Hyderabad theatre, Nishumbita enters 'India book of records' for performing 27 plays in record time of 24 hours

The marathon featured 27 plays in Telugu, Hindi and English with a crew of over 85, which included actors aged between four and 35 years.
A scene from the play titled Weekend;
A scene from the play titled Weekend;

Dr Ram Mohan Holagundi can’t get the numbers 27-24-27 out of his head. What started as a grand thought earlier this year turned into a record-breaking feat in the history of Indian theatre. Ram, founder and director of the Hyderabad-based Nishumbita Ballet and Theatre Group, is the force behind the 27 plays staged back-to-back for 24 hours on March 27, in the group’s auditorium in Hyderabad. This June, he was officially recognised by the India Book of Records (June 2022 edition) for this triumph.” My mother was apprehensive about my career choice. She felt that only those who fail in life choose theatre. Now, when she sees Nishumbita, she is proud of me,” he says.

The marathon featured 27 plays in Telugu, Hindi and English with a crew of over 85, which included actors aged between four and 35 years. Ram directed the magnum opus effort, including the plays and mimes. “The team slogged for over 28 days, and held two rehearsals and a full dress rehearsal,” he says describing the preparations for the event, which witnessed a packed auditorium that day.

Dr Ram Mohan Holagundi
Dr Ram Mohan Holagundi

The 48-year-old theatre artist joined a city theatre group 33 years ago much to his mother’s disapproval. “Hyderabad is a movie hub. Here, entertainment is synonymous with movies. Hence it was tough to convince people that I could make a living doing theatre. Today, I run my own theatre group, train over 150 students at workshops, coach actors, and perform for corporate companies. But I am also there for a street play, especially if it is for a cause close to me,” he says.

The theatre maven recalls his days from the 1980s when he worked three shifts so that he had enough money to follow his passion. Mornings saw him at the Begumpet airport, Hyderabad, where he worked as a loader, while he studied theatre in college in the evenings. “At 9 pm, I would cycle for eight km to Banjara Hills for rehearsals. I learnt under Hyderabad theatre veterans Mala Pasha and Tony Mirchandani,” he recalls.

In 1995, the aspiring artiste started his own stage venture Nishumbita Ballet and Theatre Group in Begumpet. The same year, he earned his PhD in the ouvre; the thesis was on ‘The Concept of Sutradhar in folk theatre’. So far, Ram has directed 350 plays and has acted in over half of them. Matthuvadalara (Get Out of the Stupor), a Telugu play about substance abuse in teenagers, is one of his famous plays.

What was tough for Ram though was getting support from others about his chosen vocation. “People would make it seem that they were doing me a favour by watching my plays,” he says. Things have changed, however. Today, the shows run housefull and the theatre group makes enough money to donate some of its proceeds to social causes of their choice.

Telugu actor Faria Abdullah, who had tasted her first blockbuster in 2020, is a Nishumbita product. Today, Ram gets 10 queries a day from aspiring actors to get a place in his workshops. He, however, believes theatre’s core mission is to bring social change. A majority of his plays address issues like substance abuse, environment and gender bias. This year, he wants to train the spotlight on violence against women. Carry on, doctor!

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