Issue No: 124 When 20 somethings, young talent, fresh out of drama school, desist from taking the predictable path to tinsel town and stardom, and instead, pause and look back at the 3 years of their training and what it means to their lives and their passion of ‘Theatre’, I am all ears and definitely even sceptical of their intent! Isn’t it logical for these youngsters to join the rank and file of the ‘strugglers’ and wait for their careers to launch? Or then give those ‘endless’ auditions, and wait for the ‘magic call’? Or then make the rounds of directors and producers in search of ‘their Godfather’? Or if nothing works, take on meagre jobs to survive and wait till their ‘turn’ comes? All this said in true faith, but this bunch thinks otherwise.
Nine friends of the Lalit Kala Kendra, University of Pune, put their heads together with a common resolve, that they see ‘Theatre’ as something more than just a ‘launch pad’, to their careers in acting or other allied avenues in theatre and wish to reach it to people who otherwise have no access to it. It may sound very philosophic for so young a minds, but they have chewed on it, are convinced of their intentions and have literally packed their bags and set out to make this dream a reality. It starts with them forming their own theatre group, ‘Theatre Flamingos’. To my critical mind, this sounded all too ‘romantic’ and idealistic, but I am ready to reign in my inhibitions, at least for now, and follow their passion.
With one long act play, ‘Wasansi Jeernani’ by Mahesh Elkunchwar and three Monologues/ Solos, in their kitty, they set off on the 23th of May 2017, all bags packed in a Scorpio, to travel to the interior of Maharshtra, Sindhudurg and Goa, covering a distance of 4700km in 14days . They reached to people who had never seen a play before, to the ones who dropping by to’ see what all this fuss about’, to some who had’ seen it all’ and insisted on giving then a talk on how’ a play should be done’. They came back a happy lot with loads of experience and stories galore, their resolve stronger that this is what they had planned for and will this is what they will take forward. But still there was something amiss. I was not convinced and decided to start at the beginning of this concept and what triggered this chain of events. I chatted with the bunch and believe me they wouldn’t stop talking. Ketan Jadhav, Vinayak Kolwankar,Kalpesh Samel, Pranay Sakpal, Abhishek Dukhande, Deva Gadekar, Sharvari Kulkarni, Prajakta Kavllekar, Dhanashri Satam, Sunil Savekar( Driver), the ‘flamingoes’, are here for real.
If one were to look at the profile of these friends and for that matter most of the trainees at the Lalit Kala Kendra at the University, one can’t miss the fact that largely they come from non- urban locales and sometimes remote villages. They may have had a spattering with the arts and theatre in their upbringing and maybe seen some plays travelling to their villages, but mainly they are new to this world. Their families have just tagged along with their passion for theatre, with ignorance of what it has in store for them. Some rebelled at home to come this far! As I spoke to them I also realised that none had a solid backing from home to have even joined this course, let alone taking it up as a career! Having see some of them perform, it is difficult to imagine them as fresher’s to this world!
‘How can theatre help you survive? How will you sustain for a lifetime? Don’t take this risk and play with your lives!’ ‘Stop this madness and take up a job.’’ You have your siblings to think about’.’ We have no money to fend for your training, earn yourself in the city and do your theatre training’. These were some of the jibes we had to hear through the years. And this coming from our own families was hurting! It was disturbing and demotivating. But it touched a raw chord within. It made us think…, ‘says Ketan.
“What are we studying theatre for? What does it mean to us…to our lives? This question irked us. We realised that theatre is for the people and if we don’t reach out to them, it is meaningless. We were also convinced that being part of the ‘Strugglers’ was not the only way to make a mark in this field. This venture is about theatre and performance and how this performance will reach its desired audience.’
‘There are many small villages and communities, where theatre has not reached. Their only exposure has been to forms like the keertan or other folk forms. This does not mean that they do not like to watch a play. There is a need to reach out to them, something that we realised on our tour’.
I seconded this thought, as theatre has been an integral part of the social fabric of Maharashtra. At a time when the electronic media had not reached the remote parts, it was the folk arts which satiated the artistic hunger of the populace. Not only did they enjoy the shows like the Dashaavatar, Chitrakathi, Khele, Naman, but also welcomed the folk forms like Kadaklaxmi, Bharud, Keertan, Jogwaa etc. This was a time to meet and socialise. Geographic locations impacted a lot on what was seen regionally as also the kind of audience these shows attracted. So people in the Konkan area are more exposed to these arts than those in the Vidharba and Marathwada regions, something that these youngsters experienced in their travels, adding to their bag of experiences.
