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Tracing the Student Theatre Culture in Manipal9 min read

September 5, 2018 6 min read

Tracing the Student Theatre Culture in Manipal9 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The second edition of the ‘Manipal International Literature and Arts Platform’ (MILAP) literature festival begins tomorrow on September 6 at the TMA Pai Halls in Manipal. This year, MILAP comprises a series of events that spans various genres, languages and unique art forms, with a special focus on literature and theatre.

In a lead-up to the festival exploring theatre from the region, The Manipal Journal conversed with members from the theatre and dramatics clubs across Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) to shed a light on the budding theatre culture amongst students in the university town.

An insight into the longest running dramatics club of MIT: Aaina

Currently in its 16th year, this dramatics club of Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) was started by then students of MIT out of the need for an exclusive dramatics club. There was a dance club, there was a music club, so why not a dramatics club that includes all of that with acting? With a strength of 100 plus members from different MAHE institutes, the club’s activities are divided based on the odd and the even semester. In the odd semester, the focus is on recruiting fresh talent for the team while the even semester is for taking the club’s work for showcase at college festivals across India. Annually, from the past few years, Aaina conducts events like ‘The Double Bill’, a venture by second and third year members of the club, ‘Spotlight’ performed by new first year recruits, street plays and their main semester productions.

In the last year, the club has participated at Mood Indigo, Asia’s largest college cultural festival held at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and was the only college from south India invited to perform a street play at the eight Theatre Olympics, the first of its kind organised in India by the National School of Drama (NSD) at Delhi. “At Delhi, many colleges encouraged us to participate in more fests to increase our exposure. Plus, we are trying to incorporate more technology in our dramatics by improving our short films, video production and back end to enhance the overall feel of our theatre.” said Devansh Sood, Vice President, Aaina.

From street plays to centre stage: Absolute Dramatics Addiction (ADA)

ADA, another dramatics clubs of MIT was started by Tushar Koul in 2008. Having been a part of Aaina, he realised that people getting equal chances to work in one club is hard when catering to so many students, hence ADA was born. Having begun with a focus on street plays and short films, ADA is now involved in centre stage, theatre and mime as well. ADA used to associate with the police or university and make short films but from the past 2-3 years, the club has become more serious about centre stage plays. Once known as a ‘nukkad team’, ADA now has expanded its areas of work. Commenting on the student theatre culture in Manipal, Mithil Raj Goswami, a senior ADA member said that theatre enthusiasts should go out of their clubs to explore more theatre. “This does not happen much here but it should because it provides a new approach to things,” he added.

A mix of the arts: Rangasthala

This performing arts club of Department of Commerce (DOC) was started in 2016 by Guruswamy Ravi Teja in his first year with a vision to start a dramatic club. During Utsav ’16, coincidently, when the cultural committee approached him with the same demand, he and a few friends formed Rangasthala. In the course of two years, the club has picked up a lot of other activities related to music, arts, and photography as well. Ravi wanted to start a club of his own because after working with other clubs, he realised that he wanted to start something for students in the college itself. “I learned by working in Dramanon and Aaina and later used all that knowledge to develop Rangasthala.”

The first time Rangasthala performed in Utsav in 2016, it won the first prize. After this, the club started performing plays in various colleges, particularly for social awareness. For instance, they have performed plays on topics like finance management and new-born screening awareness in government colleges in Udupi and Manipal. Ravi said, “I was always interested in theatre but got to see real theatre after coming here. I have realised that when you are on stage, you are a completely different person and it helps you find yourself.”

‘The beginning of something new’ in KMC: Aaghaz

Catering to a student body of 1200 students across KMC, Aaghaz is the dramatics team of Kasturba Medical College (KMC). They participate and perform at various inter college festivals, open and home festivals and have earned a place at the top in each one of them. Through their presence and workshops, the team intends to scope out hidden talent in the college. Though the dramatics team existed informally, it was given a name and formalised last year. For the team, street play is just an aspect as they also explore mad ads, mimicry and stand-up comedy. More than a sole focus on theatre, the small but enthusiastic team uses themselves as medium for spreading awareness about key issues which people are unaware of like sanitation, violence against doctors, misgovernance and menstrual hygiene to name a few in different languages.

