Stalwarts from the cultural space of Bengaluru talk to us about the past decade and what’s next...

We speak to names such as Rohit Barker, Arundhati Nag, Madhu Natraj and more 

author_img Anagha M & Ayesha Tabassum Published :  13th November 2020 03:06 PM   |   Published :   |  13th November 2020 03:06 PM

Arundhati Nag

Arundhati Nag
BENGALURU’S theatre community was delighted when Ranga Shankara opened its doors way back in 2004. Since then, the venue has hosted more than 300 shows every year. The theatre has also hosted its annual festivals since then, bringing down renowned theatre groups from across the globe and from within the country to perform on its stage. Arundhati Nag envisioned the space that would be the hub for collaborations and organic growth of theatre, and Ranga Shankara continues to be that space. While the city grew around it, the theatre continued to be the nucleus of culture and the performing arts. “Six years after we opened, the city started growing rapidly. The government hadn’t envisaged such growth, and neither had the BATF (Bangalore Agenda Task Force). It was unprecedented and unplanned and we lost a lot of green cover,” reminisces Nag, speaking about what the city looked like 10 years ago.

However, the positive thing back then was that the venue witnessed shows that were sold out. Ranga Shankara also initiated the Aha! Theater for Children programme. “I was dreaming of building another space, exclusively for children’s theatre. It would be more like a holistic centre,” reveals Nag. However, the plan had to wait. Meanwhile, the trust also introduced the Shankar Nag Theatre Award on November 9, 2014, the late actor’s 60th birthday. “We had never named anything after him. Even the theatre was named after the God of the performing arts, Shankara.

So we decided to confer an award on practitioners who had qualities similar to Shankar, individuals who would take theatre forward,” explains Nag. In the last decade, she has observed how devised theatre has evolved and the process is a lot more democratic. “People are increasingly interpreting different pieces of work — from poetry and short stories to essays. Theatre training too has gained significance because people have realised the importance of being trained,” she explains.

This year, the pandemic abruptly stopped all the activities at the theatre. But as an organisation, they quickly adapted to the change and went digital with Ranga Shankara Connect. Even the annual theatre festival was hosted virtually. Currently, they are preparing to open from the first week of December for
shows. About 150 audience members can watch a performance. “People should step outvand come watch plays. It’s a safe place, all the precautions are in place,” offers Nag.

Rohit Barker
OVER the years, Rohit Barker has dabbled in DJing, RJing, hosting music festivals and even the F&B industry with restaurants 612 East and Nevermind. From opening for Swedish House Mafia in their India gig, to his radio show with DJ Ivan, The HotMix, becoming the longest running dance music radio show in the world, Rohit has had quite the decade. “In the music and entertainment industries, things change rapidly. My job is to keep my ear to the ground and stay ahead of the curve. Over the last decade, I’ve seen the rise and fall of EDM and the rise of techno over the last year or two,” he shares.

Playing live music is an unmatched experience, that just isn’t the same with a digital gig. It was 2011 when Rohit was playing a gig at a ladies night. “The place was packed and it was mid-way through the night when I looked up and got hit in the face by someone’s... frillies,” the DJ recounts. He also jokes about how his style has evolved. “With the passing of a decade one also looks back at pictures and wonders, ‘What the hell was I wearing?’ or ‘Did my hair really look like that?’ I have a few pictures lying around which make me laugh,” he shares on a lighter note.

According to the artiste, this pandemic hasn’t just affected the music scene, but sadly crushed it. “I think the music and nightlife industry will take a year or so to get back on its feet. I would love to see the government be more proactive in p r o m o t i n g t h e arts as a whole. In any vibrant city around the world, t h e a r t s, m u s i c and nightlife are huge influences. But I’m excited to see what 2021 and a new decade will bring,” he says on an optimistic note.

Bruce Lee Mani
BRUCE Lee Mani fronts the most quintessentially Bengalurean rock band out there — Thermal and A Quarter. With an almost 25-year career behind it, and eight studio albums to its name, the band has
seen the ups and downs of the independent music industry in the city, especially in the past decade. Bruce is also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the opening of his music school, Taaqademy. “2010 was an exciting time for us because it was the year we all pretty much abandoned our mainstream careers and went into music full time,” he tells us.

The artiste remembers the band’s first dedicated jam room on MG Road. “There was a music shop in Barton Centre and the back room was our jam room. It was here that we wrote one of our earliest albums, Jupiter Café,” he shares. But one of the biggest changes they have seen i s  t h e  i n c r e a s i n g  n u mber of m u s i c venues. “Actually, in 2010, there were not that many places in Bengaluru for bands to play at. We used to have Sunday jams, but apart from that, it was more just the college festival circuit. But in this decade, we’ve seen many new venues — Hard Rock Café, B Flat, Take Five, Kyra, and Fandom and The Humming Tree later,” the artiste adds. Bruce also notes how the scene in some ways peaked in 2015-16. “Every weekend, there were at least seven to eight bands playing around the city,” he recalls.

