The Sangeet Natak Akademi has announced this year’s awards and fellowships. And I am very glad to see the name of Vayala Vasudevan Pillai in the list of awardees, who has been working in theatre for more than 35 years. Vayala is always a good friend of me and Lokadharmi, has associated with us in many ways, and is almost a usual presence in most of our functions, seminars and workshops of Lokadharmi; he is a source of encouragement and inspiration for us to work relentlessly.
The two fellowships are awarded to veteran actor director Shreeram Lagoo and the Sanskrit scholar and academician Dr. KD Tripathi.
It is interesting to note that most of the awardees this time work in films, TV besides theatre. Some of them is more into Films and TV than theatre, after their initial stint live theatre. Is it an indicator of the presence era that theatre activity alone is not that much rewarding and the ground reality is that you have to migrate or change foots to the more attractive/popular media of film and TV for sustenance?
The Akademi Fellow (Akademi Ratna) and Akademi Award (Akademi Puraskar) have been conferred since 1952, which not only symbolize the highest standard of excellence and achievements on a national basis, but also recognize sustained individual work and contribution to the practice and appreciation of the arts through performance, teaching and scholarship. The honour of Akademi Fellow carries purse money of Rs 3,00,000/- (Rupees three lacs) and Akademi Awards carry Rs 1,00,000/- (Rupees one lac), besides Tamrapatra and Angavastram.
Dr. Shreeram Lagoo
Dr. Shreeram Lagoo has acted in more than 40 Marathi, Hindi and Guajarati plays and is noted for his excellent portrayal of characters who has also directed over 20 Marathi plays. He has also been very vocal and active in furthering progressive and rational social causes. He was very active in the theatre scenario of Pune and Maharashtra and was very passionate to theatre, and was helpful and helpful to emerging trends and directors in the scene.
He started acting in plays from his student days and continued through the avant garde group "Progressive Dramatic Association" which he started with like-minded friends like Bhalaba Kelkar and later through "Rangaayan" in Mumbai. Meanwhile he trained as an ENT surgeon in Mumbai in the early fifties and practiced in Pune for 6 years before going to Canada and England for additional training.
In 1969 he left his medical profession and became a full time actor on Marathi stage, debuting in the play "Ithe Oshalala Mrityu" written by Vasant Kanetkar. He was the first protagonist of the famous Marathi play Natasamrat written by Kusumagraj and is best remembered for that role.
Kamalesh Dutt Tripathi
The name of Tripathi is synonymous with the Sanskrit theatre tradition and aesthetics of India. His interest and expertise spreads from Kutiyattam tradition to Ankiya Nat of Assam, aesthetics, practice and tradition.
He has given immense contribution to the contemporary practice of classical Sanskrit texts in his tenure as the Chairman of Kalidasa Academy Ujjain. He was equally instrumental in understanding and performing the plays by Kalidasa and Bhasa. His writings and translations into Hindi of plays like Balacharita was important in understanding the dramaturgy of Bhasa in the modern context.
Prof Kamalesh Dutta Tripathi is regarded to be an authority on Natya Shastra, the famous Indian treatise on theatre, in terms of its philosophy, aesthetics and techniques and its application in the present context.
Playwrights Vayala Vasudevan Pillai and Shanna Navre
Playwrights Vayala Vasudevan Pillai (Malayalam) and Shankar Narayan Navre (Marathi) and has been selected for the Kendra Sangeet Nataka Akademi’s award.
Vayala is the fourth person to bring home the honour for Malayalam, the others being N.Krishna Pillai, G.Sankara Pillai and K.T. Mohammed. He has been actively involved in all aspects of the Malayalam theatre from writing and direction to teaching, research and organising for the last four decades. He has given his contribution to introduce and relate the newer tendencies in the western theatre and also to re-link theatre with Kerala's ancient traditions of ritual theatre and performance tradition He is a friend and philosopher who guides and promotes the new theatre of Kerala by his presence and interactions with plays and performances.
Vayala was groomed by the Kalari theatre movement started by Sankara Pillai. Vayala joined the School of Drama as assistant director and head of the department in 1984, after leaving his Mar Ivanios College, Thiruvananthapuram, where he was professor of English. Later, he succeeded Sankara Pillai as director of the School of Drama, when Sankara Pillai left the institution.
In 1980-81, Dr. Vayala was awarded the Italian Government's theatre fellowship that enabled him to study theatre at the University of Rome. In 1989-90, he was awarded the post-doctoral Fulbright fellowship of the United States and it helped him do research under the guidance of Richard Schechner at the New York University. He was also a visiting professor of theatre in Meiji University, Tokyo, under the Japan Foundation fellowship and at Paris University.
