Theatre groups in Bangalore are alive despite very few sponsors and money in it. While the cash registers are not exactly ringing, a few dedicated personalities keep running the show in a bid to keep the art alive.

Only a few popular theatres and comedy plays are self-sustaining. Popular plays which have or are making money are Mysore Mallige (Mysore jasmine), Huttadalli Hutta (Pit in snake’s pit) and a few plays by the late playwright Beechi (Rayasam Bheemasena Rao).

Demand for comedy

The new genre of comedy seems to be on the upswing while serious theatre is still viewed as the ‘art film’ line-up of plays that appeal only to a miniscule section of the diminishing audience.

Money is recovered when a few well-known theatre personalities such as Lakshmi Chandrasekhar, M.S. Narasimhamurthy, Sihi Kahi Chandru, E.V. Surindernath, and M.S. Jahangir stage plays. Theatre-goers value these names and expect a good show from them. It is not always houseful but the turnout is often impressive.

‘No money in it’

According to Prakash Belawadi, theatre personality and co-founder of the Centre of Film and Drama at Suchitra School of Cinema and Dramatic Arts in Bangalore, “If you mean financially, I guess not. Theatre – non-professional theatre, I must say – has never been a paying vocation.”

“However, plays can be produced at costs which are as less as Rs 10,000. So, for people who do theatre because they have a passion for it, the costs are bearable. Theatre, therefore, is always viable, in that sense,” Belawadi said.

Jagadish Malnad, general manager of Ranga Shankara where plays are held regularly, said “In Bangalore there are 50 to 60 theatre groups, of which only 10 generate good revenues or at times break even.”

“Not all plays make money. Out of say 20 plays, only four or five make money and another two or three break even,” he added.

English plays

However, English plays have a better and bigger audience, says P D Satish Chandra, director of KH Kala Soudha. “I have seen English college productions with adequate publicity and support making a mark in a Kannada dominated south Bangalore hub like Basavanagudi.

“Unknown theatre groups are now slowly taking over with technological innovation and innovating with their scripts and production tactics. I agree that they will take time to settle down and make a mark in the circle, but that is not stopping them from coming in and booking auditorium and doing what they are good at,” he added.

Corporate funding is negligible in Bangalore. Only a few English plays get 20 per cent funding while Kannada plays get only about 2 per cent.

In this scenario, many theatre groups stage their plays funding from their own pocket. “Some of them either pay from their pocket or raise money from their friends and relatives,” said Mr Jagadish.

Kannada sanghas

The most active Kannada theatre groups are Kannada sangha or kootas formed by employees of public sector undertakings such as HMT, BEL, ITI, HAL and other smaller ones.

“These organisations generate their own sponsorship from their parent organisation,” Jagadish said.

(This article was published on July 31, 2012)
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