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Carrying the mantle

RAKESH MEHAR

National School of Drama Chairperson Amal Allana says a play should go beyond language and become an experience

Photo: Murali Kumar K.

THE ECONOMICS Amal Allana: `Most small theatre groups don't put up plays regularly because they don't have the money'

Ask Amal Allana where Indian theatre is going, and she'll tell you it's ready for the big leap. The Chairperson of the National School of Drama (NSD), who was in the city to promote the drama school's Satellite Theatre Festival, exudes hope about the future of theatre in the country.

"Theatre is well-poised at the moment," she says. "The younger generation is not like ours. Now people here know what Yakshagana is because theatre has been brought to their doorstep." Bangalore, in particular, pleases this director, who sees the city as one of the best venues for theatre in the country. The city is ripe for a festival such as the Satellite Theatre Festival. "Theatre people in the city have, over the years, built up a wonderful audience that is also very receptive," she says. Her exposure to Bangalore's audiences has been favourable and her performance at Chowdiah Memorial Hall was well received.

NSD's festival

NSD's festival, she says, has been launched here partly to encourage the growth of the school's regional resource centre in the city. "We have our resources being pumped into the centre here, and we want to activate it and help it grow. We want it to become a hub of theatre activity here."

What gives Amal most hope about theatre, though, is the success of theatre festivals like NSD's own. The festivals, she explains, help attract sponsors by putting theatre on the road map. Popularising theatre through festivals ensures that they are perceived not as elitist, but as having mass appeal. "We have to show that theatre goes beyond language and becomes an experience." But how to go about sustaining theatre outside of festivals is a question that still hasn't received a satisfactory answer. Amal believes that this demand will not be generated till theatre is first made available on a regular basis. "Most small theatre groups don't put up plays regularly because they don't have the money. But only if plays are performed regularly and people know that they are happening will they go to watch them. It is important that we make theatre more available by creating cheap venues. In Bombay, for example, theatre groups are now performing street theatre in parks." The role that government can fulfil is to create spaces for rehearsal and performance, such as community halls. She says: "The government can't support repertories like we would want them to, but they must at least provide infrastructure support."

However, she says, with the government either unwilling or unable to provide this kind of support, the private sector has slowly begun to step up to fill the gap. Amal sees the necessary funding and support coming wholly from the corporate sector in the future, some of which is already happening through organisations like Hutch. Hutch sponsors activities in Ranga Shankara in Bangalore and Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. The key is to make theatre more popular with the youth, so that sponsors have a marketable product.

Her career in theatre, meanwhile, is a mix of administrative work for NSD and her personal forays into theatre along with her husband Nissar Allana. Her latest production, Erendira and her Heartless Grandmother, an adaptation of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story, was performed at Chowdiah Memorial on Tuesday.

One cannot help but ask what it feels like to inherit the legacy of her father, Ebrahim Alkazi, the illustrious former director of NSD. "You should ask my daughter that," she says, "she does theatre and has a double weight to contend with. When people ask me that, I tell them there's nothing I can do. I was born into theatre."

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