Utkarsh Mishra, the Captain of the team said, “The team functions as a unit, conceptualises collectively and everyone has a say. The only reason we are not delving into centre stage is the lack of time. We have a hectic schedule but a team like ours plays a very important role as a stress buster. Everybody is involved in some acting and dramatics in some point in their life, the team just provides a platform.”

The Kalakars of SOC: Kalamanch

The club was started in 2006 by a few students of School of Communication (SOC) with an aim to perform theatre. Dramatics clubs in the university were very few back then and if someone in the college wanted to undertake dramatics, they had to go to different campuses to join the practice sessions of these clubs. The theatre enthusiasts within the college formed the platform as an outlet for all the latent talent around them. This official theatre club of SOC puts up performances in both English and Hindi and invites students from other institutes of MAHE to be a part of the club. While not very big in size, the club discusses performance ideas as a whole and members multi task to showcase their crafted piece. Within a year of its establishment, the club branched out into street plays, mad ads, and mono-acting even though the club was initially formed with an aim to produce centre stage plays every semester. Every odd semester, Kalamanch organises a theatrical event called ‘Tiatr’ that provides freshers and others alike to showcase their acting chops.

Venumadhav Bhat, an alumnus of SOC said, “My journey in theatre began with Kalamanch in 2012. I performed at ‘Tiatr’ in my first year of undergraduate and got noticed for it. The attention helped me cope with the beginning of college. I learnt further about the aspects of theatre in ADA. The theatre culture in Manipal at present is because of the students alone and it is phenomenal. This foundation in Manipal will really help those who want to make theatre their profession. I would like to be surprised more in theatre as an audience. That and experimentation shows growth.”

Abhinav Grover, an alumnus of MIT and a theatre artist in Mumbai had showcased ‘Rashomon’ directed by him in the first edition of MILAP. He believes that theatre culture can be improved by creating a more theatre-oriented environment in the campus and more support from the university. On the evolution theatre here he said, “When I was in my first year, there were more British and American plays. That might be because there were many people from Bangalore and Chennai and they had a different take on theatre depending upon what they knew. Over the years we have started turning to Indian playwrights as well. We started understanding our culture and got closer to it. Now, people need to start forming their own scripts and showcase originality. Mix street and stage theatre, mix music and dance, to progress towards total theatre. ”

When talking to the Prabhakar and Savita Sastri, residents of Manipal and avid theatre enthusiasts about the theatre culture in Manipal they said, “We used to just walked up to the performers after shows and get talking. It used to bother us that the clubs weren’t turning up to performances in support of each other’s work. We wanted to get everyone together, and we did so by encouraging weekly play readings and discussions. “

“We arranged for a few students to perform in Bangalore a while back. We booked a theatre. We wanted to show them that performing as a student in Manipal is very different from performing outside. There’s a lot of talent, potential and creativity. It’s nice to see even the former MIT director, Dr. G K Prabhu acknowledge the need for arts courses. It looks like even the university has realised that it is not only pure engineering or medicine.. there’s so much more,” said Prabhakar Sastri.

Regarding the developments in the theatre scenario in Manipal, Savita Sastri said, “The sets are getting better, new elements and innovations are being added. Students must explore what the local theatre is all about. A lot of it is happening and for some reason there’s the mental block about the language which needs to be removed and you need to get used to seeing people other than students perform. You should keep an open mind.”


Featured Image Courtesy: TMJ Archives

Edited by: Mehul Malpani

A three-day Theatre Appreciation Workshop is being conducted from September 6-8 at TMA Halls. The workshop aims at being an introduction to the theatre medium, with focus on Kannada and Marathi theatre traditions. It is a part of Manipal International Literature and Arts Platform (MILAP).

The views in this article do not necessarily reflect the organisation’s views. 

The Manipal Journal is the official media partner for MILAP, Manipal’s literary and art platform, being conducted on September 6, 7, and 8, 2018.