Besides organising clever social media marketing strategies, these multitaskers are bringing a whole new dimension to regional theatre
When it is Tamil theatre, you expect stereotypes: preachy family dramas, oldies exchanging dated dialogues—barring, of course, the likes of S Ve Shekhar, ‘Crazy’ Mohan and Y Gee Mahendra who have stood the test of time. Added to this is the glaring gap between English amateur theatre and their Tamil counterpart. All that promises to change, as a new breed of theatre-loving folks are responding to the need for relevant theatre in the language spoken by the majority of the state. Their mantra is simple: clean comedies that appeal to the family audience and content that is relevant to the smartphone-toting crowd. Promotions on social media platforms are strategically handled to bring in maximum viewers. Meet Chennai’s new young ‘uns, who are making waves in the sabha circles.
RAJAGOPALAN’s tryst with theatre began with small skits for school culturals and elaborate productions during his college days. They abruptly stopped when he and his friends joined the work force. In 2008, they re-grouped to revive their passion and stage a play. “We approached ‘Crazy’ Mohan who suggested that we perform under Kartik Fine Arts, as they premiere the Tamil plays in Chennai,” he says about how Chennai Drama House and its first play, Kandabadi Kandupidi, came about. Since then, they have staged four plays. The artiste, who holds a managing position with a hospital chain in Bangalore, commutes to Chennai for rehearsals and shows. “It gets tiring, but the end result makes it all worth it,” says the 29-year-old, adding, ‘‘Content is most important, if you have to draw young audiences to you. We have to bring in new elements. CDH hasn’t managed it yet, but we’re working on it!”
Chennai Drama House, Dummies Drama
THIS 29-year-old Gujarati with a passion for Tamil theatre insists that “I’m more Tamilian than Gujarati.” Born and brought up in Chennai, the practising chartered accountant got interested in theatre while in school. “I grew up watching S Ve Shekhar and ‘Crazy’ Mohan on stage. My friend Rajagopalan and I used to frequent the Mylapore Club as well, where there’d be a lot of amateur theatre,” he says. Though actively involved in the founding of Chennai Drama House, when CDH took an involuntary break in 2010, Bhat began working with other drama troupes. It started with Dummies Drama calling him for a role in Shyamalam. So far, Bhat has acted in over 130 shows for three theatre groups, including Shraddha. “I played the lead role of a school boy in Shraddha’s Pariksha,” shares the actor, whose boy-next-door face has had him play roles of a teenager more than once.
director, stage management Dummies Drama
Growing up in Thiruvarur gave Ganesan virtually no exposure to drama and theatre. Three years of chartered accountancy training with theatre veteran N Sreevathson of Dummies Drama changed all that. ‘‘He is a chartered accountant, and he regularly teaches. So when I joined his training class, he took me under his wing,’’ says the 26-year-old. In the beginning, Ganesan just assisted—whether it be organising props or costumes or managing the lights. Eventually, he took over the gamut of backstage work for Dummies Drama. Then, when the 15-year-old theatre company decided to bolster youngsters’ participation in theatre, and started a spin-off troupe called Team D, Ganesan pitched in. So far, he has acted in, directed and managed both the plays they’ve staged—Memory Minus and Women’s Rea. ‘‘If you need to attract young viewers, you need material that appeals to them—everyday topics like college and school life, love and relationships, etc,” says Ganesan, adding, ‘‘We try to make the plays as relatable as possible to my generation. People appreciate things better if we put it in context, and it is best done with humour. Plus, humour that appeals to the entire family helps connect to a wide range of audiences. So we don’t just have young people or old people. We have both.’’
actor, director, scriptwriter Maham Enterprises
Being the daughter of a theatre and film veteran, Madhuvanthi Arun is unfazed by the size of the shoes she has to fill. In fact, training under her dad, Y G Mahendra, is what led her to start Maham Enterprises, an arts and media company, with her group of friends. Maham’s first outing was a serious affair—a story about a visually-impaired girl. The second was a breezy comedy named Siva Shambo—a very gen Y story about two women rooming with a man in New York. ‘‘Since I run a school, my focus is on youngsters. When we give them good material, they take it up pretty well,” she says. Siva Shambo played in Chennai every weekend during the Margazhi season and is now being staged abroad, too. She says, “I don’t believe in comparing English and Tamil theatre. They are different genres. That said, the trend is changing. A lot of youngsters are involved in Tamil theatre—as performers and audience. ’’