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04-Nov-2011

Indian Express | A tale of two theatres

This is the story of two Arundhatis, their husbands and their extraordinary passion for theatre. It is about theatres — Jagriti and Rangashankara — that the two Arundhatis built at the opposite ends of Bangalore, which today make for a vibrant, happening dramatic theatre scene in the city.

The spaces that the Arundhatis have built have so much in common. And yet they are very different, from the kinds of plays they stage right down to the cuisine in their respective open-air cafeterias. You could say that Arundhati Raja and her husband Jagdish belong to “English Bangalore.” They lived in the downtown Convent Road for many years. They led a remarkably active and prolific life in English theatre for three decades with their Artistes’ Repertory Theatre. They have been theatre teachers, moulding many budding actors in the city.

The Jagriti Theatre.

The Rajas’ Jagriti opened in Bangalore’s Whitefield neighbourhood about a year ago, eight years in the making, and standing where their farmhouse once stood. With zeal and ardour, they had traded their share of the co-development for a theatre space, instead of bargaining for the standard “two penthouses”. That space is today turning out to be a gift to the community. Located amidst an expanse of office parks and modern residential high rises, Jagriti mainly stages English plays, with occasional comedy evenings and music nights. The theatre seats 200. Ticket prices are upwards of Rs 250. “These days people think nothing of spending Rs 500 on a multiplex movie ticket,” says Raja, explaining that professional theatre and low-cost tickets do not work well together. An evening of theatre can be rounded off with a meal at Jagriti’s Fat Chef where wine and espresso are served alongside eclectic Continental cuisine.

Rangashankara

Arundathi Nag at the inauguration of Jagriti Theatre Bangalore

Arundathi Nag at the inauguration of Jagriti Theatre

While all this sounds romantic, anybody who has done the math has already figured that it will be hard for Arundhati Raja and her husband to make any ROI (return on investment) on the theatre they have built. The Arundhati of the other story — Arundhati Nag — was an “outsider” who moved to Bangalore at the end of the 1970s when she married popular Kannada actor Shankar Nag. She lost him to a traffic accident some years later. You could say the theatre was a tribute to Shankar’s acting talent and a culmination of their shared dream for a space for regional theatre. From her farmhouse on the Hosur Road suburbs of Bangalore, Arundhati Nag built Rangashankara.

Rangashankara, now in its seventh year, is located in south Bangalore — which you could broadly term “Kannada Bangalore.” Arundhati Nag’s dream of building a theatre found support of every kind. The theatre came up on a government-allotted plot; and, as she ran around asking for donations, the S.M. Krishna government chipped in with Rs 50 lakh from its culture department. Despite such largesse, Nag says it took her 10 years to get the project finished. Rangashankara today runs on a staff of 10, and has backers among leading Bangalore philanthropists including Sudha Murthy’s Infosys Foundation, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s Biocon Foundation and the city-based watchmaker, Titan Industries. Recalling the anxiety of the long years waiting to see Rangashankara launch, Nag says: “It is only madness that makes people build theatres.”

The bulk of Rangashankara’s offerings are in Kannada, though the theatre aspires to be a bridge between English, Hindi and regional language theatre. Tickets start as low as Rs 50 with a ceiling of Rs 200. Rounding off the Rangashankara experience is the homely Anju’s Café that serves everything from poha, sabudana vada and festive thalis. Both Rangashankara and Jagriti are beautiful and lively theatre spaces that have been built on determination and grit. They are well-maintained and well-managed, a challenge of no mean dimension. Both hope to pull audiences back from the lure of television and the movies to the joy of live theatre. “They are ahead of their times,” says Prakash Belawadi, a Bangalore theatre figure who straddles both English and regional theatre spaces. “I hope they eventually get payback as measured by the support of theatre groups and audiences.”

Jagriti

Jagriti is a Performance Arts space dedicated to Theatre, Music, Dance and Comedy. Founded in 2011 by Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, the space has hosted several productions from India and around the world. A 200-seat theatre built around a full-thrust stage, it is fully equipped to cater to both artistes and audience. The main stage is designed for intimate performances, with adjoining spaces for informal lectures and gatherings, and an attached restaurant. Jagriti is owned and operated by the not-for profit ART Foundation, a registered charitable trust.

The Rooftop - above the main auditorium is an open-to-sky space with a stage area that can accommodate about 50 people. A raised and walled off platform can work as a perfect area for puppet theatre. The Rooftop has a restroom and a pantry. 

The Terrace - alongside the auditorium can accommodate about 20 people as an informal gathering area.

Lumbini - extending out from the foyer, Lumbini has a stage and an open-to-sky terraced space for about 80 people.