The New Indian Express | Swami is Back With His Friends To Charm Bengaluru

 Swami and Friends is one of those books that is deeply entrenched in the minds and memories of anyone who has read it. Malgudi, the fictional town created by R.K. Narayan, has landscapes that readers will already have mapped in their own heads.  They will have mentally trod the path from Ellaman Street to the Sarayu river through Nallappa’s grove. Readers have met Narayan’s quirky characters and have ideas about  how they look and what they might say.  So how does one recreate a story and an ethos that has already been imagined and  reimagined multiple times? Visual Respiration, a Bengaluru-based theatre group will  create these landscapes onstage as a compelling 90-minute performance at the  Jagriti Season 2015. As with any adaptation for which the source material is a popular  classic, the challenge first lies in winning over the fans.

How did the whole journey begin and what has it been like?

Aruna Ganesh Ram, the  director of the show conceived the idea six years ago. ‘Three chapters into the book, I  already started seeing stage visuals. The challenge has been in creating a design that  will bring Malgudi alive for the audiences,’ she says. Manasi Subramaniam, who  adapted the book into a stage script, says, ‘Writing this adaptation sometimes felt like  trying to cram as many chocolates as possible into my fist. The novel is so filled with  wonderful moments that it was hard to decide what to keep and what not to keep.’

The play has been created with a Bengaluru-based cast and crew. Ishaan Pai and Shridhar Kulkarni play Swami, the curious 10-year-old.  Shridhar prepared for the role by establishing close and multifaceted relationships with his family and friends within the  play. The cast-members often drew on their childhoods to recreate the youth and  innocence of the characters they portray, their quirks and the good-natured charm of  growing up in pre-Independence India. With a multi-talented cast and crew, the play  promises to transport people to the old-world charm of Malgudi. With original music  composed by Aditya M.T to bring in a South-Indian flavor, the play also uses smells to  kindle the audience’s senses and impressions. Aruna is a student of The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London where  she specialised in devised work and immersive theatre. Her Bengaluru  based theatre  group Visual Respiration focuses on creating unique audience encounters with very  powerful stage visuals.


The cast recreates innocence and mischief

Bengaluru's audiences have been very receptive towards  immersive and participatory theatre. In her previous shows, she has used senses of  taste, touch and smell to engage audiences.

With Swami and Friends, she explores the  concept of heightening the sense of smell within a proscenium. “I think smells can  trigger powerful memories and transport you into another world. With Swami and  Friends, I imagined what it means to take an audience to a traditional South-Indian household and the smell of coffee was then introduced into the performance.

For Aruna, the challenge in theatre has been to draw new audiences. With Swami and  Friends, she is sure to attract a completely diverse audience group. “From eight -year-olds to 80-year-olds, I feel there are different ways for audiences to connect with Swami, Malgudi and R.K.Narayan”

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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- 'The Fat Chef'. 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 staging 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, the Terrace 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.