Rathna Shekar Mogulla, founder of Samahaara, opens up about sustaining during the pandemic, workshops and more

Pulling through the tough hour
Astistes at Samahaara, a non-profit cultural society founded by Rathna Shekar Mogulla
Astistes at Samahaara, a non-profit cultural society founded by Rathna Shekar Mogulla

Of the many sections of people affected by the pandemic, artistes, especially theatre artistes, were some of the worst-hit in the past two years. They fear that with no shows, the craft could become unpopular and might even soon disappear. Rathna Shekar Mogulla, a prolific actor and founder of Samahaara in Banjara Hills, opens up with CE about sustaining during the pandemic, his upcoming projects, workshops and more.

Rathna founded Samahaara as a non-profit cultural society to work towards popularising theatre among youngsters. It’s a place many in the city look up to hone their craft of acting. Since its inception, he has been creating ways to teach the art form to those passionate about acting. Now, he is coming up with a workshop on film acting, wherein he would teach everything from scratch.

As the pandemic has taken over the industry for over two years, he has been striving to push theatre arts through his workshops that could help enthusiasts develop their skills. “As a theatre group, we perform across the city. We have had people, who love the magic that acting creates, walk up to us wanting to be a part of the group. But passion alone can’t get you up there on stage. So, we decided to host workshops that will help such people understand the basics of the craft,” Rathna shares.

Because it could get difficult to focus on training when they’re producing and performing, they organise workshops once in a while when they get breaks between their performances. “The first 25 workshops were conducted for free because people were interested. But once more and more people started showing up, indiscipline started to creep in. That’s when we decided to start charging people an entry fee. We have successfully held more than 200 workshops so far,” says Rathna.

Samahaara conducts workshops for people from different walks of life -- from kids to those working in corporate companies and teachers, among others. “We have workshops for children between eight and 13 years, and one for those who can make it during the weekends. Right now, we’re conducting a workshop for our 53rd batch. Each batch trains for two months on weekends. We also have workshops in the mornings and evenings, based on people’s working hours. All the workshops begin with teaching and end with performances. Apart from these, we host workshops for corporate organisations and educational institutions too.”

Talking about the pandemic affecting the theatre industry, a devastated Rathna says, “We have barely managed to survive -- I have a team of six theatre professionals, some of them are occupied with teaching jobs and the others are dependent on Samahaara, like myself. The last 10 months, we could not hold any performances, which is a huge time lost in an artiste’s life. We are still staying afloat with the workshops and have noticed that the participation has decreased by 50-60 per cent. Right now, we are contemplating on whether we should conduct the workshops or not. We’re still looking for a viable solution on how to go about things.”

The lockdown, however, wasn’t all bad for Rathna. He was able to teach himself and explore a lot of new things. “I was reading, watching shows and also conducted virtual workshops. I had a lot of books to read and movies to watch. I was finally able to find time for this during the pandemic. I also got a lot of ideas to write about, so that’s a win,” says Rathna, looking on the bright side. Despite it all, the show must go on, he believes. About what’s coming up next, he says, “Last year, we produced a play. We started work on it before the pandemic and it took us one year to get it on to stage,” he says.

The pandemic has also changed the group’s approach in terms of choosing subjects. “Earlier, we were very conservative. We weren’t sure how the audience would receive touchy and taboo subjects such as that of the pride community. But the pandemic has taught us that if there’s something in your mind, go out there and speak about it. People may not like it, but as long as it doesn’t kill you, make your art and be bold about it. We also hope to be reading our plays soon, but with a lot of our members working from home, we’re yet to finalise on when that can happen.”

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