Surabhi Theatres: A Legacy to Continue

Surabhi Theatres: A Legacy to Continue
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  INDIAN FOLKLIFE  SERIAL NO.29 JUNE 2008 22 J OLY P UTHUSSERY , Department of Theatre Arts,S. N. School, University of Hyderabad S urabhi is the only theatre group hailingfrom a single family. According to oralhistory, the srcins of the group aredated to 1860 AD in Maharastra. The ancestorsof the Surabhi family were associated withKing Sivaji’s court. Some families migrated toAndhra. It is said that the family of VanarasaGovinda Rao selected the Sorugu village astheir temporary resort and changed its nameto Surabhi in 1885. Govinda Rao, a leatherpuppeteer, set up a travelling theatre groupand named it after the village. Over more thana century, Surabhi’s unique family traditionlives on.All roles are played by members of the Rao’s familywho belong to the Maharashtrian lineage and share thefour family names Vanarasa, Aveti, Aatok and Sindhe.Govinda Rao’s 13 children and grandchildren formedtheir own troupes. In its heyday around 1972, Surabhihad 2,000 artistes and 46 troupes. Lean times followedas Telugu cinema and television weaned audiencesaway. Today, 200 artistes and four active troupes - SriVenkateswara Natya Mandali, Sharada Vijaya NatyaMandali, Bhanodaya Natya Mandali, Vinayaka NatyaMandali – remain. The mythological forms the staple oftheir repertory, with Lav Kush, Maya Bazaar and BalaNagamma being perennial favorites. Rural audiencesthrong the theatres where Rs. 20 fetches a chair seat andhalf the sum a spot on the floor. Ghatotkacha swallowingladdus that come flying towards him, Ganga springingup from the ground, Narada descending from the skies,arrows flying in the air and lamps lit by the them anda large white key making its way across the stage onits own to reach the lock on the prison door are amongthe special effects that Surabhi’s innumerable theatretechnicians have produced.Behind the proscenium curtain, acts and scenes areset up like a deck of cards. Each scene within an actmaterializes by dropping curtains with distinctivepainted locales that descend vertically or are flowndown from the flies onto the stage. The generalizedbackdrops include forest, garden, street, palace ordurbar, antapura (women’s quarters), perhaps a cavescene (Specially for Surabhi’s enormously popular‘Mayabazaar’), and heaven. Curtains answering tocurrent performances have more parks (for “lovescenes”) and streets with modern buildings inperspective painting. The narrative is grounded by theatmosphere produced by the curtains and, on the otherhand, the world of romance and dream is released,indeed made practicable, only through their presence.For all its attractions, Surabhi was beginning tobore the audiences. There was nothing new in theirrepertoire to offer and, most often, other groups hasextensively hired their technicians and over-used theSurabhi masterpieces in many historical verse anddance dramas in the country.Just when it seemed that Surabhi’s disbanding wasimminent, cultural enthusiasts like GarimmellaRamamurthy and Ramanachari pitched in and triedto find help from different sources. National School ofDrama asked acclaimed musician-director B.V. Karanthto invigorate Surabhi with new theatre techniques.Karanth realized the only way to salvage the group’stradition was to put it in sync with contemporary reality,blending the old with the new. In his own words,“Typical characteristics like bright costumes, glittering SURABHI THEATRES:A LEGACY TO CONTINUE J OLY P UTHUSSERY    INDIAN FOLKLIFE  SERIAL NO.29 JUNE 2008 23 crowns and artistic cut-outs will, however,remain.” (Director’s note for Chandi Priya).Unfazed by the tepid response to earlier attempt‘Bhishma’, Karanth next produced Chandi Priyain 1997, dealing with female infanticide. In 1998,third production ‘Basti Devata Yadamma’, anadaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Womanof Setzuan’, ran to a packed auditorium inHyderabad. It did not do well with the ruralaudiences though. The Surabhi Paparos play onShridi Sai Baba was thriving with many showsand touring extensively across the Telugu-speaking region.Rising costs threaten the very existence of thetroupes. Government repertory grants andaccommodation at the artist’s colony has notmade the performer’s life smooth. They are paida paltry Rs 1,500 to 2,000 a month. But the playsgo on. The fact that Surabhi has survived for so longspeaks volumes for the resilience of Govinda Rao’ssuccessors. The members of the group hope to regainits former glory and keep that leather puppeteer’slegacy alive. ❆ 1. NFSC’ s Portal for Journals:  The NFSC Portal for Journals in Indian Folklore andallied disciplines would give scholars a means ofobtaining peer review and constructive criticism, andpublish articles and journals for the free use and benefitof the community of students, scholars and teachersdevoted to higher education in humanities and socialsciences. Works can be submitted after registration ineach of the journals listed here and the draft markedfor inclusion in the critical peer review process. Withsuccessful passage through this stage, the articlecan then be published in the journal of choice. The journals listed and published in the NFSC portal havean editorial board, theme and specific policy guidelinefor accepting articles. This publication system usesOpen Journal Systems where editors can configurerequirements, sections, and the review process. TheSystems enable online submission and managementof all content, subscription with delayed open accessoptions, comprehensive indexing of the content part ofglobal system, email notification and ability to commentfor readers and complete context sensitive online helpsupport. Journals hosted till June 2008 Tuluva is a peer reviewed academic journal edited andpublished by the faculty of the Regional ResourcesCentre for Folk Performing Arts, Mahatma GandhiMemorial College Campus, Udupi, Karnataka.Submissions should be addressed to H. Krishna Bhat,Director, Regional Centre for Folk Performing Arts, MGM college campus, Udupi, Karnataka-576102Email: mgmcollegeudupi@dataone.inNamma Janapadaru is an academic bilingual journaldevoted to the study of Kannada literature, cultureand folklore. The journal invites articles in English andKannada. Request for online/manuscript submissionsshould be addressed to M.N. Venkatesha, Editorin Chief, Namma Janapadaru, Assistant Professor,Department of Folklore and Tribal Studies, DravidianUniversity, Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh.Email: mnvenkatesh2003@rediffmail.comLokaratna is the official journal of the FolkloreFoundation, located in Bhubaneswar, Orissa.Lokaratna is a peer-reviewed academic journal inOriya and English. Request for online/manuscriptsubmissions should be addressed to Mahendra KumarMishra, Editor in Chief, Lokaratna Managing Trustee,Folklore Foundation, A-28, BJB Nagar, Bhubaneswar,Orissa- 751014Email: mkmfolk@gmail.comJournal of the Folklore Research Department is a peer-reviewed academic journal edited and published by thefaculty of the Folklore Research Department of GauhatiUniversity, Gauhati, Assam, India. Request for online/  N ATIONAL F OLKLORE S UPPORT C ENTRE ’ S NEW INITIATIVES
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