The General Council of Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama, New Delhi at its meeting held on 13-14 December 2011 elected eleven (11) eminent personalities in the field of performing arts, including Kalamandalam Gopi, Chandrasekhar Kambar and Heisnam Kanhailal. Others include Mukund Lath(musicologist and writer), Hariprasad Chaurasia,(flute), Shivkumar Sharma (santoor), Amjad Ali Khan(sarod), Umayalapuram Sivaraman (mridangam), M Chandrasekharan(violin), R K Singhajit Singh(Manipuri dance), Padma Subrahmanyam (Bharathanatyam), as Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellows (Akademi Ratna). The Fellowship of the Akademi is the most prestigious and rare honour, which is restricted to a very limited number at a given time. Presently there are only 40 Fellows of the Sangeet Natak Akademi.
Kalamandalam Gopi (born 1937) is the living legend of Kathakali who blends the solid body grammar of the highly stylised Kalluvazhi tradition in which he was groomed with the more flexible, part-realistic, emotion-laden southern style techniques he acquired later in his career. Gopiyasan is known for the romantic and dramatic portrayal of the virtuous pachcha roles in Kathakali, including Nalan, Karnan and Rukmangadan. He is equally adept in essaying the choreographically denser roles like Bheeman (of Kalyanasougandhikam or Bakavadham), Arjuna (Subhadraharanam) and Dharmaputrar (Kirmeeravadham). He also excels in the yellow-faced pazhuppu roles such as Balabhadra, and the anti-heroic Kathi (Ravana, Keechaka and Duryodhana) black-bearded Kaatalan (Kiratham), red-bearded Bali (Balivijayam) and even the semi-realistic looking Brahmanan in Santanagopalam.
He was initiated in Kathakali by Guru T.Ravunni Nair and later trained as a disciple of Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair and Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, at Kerala Kalamandalam Shoranur. Before that, he had a brief career as a practitioner of Ottamthullal.
The duo of Kalamandalam Gopi as the male protagonist and Kottakkal Sivaraman, in the female role was great to watch and attracted great a fanfare.
Chandrashekhara Kambara (born January 2, 1937) the prominent poet, playwright, folklorist, film director in Kannada language and the founder-vice-chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi is selected as the fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi. .
Dr. Kambara's plays mainly revolve around folk or mythology interlinked with contemporary issues, a blend of the folk and the modern theatrical forms.
He has been conferred with many prestigious awards including the Jnanpith Award in 2011 for the year 2010, Sahitya Akademi Award, the Padma Shri by Government of India, Kabir Samman, Kalidas Samman and Pampa Award. After his retirement, Kambara was nominated Member of Karnataka Legislative Council, to which he made significant contributions through his interventions
He has written 22 plays including the much acclaimed Jokumaraswamy, Sirisampige, (for which he was conferred with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1991) Alibaba and forty thieves. He other plays are Rishyashringa , Chalesha , Jasisidanayaka , Kaadu Kudure , Naayi Kathe , Harakeya Kuri , Sambashiva Prahasana , Huliya Neralu , Mahamayi , Nela Sampige and Shivaratri
Kambar With his rural upbringing and scholarship in folklore, he introduced folk motifs, themes and myths into Kannada literature. Kambar's work is imbued with a poetic sensibility, laced with earthy humour
Kambar argues that the Indian cultural sensibility was marked by its non-linear notion of time: ‘Time is not a controlled sequence of events in our minds, but an amalgamation of all events, past to present’. Against the Western notion of “history”, Kambar posited a view of “many ages and many worlds including the mythic, constituting the Indian sense of present reality. “We imitated the West in creating museums to house the relics of our past, whereas traditionally we had lived with our past in our daily present. This British notion of history forced us, Kambar said, to see our own literature through a distorted perspective. “We are obsessed with the ‘original’ nature of historic texts and with the need to separate them from later interpolations. Instead of swallowing the Western notion of the integrity of a text and its sole author, we ought to celebrate the way in which Indians continually told and retold the Mahabharata, adding to it and modifying it. It is a matter of pride, Kambar declared, ‘that an entire country has collectively created the epic over a period of 10,000 years’.
It is this idea of continuity of culture and tradition, its organic relationship with the present day reality makes the works of Kambar distinct. Even when narrating the story of Alibaba Kambar can very well place it inside a temple (where thieves also can be hiding) and place Ganesha as one of the important characters.
I remember my interaction with his Alibababayum Nalpathu Kallanmarum which I translated into Malayalam, (yet to be published), designed and directed for our children’s theatre group Mazhavillu.
Heisnam Kanhailal (born 1942)is a noted art theatre director from Manipur. He is the founder-Director of Kalakshetra Manipur, established in 1969, a theatre laboratory that explores a new vocabulary in the existing language of theatre.
