Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lights, camera, inaction: city auditoriums in decay

Lights, camera, inaction: city auditoriums in decay

The Hindu

Starved of funds and official attention, many performance halls have become `non-performing assets'

# 117 of its 147 lights in Ravindra Kalakshetra do not work
# Yavanika has no separate entry for the green rooms

BANGALORE: Scene One: Silence falls and darkness engulfs the hall. The curtains rise in a dramatic flourish unveiling a dimly lit stage. As the main character prepares for a grand entry, a rodent squeals and scuttles across the stage.

Scene Two: The audience applauds the high-energy play. Rushing back to the green room, the actors cry out in pain — the nails on the stage have pierced their feet.

Scene Three: The Hindustani maestro electrifies the audience with his rendition. Ecstatic, they cry for more. As if on cue, the acoustics simply fail.

These are not unfamiliar experiences for artistes who use the many government-owned theatres and performance halls of the city. Well-appointed and in use round the year, these performance spaces are in a state of gross neglect and disrepair. Starved of funds and official attention, they have become "non-performing assets." This is a matter of great concern for the growing circle of amateur and professional theatre persons, and enthusiastic audiences who throng performances even in these substandard, even hazardous halls.

The Public Eye team did a reality check on these halls.

Ravindra Kalakshetra

Built in 1963 as a birth centenary tribute to Rabindranath Tagore, Ravindra Kalakshetra once proudly wore the city's "best designed theatre" tag with ample wing space, good height and acoustics. Today, its chairs creak, 117 of its 147 lights do not work, and its sound system operates only with manual control, as the electronic controls are dead.

The status report comes from Karnataka Nataka Academy chairman Srinivas G. Kappanna. "The auditorium," he told The Hindu , "does not provide a conducive atmosphere for theatre lighting and acoustics." Having performed at the famed auditorium ever since 1968, he should know.

A closer look reveals more. The hall's music pit has been closed long ago, and the air-conditioning does not function. Torn and broken seats are a viewer's nightmare. Worse, the sound system suddenly fails. Performers are often forced to bring in expensive sound and lighting equipment with them.

Gubbi Veeranna Rangamandira

Performers bring their own lights and acoustics to the Gubbi Veeranna Rangamandira, a 573-seat theatre located in the heart of the city's Majestic area. Its exterior lacks aesthetic appeal and the parking space is cluttered with unused drums and other material.

The theatre is comparatively well maintained and has a working air-conditioning system. However, access is restricted to only one theatre company a year for a monthly rent of Rs. 47,000 to the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP). Call it mismanagement, the BMP runs up a bill of almost Rs. 55,000 every month for electricity alone.

Bal Bhavan

Set in the idyllic green surroundings of Cubbon Park, the Bal Bhavan auditorium was built to provide an impetus to children's theatre in the city. Today, it is sadly a picture of neglect.

Although administrator of the complex T. Annapurna insists that the hall had been renovated recently, its 400-odd seats give backaches. There are no lights or lighting bar, and the projector screen is torn. The walls have been recently repainted. The auditorium is now mostly leased out to schools for annual day functions. "The lighting and sound system in the auditorium are good enough for that," said Mr. Vishwanath, an official.

A.V. Varadachar Memorial Hall

For decades, the A.V. Varadachar Memorial Hall in Seshadripuram was used for music concerts. Today, part of its premises is a dumping yard. "Now, the hall is locked most of the time. A watchman lives on the premises. No one wants to use it as it lacks the basic facilities," said an old resident of the area.


Noted filmmaker and theatre expert M.S. Sathyu observed: "Yavanika has no separate entry for the green rooms. Artistes have to go through the stage. The engineer has placed the entrance to the theatre in the wrong place. It is just about okay for a solo performance."

Guru Nanak Bhavan

Theatre director Balaji M. has run into problems aplenty staging plays at the Guru Nanak Bhavan. He is not alone. "When we performed there, we all had sores on our feet caused by jutting nails on the stage. Rodents scurried around even as the artistes performed," he recalled. The sound system and lighting is "outdated" and the toilets stink.

According to sources at the Youth Services Department, the sound and light system is being upgraded, and the green room modernised. Over 40 per cent of the funds for the department go to the maintenance of the auditoria. But it hardly shows.


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