‘What we came across while studying theatre in the last 3 years is that the new age loves eating the pizza ,when the pizza is packaged well and home delivered .This is what ‘ Theatre Flamingo ‘ is about -making theatre, a home delivered pizza. We know good is not good enough when better is expected.
According to Vinayak,’ I am from Mumbai. Before coming to Lalit Kala Kendra, I have dabbled in cinema and television. I have seen how the system works from up close, and am sure that is not what I want. Auditions don’t excite me. I believe if one is focussed, raising money for any venture is not a hurdle. I don’t wish to waste what I have leant in the course and my experience in the field, but definitely not go back to Mumbai and do as the rest. There is a need to reach out to the masses and theatre can do it. I personally feel confident that theatre can work, beyond the conventional, if handled effectively.’
Abhishek from Devgad, in the Konkan area, quipped in,’ ‘Struggle’ is not only about giving auditions. I believe in myself and know I can make a living out of theatre. But the pressing need is to take it to the fringe areas. I don’t have much support from my family, for theatre. They do not feel it will help me. I also hear that they are looking out for girls to get me married off soon .Ha! For the present I am ready to take on any job to fend for myself in Pune and continue work with our group.’
‘I am from Dombivli, though I like Pune better. Mumbai is like a factory. It is really a scary place to be in for budding artistes. To support my education and passion for theatre I did meagre jobs, even worked in McDonalds as a waiter. I am into this venture, because I strongly believe that this will work,’ added Kalpesh.
Deva Gadekar comes from a remote village in Jalna,’ I have known people who have been giving auditions for years and still awaiting a call. Without contacts or a strong reference, it is difficult to get a break in Mumbai. During our trip, I realised that some people willingly gave us money for the shows. So if we plan well, this venture can generate an income. When we performed in my village, my friends and family were seeing me act for the very first time. They were thrilled and realised that I had not really wasted my time at the course. In a way I became their ‘Hero’ and got a lot of recognition there.’
This was the voice of the boys, then what about the girls, who had dared to venture with the travelling group.
As Dhanashri explained,’ I have been doing theatre from school days, so my parents knew of my work. Though Sharvari and I will be graduating next year, this has been a wonderful experience for us. As girls we did have some difficulty during the actual travel, but as a group we are in synch. There is a clear understanding that we will travel, only when we have the time available. We can earn through acting in serials or theatre and then devote some time for this. This is very satisfying and doesn’t put a burden on us. Personally I plan to teach children theatre in my village, take on any assignments that come my way and then continue with Theatre Flamingo.’
Goa based Prajakta added,’ I have no pressures from home, though my parents do keep abreast of what I am doing. They are worried as too how long I plan to continue with this project and seem more concerned for the boys. For myself I have decided to take on what work I get in the creative field and when time permits travel with the group. Currently I am working in two plays which will fetch me money to sustain myself. I definitely plan to accompany the group on their next tour.’
Each of the group had similar stories to narrate. The strong undercurrent that runs through each story, is the definitive that none are under any binding to make a long commitment to this travel. Rather they join in when they have the time. This only implies that more back-up artistes will join the bandwagon. I feel this arrangement and flexibility is something that will makes this model work. It is as though they are pursuing an ideology and a conviction to keep the curtains open for the show to go on! Another thing that caught my attention in this endeavour was their plans to keep this venture ‘breathing’, by giving free space to the actors to accommodate their careers that would fetch the’ mulla’ to cater to their financial needs. It partly calmed my initial trepidation of this being just another’ youthful fancy’ to challenge the conventional and makes one’s presence felt. I may be proved wrong but that time will tell.
They have decided to make Pune their operational base, even hiring a room to crash in. They had pooled in to create a basic corpus, which is a bit heavier now after their sojourn, enough to keep them afloat. The tales of their travails of these 14 days is interesting, being both a learning experience and eye- opener. For now they have opened the ‘Pandora’s box’, all determined to stay together and receive what comes out. What time has in store for them is to be seen! As of now I embark upon their journey and come back to you with their experiences.
Dr. Ajay Joshi is a practicing dentist, with a PhD in theatre criticism and an MA in Journalism and Mass Communication. He has freelanced as a theatre journalist for publications like Times of India, Indian Express, Saakal, PtNotes, Himal etc. He is involved in theatre as a media person, organiser, coordinator, judge and teacher.