He has written many plays that includes `Viswadarsanam' (1977), `Thulaseevaram' (1979), `Agni' (1982), `Rangabhasha' (1984), `Varavelpu' (1985), `Kuchelagadha' (1988), `The death of Nestling' (1992), `Suthradhara, Ethile...Ethile?' (1993), `Kunji Chirakukal' (1994), `Swarnakokkukal' (1999) etc.
Vayala Vasudevan Pillai is now the Director, Centre for Performing and Visual Arts of the University of Kerala.
Shankar Narayan Navre (popularly known as Shanna) is one of the important playwrights in Marathi who is the author of path breaking plays Divasendivasa, Parimita, etc. He is also writing for other visual media including TV and film.
Actors Sudha Shivpuri and Neeta Mohindra
Sudha Shivpuri is a popular TV actor fondly remembered for her role as 'Baa' in the Hindi TV serial Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.
Sudha Shivpuri started her career early in theatre acting in plays , when she was in the eighth standard in school; Her father had died, and her mother had fallen ill, thus the ones of earning a living for the family came on to her, and so she started acting in plays.
She married Om Shivpuri in 1968, and together they formed their own theatre company, 'Dishantar', which produced several important plays including, ‘Aadhe Adhurey’, Thuglaq, and Vijay Tendulkar's Khamosh! Adalat Jari Hai’ in which she played the lead role, all directed by Om Shivpuri.
In 1974, both she shifted to Mumbai, and active in Hindi films and later in serials.
Neeta Mohindra of Amritsar has found herself made for theatre world after having tried diverse fields like painting, acting and direction. And, as a theatre artist, she is making a difference in the Punjabi world for two decades. She is acting in theatre, film and serial actor who had been regularly working with directors like MK Raina and Harpal Tiwana.
Neeta, took to stage at a time when opting a career in stage performances invited many raised eyebrows. "When I joined theatre at the age of 14 or 15, girls were forbidden to act. And, the advantage I had was that I always did lead roles. Now, if I look back, I don't think I was a very good artist. I learned the ropes on my own," says Neeta Mohindra.
She has worked upon a number of gender-related themes, street plays on foeticide which were quite captivating and well received.
"At that time, I took theatre merely as a hobby and had never thought of making a career out of it...Theatre left a great impact on me. Even the government uses our street and stage plays to spread mass awareness. The Punjab government organized a series of shows called `Trimat' to spread awareness on female foeticide," says Neeta.
She says that she has been to the United Kingdom and performed the play ‘Land of Five Rivers’ at about 50 locations all over England including London, Manchester & Birmingham.
She is also a very accomplished artist and painter. “I am a workaholic. I teach, I act and paint, and 24 hours in a day seem good enough for all these activities. She also finds time and space to act in films too.
Directors - JOY MICHAEL and DINESH THAKUR
Joy Michael is a senior outstanding theatre personality. Originally trained in theatre at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, The Royal Academy of Music and The British Drama League, she has made an enormous contribution to theatre in Delhi. She is the founder of YATRIK THEATRE- a bilingual repertory company with the objective of projecting the arts as a dynamic living force in our times by providing regular performances. One of her aims had been to promote theatre in education by holding workshops in schools and colleges and staging performances in educational institutions, which we still continue to do so. She has been director of the group for over 40 years and has directed over 250 plays in her lifetime.
An educationist by profession, she is an artist in every sense of the word. Theatre has been her life, her drive, her passion, her obsession. She has been a recipient of many awards for her outstanding contribution to theatre, including the Rockefeller Award in New York, the Delhi Natya Sangh Award, Sahitya Kala Parishad award, the Raja Rammohan Nation Education Award and the Chamanlal Memorial Society Award for a lifetime of contribution to theatre.
She believes in the actor’s creativity and possibility of creatice improvisation all her plays were prepared on a shoestring budget.
She has lectured on, and directed, Indian plays at universities: at the University of Virginia; Russell Saga College in New York; Sweet Briar College; Punjab University, Chandigarh. She has written and directed scripts for television and radio. She has been Vice Chair of the National Progressive Schools Conference and Governor of numerous schools in Delhi and regional centres. She was principle of St Thomas School for many years. She continues to work with young students in schools.
Dinesh Takur is the director/actor of theatre and films with many important roles in his credit. He is the founder director of Ank theatre Mumbai (established in 1976) who has directed plays like Hai Mera Dil. – an adaption of Broadway play by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore - that has completed more than 1000 shows, a rare record in the hstory of Indian theatre. He is also an actor in theatre and films in Mumbai.
Hai Mera Dill is a simple, domestic comedy, it deals with a hypochondriac businessman who misunderstands his family doctor’s telephonic conversation with a heart specialist and comes to the conclusion that he has only a few days to live.
