Published: 28th March 2020
Why everyone must watch Sharanya Ramprakash's famous play Akshayambara
Theatre artist Sharanya Ramprakash speaks about her theatre journey and the reason behind writing the critically-acclaimed play Akshayambara. She also talks about the Modern Indian Theatre
A few days ago, Sharanya Ramprakash spoke about modern Indian theatre at one of the sessions conducted by Basava Biradar for budding theatre enthusiasts and artists in Bengaluru. A practitioner of theatre for more than a decade, Sharanya not only shared her experiences but also her journey of writing the award-winning play Akshayambara — a play that deals with a modern issue like gender equation expressed in the traditional style of Yakshagana. The play, which was written in 2015 has been performed numerous times on theatre stages across the Garden City. She says, "This play is based on my personal experiences when I was learning Yakshagana. There were 42 men and I was the only woman at the gurukul. Travelling with a troop of men to perform Yakshagana across Karnataka is an amazing experience. The big plays usually take place at night in front of a large public audience. I realised that very few women take part in this because it happens 'at night in public', something that is still considered taboo. However, women also travel with men to perform contemporary plays yet that is not considered taboo. That's why I decided to write Akshayambara."
What led Sharanya to take up theatre as a career is an interesting story. Her father worked in the forest department and whenever he and the family were transferred, Sharanya struggled to make friends. "Language was always a barrier when it came to making new friends. But wherever I attended school and college, I would join the theatre group. I felt a positive vibe because everyone would speak the language of acting and I could easily understand that. With that, there was no looking back for me. I wrote many plays and acted in a few collaborative projects. The first play that I directed was a piece that I had adapted called The Original Last Wish Baby by William Seebring. It is a satirical piece on media and sensationalism."
Cycling back to her award-winning play, Sharanya says, "It is to challenge the idea of gender both on and off stage and the rules that we set for men and women. It leaves the audience thinking about the social stigma that we connect these genders with even after the play. For example, the movements in Yakshagana are choreographed primarily for men. While it doesn't mean that women can't do them too, the way the performer needs to act while playing different roles is constructed to suit the male body. Yakshagana, in a way, is extremely free because it allows the person to defend the characters they play on the stage."
Apart from the writing and directing plays, Sharanya has also been researching modern Indian theatre, especially from a Kannada theatre point of view. She says, "Unfortunately, we have a few resource materials when it comes to modern theatre. However, I have been trying to reach different theatre personalities, even their sons or grandson. For instance, the biography on famous theatre personality Gubbi Veeranna gives a lot of information about contemporary plays and artists. Similarly, I met Sadashiv Rao Garud, the grandson of another theatre personality Prakash Garud, who has held on to all his photographs, scripts and other materials as memories. The list of prominent people goes on."
When we ask Sharanya about her plans for theatre, she says, "Currently, I'm working with a group of transgenders who work for the Aravani Art Project in Bengaluru. We are working on a play titled Nava. Having been performed for the past ten months, the artists keep improvising each time. Though they don't earn a single rupee, they continue to do it as it gives them happiness and satisfaction." And when you do something with satisfaction, you do it well.