Ranga Shankara is acknowledged as the theatre that Arundathi Nag has built in memory of her husband Shankar Nag, the late theatre-television-film personality, partly as a tribute to his extraordinary talent, vision and drive, and as a realisation of a dream that was his: to have a theatre space of one's own.
Wary of being seen as using the project to reinforce the mystique of Shankar Nag, Arundhati puts it differently when she declares, "I have not hung the project too heavily on Shankar Nag". That Shankar Nag's mystique needs no reinforcing is evident in the fact that even today auto rickshaw drivers do not accept the fare from Arundhati if they happen to recognise her. The reason is that the film Autoraja, made Shankar the darling of the city's autorickshaw drivers. Shankar Nag's image as a working class icon and middle-class achiever Malgudi Days could easily have been milked to move the project faster. But, that could have vitiated his dream of a theatre building as a collective space where groups come together. It is just as well that apart from a likeness of Shankar Nag at the entrance to the building, Ranga Shankara presents itself as a project that is founded on a vision rather than on a personality.
Tucked away in the south Bangalore suburb of J.P Nagar, Ranga Shankara auditorium that opened on October 28, 2004, is far removed from the city's theatre auditoria like the Chowdiah Memorial Hall, the Ambedkar Bhavan or the Kalakshetra. The distance is not merely geographical, but also indicative of the position that the Ranga Shankara team aims to adopt in relation to existing theatre practices in Bangalore and Karnataka.
One among the many sad stories of Indian theatre is that exciting, supportive or even performatively efficient spaces are abysmally few in number. A theatre building is both studio and gallery, a private work space and a public presentation area rolled into one, whose potential is optimally realised only when it is controlled by those who use it.
That is easier said than done, as members of the Sanket Trust - prominent among them being Girish Karnad and Vijay Padki - realised once they had embarked on their venture. Having acquired a civic amenity site to build their theatre, nothing moved for six years because there was no money to be had. A grant of Rs20,000 by the Karnataka government headed by S.M. Krishna lay unutilised for one year in a fixed deposit because the Trust could not raise any more money. An additional grant of Rs.3 million from the State government the next year emboldened Arundhati Nag.
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