Dinesh Takur and Ank theatre kept on updating it, making references to contemporary, real life people like Osama bin Laden, Laloo Prasad Yadav’ and recent movies to make it contemporary and alive. Besides producing and directing Dinesh Takur has also set up a unique record having played the male lead in all the shows, more than 1000. Around 50 actors had so far played the half a dozen roles in the play, but no one had ever replaced Takur.
Ank had produced around 70 plays, 5,500 shows with an amazing variety of socially relevant plays, farce, comedy, adaptations, and historical and topical satire. For example the play Jis Lahore Nahin Dekhaya (by Asghar Wajahat) that dealt with the trauma of Partition and the resolve of an old Hindu woman not to leave her beloved Lahore and migrate to India.
The other plays produced by Ank and Dinesh Takur include Thuglaq (Girish Karnad); Baqi Itihas and Pagla Ghoda, (Badal Sircar); Suno Janmejaya (Shri Ranga); Jaat Hi Poochho Sadhu Ki,(Vijay Tendulkar); Khamosh! Adalat Jari Hai (Vijay Tendulkar); Kamala,( Vijay Tendulkar); Aadhe Adhurey, (Mohan Rakesh); Rakt-Beej,( Shankar Shesh); Mahabhoj, (Manu Bhandari); Atamkatha, (Mahesh Elkunchwar); Gaganbhedi, ; ( Vasant Kanetkar); Hangamakhez, (Agha Hashra Kashmiri); Sheh Ye Maat (B.M. Shah) etc.
KAMAL ARORA –Make up
Kamal Arora plays all his roles to perfection, be it acting, make-up, set making ,costume designing, or lighting; He is a complete theatre person, now is the vice-chairman of the Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi. In his long career he has acted in more than 100 plays, directed 100 plays and make up production of 50 productions.
Kamal feel that each and every aspect of theatre is equally important; for example a few lines of make-up on the face of an actor can depict a lot, can take you back in years, provided it’s done to perfection. ‘’You have to understand the character well, to do a real job, and it’s vital to be in sync with the theme of the play when you are designing costumes and doing make-up,’’ Having worked with people like Kumar Verma, Anjala Maharishi, and Manohar Singh excelled his skills on backstage
Arora produced the first light and sound full-length play, Anarkali, in the ‘80s and was a novel concept, one that was received well too.
Born in Pakistan, raised in UP but Kamal Arora has given the best of his aesthetic potential to Abhinet, the oldest theatre ensemble of the Chandigarh.
KULDEEP SINGH – Music Director
A veteran of the Indian Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA), Kuldip Singh is known for his sensitive and melodious treatment of his compositions for films like Saath Saath and Ankush. He has been associated with IPTA Mumbai for the last 32 years and he is currently the President of the Mumbai chapter. A versatile music director, he has composed music for numerous plays, teleserials, music albums and films.
His work with IPTA includes plays like Sufaid Kundali, Bakri, Dulari Bai, Moteram, Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein and others. Kuldip Singh has also composed music for almost all the notable Hindi theatre groups in Mumbai, including Nadira Babar’s Ekjute and Dinesh Thakur's Ank among others. Today he is undoubtedly the most sought after Music director in the Hindi theatre circles of Mumbai.
Kaifi aur mem by IPTA Mumbai is one of his recent productions.
MOINUL HAQUE – mime artist
Moinul, who has been practicing mime for the past 30 years without a guru and now the director Mime Academy in Gowhatty which aims to take mime to the grass root level.
In the early 1970 he started as a mono-actor but soon formed a group called "Sound and Comedy". His works has a vision and themes that highlights champion the marginalized moments of crises in diverse characters; For Moinul Haque mime is a versatile and sensitive art form that can convey important and relevant issues of society. Thousands of performances he have throughout the country has proved that he had mastered the universal language of mime that can transcend the barriers of caste, creed and colour. His accurate display of emotion, facial expressions and body language succeeds in conveying silent messages to the audiences beyond words.
He also works with the children from the Deaf and Dumb School at Guwahati; gives he has given a number of lecture -demonstrations at the various places in India and is a regular visiting expert for various acting institutions in the North-East of India.
For their contribution to Other Traditional/Folk/ Tribal Music/ Dance/ Theatre catogery, Musafir Ram Bhardwaj (Folk Dance - Himachal Pradesh); Vilayat Khan Ragi (Dhadhi Folk Music - Punjab); U K Kunjirama Panicker (Theyyam - Kerala); Jaganath Behera (Pala -Orissa); Shanti Jain (Folk Music - Bihar); Vithal Gangaram Umap (Folk Theatre - Maharashtra) and Bhikhudan Govindbhai Gadhvi (Folk Music - Gujarat) have been awarded.