Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What awaits our drama culture?

Senior dramatist Dharmasiri Bandaranayake delves into lessons learnt at Bharat Rang Mahotsav, New Delhi, and questions where our theatre is heading in the absence of a national cultural policy
By Randima Attygalle
Bharat Rang Mahotsav (National Theatre Festival), an artistic effort of the National School of Drama, New Delhi, instrumental in bringing dramatic skill of reputed artistes from all corners of the globe to one common dais, marked its successful 13th milestone in New Delhi last month.
Hybridity being the hallmark of this much acclaimed international theatre festival, it seeks to create a common platform for the veteran and the novice – the latter to imbibe the former.
Senior dramatist Dharmasiri Bandaranayake’s Makarakshaya, an adaptation of Yevgeny Shvart’s The Dragon, was honoured as the Sri Lankan representation at Bharat Rang Mahotsav which was concluded on January 22. The Nation spoke to Bandaranayake upon his return from Delhi, to share his experience of this ambitious theatrical venture and many a stumble block he and his cast had to battle with, in order to make the performance on a foreign soil a reality.

“Dramatists from all over the world can submit their work for this international drama festival, but to be eligible for performance, they have to be accepted by a panel of judges comprising leading Indian names in the field of drama. Makarakshaya was accepted for performance among nearly 80 plays selected for the festival,” Bandaranayake briefed about the selection criteria.
Bandaranayake’s maiden foreign performance at Bharat Rang Mahotsav was an experience of tri-fold dimensions for him. “It was no doubt a refreshing theatrical experience, to have had the opportunity of sharing and learning from one another’s experience, to be exposed to some of the icons in the filed of contemporary global drama and at the same time, it aroused lot of self-pity, experiencing the respect of the Indian Government and the step-motherly treatment of our own,” frustration unmistakable in his words.
Call for a national cultural policy
Claiming the largest participating cast of 38 artistes, Makarakshaya’s journey to New Delhi was by no means a rosy one. According to Bandaranayake, many appeals to the authorities at the Cultural Ministry to seek their support in this endeavour were fallen on deaf ears. “As an artiste who had been contributing to local drama, since early 70s, I questioned myself if I deserved to be called a Sri Lankan artiste, if I were a Sri Lankan citizen in the first place, to be receiving such step-motherly treatment by so called watchdogs of art and drama in this country,” Bandaranayake said further, extending his sincere thanks to SriLankan Airlines who responded to his plea with concessionary air tickets and Hivos-Netherlands for their financial patronage. ‘Festival of Dramas’ staged by Bandaranayake as a fund-raiser for the journey was washed away in the torrential rains which drenched the entire city which further handicapped the cast, who was salvaged by mutual friends through financial patronage.
Absence of a national cultural policy is identified as a lacuna which needs urgent addressing, believes Bandaranayake who draws a parallel with the Indian experience. “There has to be a yardstick which determines on what grounds certain artistes are supported and others are shunned. A national policy should not be tainted by party colours, but it should necessary be a watchdog of creative labour,” elaborates Bandaranayake.
Building bridges
A solid bridge of the ‘veteran and the amateur’ perceived at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav is another fine illustration of a rich theatre culture in breeding, lessons of which should inspire the local drama culture believes Bandaranayake. “Drama cannot thrive in isolation, the youth should be willing to be inspired by the veterans, the reason why we had a rich culture of drama nourished by artistes such as Sugathapala de Silva, Dayananda Gunawardene and Henry Jayasena. But sadly we don’t see an authentic drama culture today, but a culture no different to tele-scripts. In such a context, the ability of those going with the bandwagon to explore a classical play is a big question,” added Bandaranayake.
“Drama is all about sharing, exploring,” cites Bandaranayake who identifies a timely need of a harmonious blend between the Sinhala and English theatre. “This is a rejuvenating experience, to be enriched by the finer aspects of each school,” he cites. Bandaranayake, notable for his fine exploitation of the ‘English theatre skill’ in his plays such as Makarakshaya, Trojan Kanthawo, Ekadhipathi firmly believes in going beyond the conventional boundaries of drama-making.
“Staging a Sinhala play at the Lionel Wendt or harnessing predominantly the ‘English theatre skill’ does not mean that it’s catered to ‘Kolamba hathe’ theatre-goers, this is the narrow mindset which often goes against enriching a rich drama culture in the country,” Bandaranayake opined further.
Drama is beyond a mere script, it conceives actors of stature. “Many of our cinematic legends were moulded on the stage. For instance, when Tony Ranasinghe starred in Delowak Athara, we flocked to see not the cinema actor then but the sensational actor of charisma we saw on stage. Personality of an artiste is nourished through the calibre of art he advocates. We remember legends such as Henry Jayasena, Prof Sarachchandra, Sugathapala de Silva, Dayananda Gunawardene and many more of this stock of dramatists for the stature and integrity they sought to champion on the stage,” concluded Bandaranayake.

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