QUEEN'S ROAD: Theatre practitioners might soon be covered under the government’s Yashaswini health insurance, with a cooperative society representing them beginning operations.
The Bengaluru Rangakalavidara Vividhopadesha Sahakara Sangha (translation: Bengaluru Theatre Artistes’ Multi-purpose Co-operative Society) was formed last year after the government announced its health scheme would be extended to include urban cooperatives.
“Theatre artiste B Jayashree (now a member of parliament) suggested we start something like this. Not just actors and directors but anyone who has worked in theatre, on stage, or behind the scenes, can benefit from it,” says Shashidhar Adapa, president of the society and well-known art director and sets designer.
Members who have no other medical insurance and their families (up to four people) are eligible to apply for Yashaswini cards through the society.
“The government is thinking of revising the rates in March. Members can pay and apply soon after that,” says vice-president and theatre director G K Gundanna.
Though healthcare is its primary objective, the society, with a share capital of Rs 21 lakh and over a thousand members, hopes to bear diverse mantles.
“We are thinking of starting a pharmacy, and also run canteens and supply props. We could take government-run halls for lease and help maintain them well, the way P D Sathish Chandra has done with K H Kalasoudha,” says Adapa.
Gundanna adds that maintaining such venues will help create centres for theatre across the city. “People say theatre doesn’t have enough of an audience. In reality, what it doesn’t have are well-equipped venues. There’s only one in the whole of Bengaluru — Ranga Shankara,” he says.
Earlier, there were fewer professionals, but now more artistes choose to depend on theatre for a livelihood, observes Gundanna.
“In our day, most of us had other day jobs. Now six out of 10 depend only on theatre. While this is good, it also makes it harder for them,” he observes.
However, when it comes to lending money, he feels the board would have to exercise caution. “We have to see if borrowers have the means to return it. Otherwise, either we go into debt or they find themselves in deep trouble. We have to find a balance between the cause and the sustenance of the organisation,” he says.
Some well-known artistes have been on the streets when struck by illness and old age. “Theatre is a creative profession. There is no permanency to it,” Adapa says, adding that the community has managed to raise enough to support most ailing artistes so far. “All said and done, a body like this will be a comfort to many,” he says.
Adapa, Gundanna and a few others from the board of 19 directors have also been part of two other earlier attempts at establishing a body like this.
“Unfortunately, neither took off. So we are happy that we’ve become a registered body. I don’t know about the rest of India, but it’s probably the first of its kind in Karnataka,” Adapa says.
Gundanna feels proud that they crossed the target of 1,000 members and Rs 20 lakh in share capital in a month. Offers to help poured in from unexpected quarters, the two recall. “Non-theatre practitioners were willing to buy shares — an offer we didn’t take up — and many officials and ex-officials, including a former registrar of cooperative societies, lent a helping hand,” Adapa says.
He feels the body could address other collective concerns. “Those who work in the film industry are considered unorganised, but all of them have to be part of the film federation. In theatre, we are unorganised too, but we haven’t had a body to voice our problems, and fight for our rights. Soon, through this society, and perhaps a bunch of others from other regions, we might be able to form a nodal agency to do that,” he says.
Artistes from Mysuru and Dharwad have also floated the idea of cooperative societies in their cities. Meanwhile, the Bengaluru sangha needs office space, and is looking for one near Ravindra Kalakshetra.