Kanhailal , a drop-out from the National School of Drama in New Delhi, Identified himself in his early years with the ‘Third Theatre’ tradition of Badal Sircar. He explored non-verbal, physical, ensemble acting in numerous theatre pieces, steeped in the indigenous myths and conventions of Meitei culture. After experimental plays like Tamnalai (Haunting Spirits) and Kabui-Keioba (Half-Man, Half-Tiger), Kanhailal created a sensation with his sharp and lyrical retelling of a popular folk tale Pebet (1975), in which Mother Pebet, a mythical bird, succeeds through subterfuge in reuniting her children, who have been abducted by the Cat. Thinly disguised as an allegory of neocolonial domination, with the Cat masquerading as a Vaishnavite monk, the play was condemned as ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-Indian’, even as it was hailed as a theatrical masterwork.
Seeking a less ethnically determined idiom of protest to depict the violence of everyday life in Manipur, Kanhailal dramatized L. Samarendra Singh's poem Africagee Wakhanda Gee in another memorable evocation of the survival of the human spirit in Memoirs of Africa (1985). His wife, the actress Sabitri, was central to both productions, performing with the power of a contemporary shaman. More recently, Kanhailal has attempted to deepen the communitarian and ritualistic dimensions of his theatre in the context of suffering. His plays have also begun to move outwards from their inner lyrical resilience towards a more verbal, layered, and ironic reading of myth and history, as in his reinterpretation of Karna (1997), the tragic warrior from the Mahabharata, and his adaptation of Mahasweta Devi's story Draupadi (2000). He has written 15 plays and directed over 35 plays.
Thonnakkal Peethambaran was born on Dec 2, 1939. After his primary education upto 12th he began to learn Kathakali under Pirappankode Kunhan Pilla. After his first performance he continued his studies under Oyoor Kochu Govinda Pilla for 2 years, after which he was trained at RLV College Tripunithura under the legendary Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair. He performs almost all the roles in Kadhakali , and excels in the role of Raudrabheeman in Duryodhanavadham.
In the field of Theatre, eight eminent persons have been selected for Akademi Awards 2011. They include Alakhnandan and Kirti Jain for Direction, Amitabh Shrivastav, Vikram Gokhale, Neena Tiwana and A R Srinivasan for Acting, R Nageswara Rao (Babji) for Major Traditions of Theatre – Company Theatre, Andhra Pradesh and Kamal Jain for Allied Theatre Arts (Lighting).
Alakhnandan has worked with eminent directors like B.V. Karanth, Fritz Bennewitz and K.N. Panikar. He discovered modernity in Indian playwrights instead of imitating Western dramatists.
Born in 1940 in Arrah district of Bihar, he spent his childhood in Jabalpur where he used to watch Jatra and acted as a child artiste during religious celebrations. Inspired by Karanth, he explored various folk theatre forms of Bundelkhand, including Bundelkhandi Swang form. Using these elements, he made his productions colourful, lively, fresh and meaningful.
Alakhnandan started his own repertory in Bhopal in 1987 called Nata Bundela. Recently Alakhnandan made theatrical performance of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry
An M.A. (Hindi) and a Postgraduate Diploma holder in Public Administration, Alakhnandan’s directorial artistry ranges from stark realism to black comedy to folk theatre, from serious adult theatre to children’s theatre. The plays he has directed included Sanskrit and Hindi classics, translations from regional dramas, his own plays and European avant garde dramatic works. A poet himself, he has infused in his productions a distinct poetic and political sensibility. Alakhnandan has a special flavour to combine ingenuity and skill to create black humour in situations like death and mournful last rituals. A playwright and Hindi poet of repute, Alakhnandan, is also a master in the field of children’s theatre.
He was awarded the Shikhar Samman for theatre by the Madhya Pradesh government in 2006. Alakhnandan’s publications include Chanda Bedni, Ujbak Raja Teen Dakait, Swang Shakuntala (plays), Budhdhi Bahadur, Murkha Shiromani, Narad Ji Phanse Chakallas me (children’s plays) and Ghar Nahin Pahunch Pata (collection of poems)
Kirti Jain (born 1949) is an MA in English Literature, and has a diploma in theatre (direction) from NSD under the tutelage of Abrahim Alkazi. She was teaching theatre History in NSD and later became the director of it.
She has directed many productions including Baghdad burning, Lehron Ke Rajhans, (1992), Holi, Subarnalata, Tinka Tinka, kaun Thangwa nagariya Lutal Ho, Aur Kitne Tudke. The processes that precede a performance, of giving space to others, of working through consensus are all integral to Kirti's understanding of theatre. She says she is more lured by structures and shapes rather than scripts and scenes.
