It’s drama in real life
Surabhi, also known as ‘Sri Venkateswara Natya Mandali’, the family-run theatre company, has a long legacy. A member of the family is probably...
Neeta Jain Duhaut’s documentary traces the survival of the traditionally unique, Surabhi theatre in modern times, and also brings to fore, the hardships and struggles of the theatre group
Surabhi, also known as ‘Sri Venkateswara Natya Mandali’, the family-run theatre company, has a long legacy. A member of the family is probably baptised into the realms of stage acting on the day he or she is born, and continues until his or her death. “Everything is done within the family. One is taught to act, sing, play some musical instrument, prepare the sets, and handle the lights. It is a family profession and everyone should be an all-rounder. The family members also stitch their own costumes. To keep it as a close-knit family, even marriages are performed within the larger family. While the older lot know nothing but to act, the present generation is well educated and a few of them are doing their M.Phil in theatre arts and some work in software companies. This group is famous for its ‘Padya Natakam’ (the classical Telugu verse play), performed with colourful illusionary backgrounds, sets and trick scenes. There is no age limitation or retirement for the artists of this family. Most of our plays are based on mythological stories and ‘Puranas’. And that needs creation of huge sets. We have to effectively depict scenes like Vasudeva carrying Lord Krishna across the Yamuna to Gokulam, Lord Krishna taming the five-headed serpent Kaliya, or the killing of Kamsa, on the small stage. The depiction calls for effective costume designs and sets and timely synchronisation of the special effects in combination with the light arrangements,” shares R Nageswara Rao fondly also known as ‘Babji’, who has received the Padma Sri award from the Government of India in the year, 2013.
‘Surabhi Family, In Life In Drama’, a documentary written, directed and narrated by Neeta Jain Duhaut was recently screened at The LV Prasad Preview Theatre, Hyderabad. This documentary traces the survival of the traditionally unique method of Surabhi theatre in these modern times, and also brings to fore, the hardships and struggles of the theatre group. The documentary film also shows Surabhi’s recent tour to France and covers their shows, their experiences and tryst with the cold weather conditions, especially during the make up time.
The film shows the living quarters of the group in Hyderabad. Around 65 members of the family live in their makeshift tin sheds, next to their performance area, in Public Gardens next to Lalitha Kala Toranam at Nampally, where they perform on weekends. The lighting, special effects and the stage backdrops undergo constant innovation, thanks to the ideas from the younger lot. Some of the scenes in the documentary show the lighter moments like a little baby crooning away, imitating one of the singers in the family or another time, when a kid inadvertently walks onto the main stage while the play is on.
On stage, ‘All is well that ends well’. But as far as Surabhi is concerned ‘wellness’ is yet to come. It is high time that pre-fabricated house builders/construction companies are roped in, to ensure that Surabhi family has a respectable roof above their head. Maybe the new government can kick start its low cost/affordable housing scheme by providing shelter to this theatre family, which is a part of Hyderabad’s cultural heritage. One could also look at an option of making their weekend performances, a part of the official tourist circuit/promotion, so that, visitors to the city get an opportunity to experience these unique theatre performances.