According to the musician, it is too unpredictable right now to say what the future might hold, but Bruce is hopeful that the live music scene will bounce back, and that there will be a meaningful

Shibu Arakkal 
ARTIST and photographer Shibu Arakkal is a true-blue Bengalurean. The reason we say this is because despite being accepted by one of the world’s best institutes in his 20s, Shibu decided to stay back and practise his art in his beloved native city. “The reason why I very consciously and stubbornly chose to stay back is because Bengaluru has a spirit and sensibility unlike any other place I’ve travelled to,” he
says. The award-winning photographer, who is recognised for his unique and unconventional work that combines the aesthetics of painting and photography says, there are other reasons that make Bengaluru a vibrant hub for art. “I also realised that I found more honest appreciation for my work here than in Delhi or Mumbai. And, Bengaluru for whatever reason, has always been able to appreciate something new but only if it’s authentic and truly avant-garde. I realised that my sensibility is intrinsically
tied to this unique city,” explains the photographer who is one of the few Indians to have been awarded the Lorenzo il Magnifico Gold Prize in Digital Art for his work Constructing Life at the Florence Biennale in Italy in 2013.

This isn’t the only big achievement of the photographer in the last decade. Last year, Shibu exhibited his latest work Mallaah which captured the little-known boatmen of the Kumbh Mela. “I think this decade gave me the freedom to create work that I really wanted to create,” he says. Although the recession of 2008-09 hit the art market badly, Shibu says the creative momentum didn’t slow down. “No matter how difficult it was, we witnessed a lot of artists stylistically creating work in tune with Western artists.
Newer spaces were established and social media came up in a big way. For all the evils it has, the medium also helped people develop a sense of aesthetics because of their exposure to art from the world over,” he explains.

Speaking about how the lockdown impacted him, the photographer says it gave him a chance to introspect. He says, “It’s a solemn period from an artistic point of view. I think our practice was due for a course change. I am trying to anticipate, predict and alter my course as per that.” Bengaluru, he believes, will continue to seek authenticity. “As much as the city is aware of all the trends, it will only embrace things that are authentic,” he signs off.

Madhu Natraj

WELL-KNOWN contemporary dancer and choreographer, Madhu Natraj has kept pace with the changing times. As the founder of Bengaluru-based STEM Dance Kampni, the artiste has contributed to the cultural evolution with her innovative dance productions. In the last decade particularly, Madhu, has choreographed and produced some path-breaking ensemble performances. But it hasn’t been an easy journey. “A decade ago, the situation was quite similar to what it is today. After we were hit by the
recession, we were in a tricky situation. It was a period of shattering our psychological barriers to change. Artistically, the virtual space also became our medium.

Before the recession, we called it the golden period of dance because we were doing about 80 shows a year, but by 2009-10, it came down to one show a month. However, we had to reinvent and recaliberate. The pandemic now has just accelerated this process,” says Madhu. Her achievements have been many, including being recognised as one of India’s 50 Young Achievers, and being awarded the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar from the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi. On the work front, Madhu says, she created her most memorable work Vajra, and hosted the Namma Dance Utsav. “We created Vajra in association with Ganjam. It was our attempt at reclaiming brilliance. Even though there was no economic stability, there was fire in our bellies. Then with the Utsav, we took dance to public spaces. We performed in parks, palaces and even used the escalators of UB City. In three days, 13,000 people watched performances from classical, folk and contemporary disciplines,” explains the dancer.

In 2020, after the pandemic hit, Madhu’s dance company took a step further by dynamically adapting to the digital world. “Initially there was this sense of inertia and entropy. Nobody had experienced such a situation, but once we got through the first 10 days, we started taking classes online. Then we also hosted the Dr Maya Rao Kathak and Choreography Conference in May, a first-of-its-kind digital dance conference that was watched by over 70,000 people,” explains Madhu.Though the last decade has been a difficult one, she says it has been the most creative ever. “I lost my mother, I also went through several financial and artistic turmoils. But Bengaluru offers the creative freedom and head space to do what you
want to do. It is the cosmic centre of the universe for me,” she says emotionally. Going forward, her company is expanding its outreach programme, Dance Shaal(W)e. “We have started virtual classes for children from urban slums and in other districts in Karnataka. We have also got requests from as far as Kashmir, Bhopal and Rajasthan,” she signs off.