BENGALURU : On November 9, to commemorate the birth anniversary of Shankar Nag and recognise committed work in the field of theatre, Ranga Shankara gave away the first Shankar Nag Theatre Award to writer, director and actor Abhishek Majumdar.
The award was presented by Girish Karnad and Naseeruddin Shah and every year, a deserving talent will be honoured with a citation and a cash award of `1 lakh.
For Abhishek, it was a full circle moment as he too had started his theatre career around the time that Ranga Shankara was born over a decade ago. Since then, Abhishek has penned over a dozen plays that provoke debate about politics, examine the idea of nationhood and try to imagine the world view of a suicide bomber, the young and the restless in Kashmir, immigrants and asylum seekers looking for a sanctuary.
The citation acknowledged that, "Abhishek has worked not only in theatre but also for theatre. What has mattered to him is the larger context in which theatre functions in India. Indian Ensemble, his brainchild, while building a substantial repertoire of productions in Hindi and English, has also worked tirelessly to provide exposure, mentoring and training to a slew of younger playwrights, actors and directors. He is, in this respect, much like Shankar Nag, a true rangakarmi, serving the theatre. He is most deserving of the first Shankar Nag Theatre Award."
City Express caught up with Abhishek Majumdar who spoke about his childhood, mentors, Ranga Shankara and more.
Love for the arts
We used to have Hindustani music classes at home and my parents and sister were into literature and music. My older cousins had a Bengali theatre company in Delhi called Dhumketu. My first memory of the theatre is that of watching Bengali adaptations of European classics. Then there was a lot of theatre in school. I went to a school run by the Tagore Educational Society, so clearly there was a certain focus on arts.
My parents would take us to concerts quite regularly. Theatre happened to be one of the interests within that larger framework than a particular one.
And I never really thought of the theatre as a separate entity.
Mentors and guides
Lots and lots of people have mentored, influenced, cajoled, critiqued. The list is really long. Mahesh Dattani gave me my first writing scholarship when I could not have afforded his writing course.
Arundhati Nag, Anmol Vellani, Thomas Prattki, Sadanand Menon, Arshia Sattar, Geeta Ramanujam, Veena Pani, Samina Mahmood and so many more.
Arundhati Nag can start with a seed and explain the world, and Anmol Vellani can start with the world and make it seem as fundamental as a seed. Samina Mahmood through her interactions with little children in school can teach one more about living than perhaps any book can. I have been blessed with good teachers.
So many people have influenced such deep rooted beliefs. One of the earliest gestures of generosity came from Susmit Sen and his band Indian Ocean.
Susmit allowed me to be a parasite and took me to their practice and also listen to some of the greatest recordings of Hindustani Music in his house during my college days. He influenced me a lot and so did his band. Asheem Chakravarti of Indian Ocean was also a big influence.
Sandeep Shikhar, my co-artistic director at Indian Ensemble has taught me a lot. He has a certain kind of wisdom that I completely lack. And very importantly my sister. She read out her BA literature books to me when I was least interested in books. I did not like reading at all but she would read out these stories and I would dream of them.
She is the world’s greatest storyteller as far as I am concerned.
Memories of legends
As a child I got to spend little time with Ustad Bismillah Khan Saheb and watch lecture demo-
nstrations by Leela Samson, Radha and Raja Reddy, Kelucharan Mohapatra to name a few stalwarts thanks to the SPIC MACAY events in our school.
What theatre means to me To me, theatre is a university. It’s an opportunity to engage with any subject, be it politics, history, science, philosophy, poetry or metaphysics with other people who are seeking questions rather than answers. I love beautiful questions. There is great beauty in human contradiction, in nature, in action and contemplation. Theatre is that university which can enable us to design our own syllabus in order to find elegant questions rather than simple answers.
I have learnt to learn. That it is really important to learn from the younger ones because they are already a decade ahead of me. To be patient, to give people the benefit of doubt and most importantly to always keep it about the work and be rigorous. Every artist has a different process ultimately but rigor is essential for anything.
Hence, the repertory is based on two simple principles: Keep the process rigorous and keep it about the work.
Ranga Shankara’s role
Ranga Shankara has been absolutely critical in my journey. I arrived in Bengaluru two days before the first festival and thought to myself, that if I could not get a single ticket, it must be a good city.
Without Ranga Shankara, I could not have pursued my passion. It is one of those rare places where you neither have to be rich nor important to get memberships and dates.
The arts in our country are unfortunately very bureaucratic. Spaces like Ranga Shankara democratise the process and make success possible for anyone who is willing to work hard enough.
I am honoured to have received this award in the name of Shankar Nag. A man who in 35 years of his life, lived more than many people do in 70 and lived so much for others. I hope I can do justice to his name. It’s a big responsibility.