The survival of a 120-year old theatre family
Colour :: 60mins :: 2007
M.J. Radhakrishnan :: Script & Direction K.M. Madhusudhanan

Special Acknlwledgement: R. Nageshwara Rao (Surabhi Babji) and the Surabhi theatre family
Made with the support of India Foundation for the Arts and Sir Ratan Tata Draw-Down Fund

festival selection
Mumbai International Short Film Festival (February 2008)

“Theatre is our life. We have never been able to think about anything other than theatre, nor done anything other than theatre,” Babji, as R. Nageshwara Rao is fondly known, said, sitting on an old trunk.

The golden hue of dusk on Babji’s dark face made it look almost like a dark-red statue. He said, “The times are changing. Today no one needs theatre. If there’s a cricket match on TV, there won’t be any audience for the play. We have often run shows for no more than 4 spectators.”

This family includes the aged as well as women and children. None of these people know anything other than the theatre. No one went in search of other paths either.

Inside the makeshift theatre tent, land was dug out a level lower, to demarcate space for the audience. Right at the front of the audience, segregated with bamboo and boards, the orchestra sits in a compartment that’s a further level lower... an old harmonium, tabla and a keyboard... that’s it. The aalap from Vanarasa Panduranga Rao’s harmonium rises an hour before the performance. The tabla expresses a taal.

Babji started applying blue colour on his face. The first play for the night was Luva-Kusha. Men, women and children, gathered around the dull bulb hung low and started applying makeup on their faces, becoming new avatars. Originated over a century back, the makeup and costumes of this theatre family is not likely to have undergone any significant change.

The final day... Surabhi’s most famous play is being performed.  Staged on thousands of nights... Mayabazaar. Mayabazaar is technically way ahead of Surabhi’s other plays. While Abhimanyu sings, the diffused image of Sasirekha drowning in the moonlight was as real for the villagers as the wonders of cinema.