s portrayal of the female protagonist in ‘Aparajito’ may not pull in the requisite crowds in spite of it being a brilliant play and she being a great actor, as would a play titled ‘Run with your wife’. We have been associated with the Max Muller Bhavan since 1974 and have toured the whole nation. We once staged the play ‘Exception and the Rule’ to three audiences: the youth, the elite and the slum-dwellers. The youth gave a mixed response. The elite instantly launched into elaborate discussion on Galileo, breadth and Mother Courage. The slum-dwelling woman came up on stage midway through the play challenging an unjust verdict that a judge passes onto one of the characters in the play. There you have it. An audience.

Q. Finally, what has been your most memorable moment on stage?
A. Tough call, but I remember in a play ‘Kissa Karodimal ki laash ka’ (The tale Karodimal’s corpse), I played the corpse! There were instances where other characters would accidentally step on my hands and feet and I had to discreetly whisper to them, “Pair matt rakh re!” (Don’t step on me!)
The journey has been memorable.

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