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Saturday, November 16

Now, it’s reaching a stage of decline......

 A tragedyWhile there are close to a hundred drama troupes and artistes in Puducherry, few of them are active around the year. Drama artistes and members of Indian People’s Theatre Association at an interaction in Puducherry —Photo: G. Krishnaswamy

The resting place of the dramatist considered as the father of Tamil theatre - Sankaradas Swamigal - lies in Puducherry. Every year, drama artistes and literary scholars from the Union Territory and Tamil Nadu congregate at his memorial in Karuvadikuppam here. But Tamil dramas in Puducherry barely get to the stage today.

While there are close to a hundred drama troupes and artistes in Puducherry, few of them are active around the year. “Most of the troupes have ageing artistes and few young players,” says Ellai Sivakumar, president, the Puducherry Maanila Kalai Ilakiya Perumandram that organised the Sankaradas Swamigal Festival this year.

However, some of the troupes participate in annual drama competitions organised by the government. “Many of the artistes have known only this occupation. Now that they are old, they have no assistance,” says Kaliaperumal, a yesteryear artiste of the Sankardas Swamigal Nalintha Kalaignar Nalvazhvu Sangam, which has more than 300 artistes registered. Government grants to these artistes are not paid regularly, he alleges.

While theatre in Puducherry has been impacted by television, internet and other popular media like theatre elsewhere, the situation here is compounded further by two other reasons, say artistes: expenses involved and lack of good stages. The Kamban Kalai Arangam, the only decent government hall, ideal for a drama charges more than Rs. 25,000 a day, say drama artistes. “When the rent was Rs. 2,000 or so a few years back, plays used to be staged occasionally,” recalls Perumal, a yesteryear artiste.

“Staging a play is an expensive affair when you factor in rehearsal expenses, and payments for artists,” he adds.

Even a makeshift stage costs around Rs. 10,000, says M. Radhakrishan of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). Even popular theatre artistes from Chennai like Crazy Mohan and S. Ve. Shekar have not performed in Puducherry recently.

As there few sabhas or affordable private halls suitable for plays in Puducherry, artistes depend on the the only other government or public stages in Puducherry. These are all open air stages like the one at Kurinji Nagar, Lawspet where a play in honour of Sankaradas Swamigal was staged this week. “These plays are not conducive for plays that belong in a sabha,” says Murugavel, drama artiste. “Mythological plays with dance and music are staged here.”

But the theatre scenario was not always like this. Puducherry and the surrounding districts in Tamil Nadu like Cuddalore and Villipuram have a rich tradition of therukoothu which revolved around temple festivals, and which take place in northern Tamil Nadu. M.K. Raman, a patron of the Perumandram, says the TKS brothers and Kalaignar Karunanidhi have staged plays here. Old timers recall theatres in the heritage town that have now shut down.

“It was Sankaradas Swamigal who gave Tamil drama a proper form, from the therukoothu it was,” says Adhiraman, president, IPTA, Puducherry. But, today, there are barely any troupes in Puducherry who can stage his play. It is usually troupes involved from outside who do it.” IPTA hopes to rejuvenate disappearing arts and put new ideas and ideologies on stage.

But social plays questioning injustice and norms in society and those throwing the spotlight on contemporary issues have been staged occasionally, say members of IPTA.

“We stage such plays that talk about contemporary issues like price hike, mosquito menace and violence against women,” says M.K. Raman. These are possible as they do not need an elaborate stage, make-up or even costumes, says Ellai Sivakumar.

Today's Paper News - The Hindu

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