She has travelled to many countries including Pakistan, UK, USA, Japan, China, Germany, France, Poland, USSR, Philipines with her productions and for giving lectures. She has extensively written about theatre in englishg and also in Hindi.
She is associated with Natrang Pratishtan, a theatre Archives and Documentation Centre.
Amitabh Srivastava graduated from the National School of Drama (Acting) in 1979 Soon after, he plunged into theatre in Delhi where he associated with major theatre directors E. Alkazi, B. V.Karanth, Fritz Benewitz, Ranjit Kapoor, Barry Johnn, Amal Allana, Prasanna Devendra Raj Ankur. He visited the U.K, Germany, and Poland with the National School of Drama Repertory Company. For the last twenty-five years he has also been active with TV and cinema as writer, director, and actor and has been performing in numerous stage plays, T.V. serials, telefilms and films.
He has always considered writing and scripting to be his forte and has adapted world classics of drama such as The Tempest, Good Woman of Schetzuan, The Visit, Hedda Gabler, The Odd Couple, Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay! to name a few. He has also written screenplays for feature films such as Hey Ram, Abhay, and White Rainbow.
Vikram Gokhale is a well known film, television and stage actor, notable for his roles in Marathi theatre and Hindi films and television. He is also a renowned, director, consulting film editor and much more. He is a trained actor and director who learnt under the guidance of Mrs. Vijaya Mehta, He has acted in key roles in more than 30 professional Marathi and Hindi theater productions.
Neena Tiwana An actress from Punjab who was instrumental in establishing the Punjab Kala Manch alongwith her husband Harpal Tiwana at Patiala to promote local artists. Neena Tiwana is a graduate from National School of Drama. Neena Tiwana and his son Manpal Tiwana are now playing a key role in promoting the theatre in Punjab, after the demise of her husband in a road accident in 2002.
A R Srinivasan (ARS) is a veteran Tamil actor from Chennai who has climbed the ladder of success both as an actor and as a high ranking officer because of a clear vision for himself. He has been an part of many stage plays, tele-serials and cinema – three dimensions of acting career accomplished successfully, while being employed full time as a high ranking officer of a company. He is fondly known to his fans as ARS
R. Nageswara Rao — Babji the secretary of the celebrated company theatre Surabhi is selected for this years award. Over 125 years, a theatre legacy has trickled from one generation to another of a family. Surabhi today lives on through five troupes spread over Andhra Pradesh, held together by over 3,000 family members. The productions thatturned out as Surabhi masterpieces include “Maya Bazaar”, “Srikrishnaleelalu”, “Chandipriya” and “Bhaktha Prahlada” R. Nageswara Rao — Babji for everyone — runs the Hyderabad-based Sri Venkateshwara Natya Mandali, the biggest among the Surabhi troupes. . “We are born to the stage, educated here. We rehearse, cook, sleep here.” Theatre is at the core of these lives, points out Babji. “From a three-month-old baby to an 80-year-old are here.” Together they make costumes, create sets and backdrop, play music and arrange lighting. Babji asserts the audience never deserted Surabhi, “We depend on ticket and audience.”
What began with a “Keechaka Vadham” performance in 1885 at a wedding, today survives with a bit of government help and the zest of the audience. “I belong to the fifth generation of artistes. The sixth and seventh generation family members are already part of the group,” says Babji Babji's ancestors moved from puppetry to theatre performances with “Keechaka Vadham.” An assortment of mythological, folklore and plays based on women's issues make Surabhi theatre which are laced with stunning visual effects , Huge sets, intricate backdrops, elaborate costumes and tricks
Legendary B.V. Karanth conducted workshops and evolved three plays with them — “Bhishma”, “Chandipriya” and “The Good Women of Setzuan” an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's play. If “Bhishma” did away with Surabhi tricks and splendour, it did not do too well. So when it came to “Chandipriya” in 1997, Karanth left it to the Surabhi artistes to select the play, have “their tricks” yet ventured into in a modern way. I remember Karanth paying his tribute to the Surabhi tradition by saying that, “ I was not teaching the Surabhi artists, but was always studying from them.
Kamal Jain (Lighting) is the only one selected this year for the award from among the artists of the technical side of theatre.
Kashiram Sahu for Folk Theatre (Chhatisgarh), Mipham Otsal for Traditional Theatre (Jammu & Kashmir), Bellagallu Veeranna for Togalu Gombeyatta, Puppetry (Karnataka), Gopal Chandra Das for Putul Nach (Tripura) are also among the awardees.
KM Raghavan Nambiar Important Malayalam Playwright, KM Raghavan Nambiar who wrote plays like Swathanthryam Thanne Jeevitham, and the former vice Chairman of Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi Trissur was selected for the Tagore Puraskar, a one time award instituted in connection with the Tagore centenary celebrations.