The stage is set! Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival returns with its latest edition in Bengaluru

This year’s theme is ‘Narrative and Narrative,’ Ranga Shankara’s artistic director Arundhati Nag tells us
(L-R) Arundhati Nag, a scene from the play
(L-R) Arundhati Nag, a scene from the play

It's finally that time of the year when the city is abuzz with countless literary meets and cultural festivals. Headlining the series of festivities is the Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival 2023 — the annual festival hosted by Bengaluru’s theatre citadel — which starts today.

Ardent followers of the festival — which many are — know that the festival comes up with a new theme every year. This year’s theme is ‘Narrative and Narrative,’ Ranga Shankara’s artistic director Arundhati Nag tells us. She begins, “Every play is a narrative told from somebody’s point of view. Whether it is Ramayana or Mahabharata or whether it is the Iliad or Odyssey — the narrative is the spinal column of the story. And without a story, how can you do theatre?”

Once the theme was decided, six different plays with different narratives — but aligning with the theme — were selected. The extensive spread includes the English plays Slices of the Moon Swept by the Wind and Urmila; the Hindi play Jo Dooba So Paar; the Kannada play Mahilabharatha; the Marathi play Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta; and the Tamil play Paatigalum.

<strong>Arundhati Nag</strong>
Arundhati Nag

Slices of the Moon Swept by the Wind
The opening play of the festival, Slices of the Moon Swept by the Wind is a novella by S Surendranath, which is being adapted by the author and performed by Arundhati Nag. It follows a young boy, who is trapped in a tragically misshapen body and writes about the world as he sees from the window of his room and the world inside, which comprises his family. Speaking of her upcoming performance, Arundhati says, “My colleagues and I hardly find the time to perform something at the festival but this year, we decided to take out some time to do something that does away with all the embellishments of theatre. While we are showing musicals and all kinds of plays — here is something that is just asking you to listen. The playwright and I decided to make a very quiet experience for people in a world that is increasingly becoming cluttered with sound effects and loud music.”

Jo Dooba So Paar
Written by Ajitesh Gupta and helmed by him and Mohit Agarwal, Jo Dooba So Paar is a musical that traces the life of the 12th-century musician and scholar Ameer Khusrau. With anecdotes and stories woven in the form of a dastaangoi and accompanied by live qawwalis, the play attempts to give insight into the essence of Sufism and its eternally relevant message of love.

Written and directed by Nimmy Raphel, Urmila follows the story of Lakshmana’s wife of the same name in Ramayana. While Lakshmana is often portrayed as the embodiment of devotion, his wife is no less a match. When the former wanted to guard Rama and Sita and asked for sleeplessness for fourteen years, the sleep goddess granted him the wish but said that someone else had to go into slumber for those years. Lakshmana chose Urmila to do that without batting an eyelid and the latter too accepted the request. The play brings her story to light, interpreting a not-so-popular mythological story from a not-so-popular perspective.

Directed by Bagrudeen M, the comedy Patigalum Pazhamozhigalum is excerpted from a book by Shanmugam. It is set up at a thinnai (verandah) that is commonly found in the village houses where old women gather around every day to chit-chat. Male actors are dressed up as old women in this play, singing five songs by the famous cross-gender artiste O Mutthumari.

Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta
Adapted by Niranjan Pednekar from a play by Sam Steiner and directed by Mohit Takalkar, this is a high-concept drama that features public prosecutor Feroza and musician Aditya, a couple in a country ruled by a fascist regime, who embark on a quest to unravel life’s meaning, love and politics. The story delves into their relationship non-linearly, as a strict law limits daily word usage to 140. Through a portrayal of their flawed relationship, the play reflects the fragmented reality of contemporary times.

Written by K Madhavane and helmed by Shripad Bhat, the closing play Mahilabharatha is set to be showcased on November 1, Karnataka Rajyotsava Day. And it is not a coincidence, Arundhati reveals. “Shripad Bhat is a very important director of the Kannada theatre scene. We were in conversation with him for quite a while. Then when he came up with this, we were surprised and thrilled. Kannada theatre needs a play like this now,” she says, not revealing much about the plot.

<strong>Interiors of Ranga Shankara</strong>
Interiors of Ranga Shankara

Talks on narrative
Apart from the plays, the festival will also feature two independent talks. On the first day of the festival will be a talk on ‘the political narrator’ by activist Aakar Patel, whom Arundhati describes as, “a very politically subversive voice in India.” On the last day, scholar Nataraj Bhuriwala will talk about Tatva Pada, which is a music genre in Kannada that conveys moral, metaphysical or religious concepts. And to top it all — for all the theatre enthusiasts who live in parts of the city far away from Ranga Shankara and might miss out on the festival — four plays from the list will also be showcased at Jagriti Theatre. The plays include Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta, Jo Dooba So Paar, Paatigalum and Urmila.

INR 300. On till November 1, 7.30 pm onwards. At JP Nagar and Whitefield

Twitter: @MallikPrattusa

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