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24.07.2017

A villainous government agent and heroic petitioners are doing battle in this new drama - or so it appears if you speak to those presiding over a disquieting, possibly final act at the Kengal Hanumanthaiah Kala Soudha, Basavanagudi. Set atop a tiny hill overlooking the scenic gardens of Ramanjaneya Gudda, KH Kala Soudha has long been a comforting harbour for art and artists. Since its was inaugurated and leased to the performing arts NGO Prakasam Trust in 2009, it hosted 2,400 hundred shows, including plays, musicals, dance performances and art discourses.

Then in February this year, an eerie silence took centre stage as the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike instructed the management to cough up arrears adding up to seven lakh and a rent of Rs 40,000 per month: four times the amount they are currently paying.

We called the Prakasam Trust’s Satish Chandra to ask what went wrong. “We had been negotiating with BBMP since January,” he explains. When Prakasam’s lease on the property expired, the BBMP put up tenders inviting bids from new prospective tenants. “But even when no one came forward for the first round of bidding earlier this year, they have not allowed us to keep the show going.”

Last week, the BBMP issued a fresh round of tenders - but not before the #SaveKalaSoudha petition and a Facebook campaign went modestly viral in Bangalore arts circles. Spontaneous gatherings and planned performances were staged outside the auditorium. A lively drum jam turned nearly the entire neighbourhood out on to the streets; Bimba of Vijayanagar enacted a street play about the need for democracy in art.

A villainous government agent and heroic petitioners are doing battle in this new drama - or so it appears if you speak to those presiding over a disquieting act at the KH Kala Soudha.

It looks as though the BBMP was caught off-guard by this clamour. The cascade of attention has also started a bidding war, we hear: many more tenders for Kala Soudha are being floated unexpectedly. These new developments mean that Prakasam isn’t just trying to reopen the space any more - they’re also vying to renew their own claim to it, and keep it at the same rent as before.

It’s hard, if you’re a theatre-goer, to dismiss this aim. Kala Soudha’s temporary closure has meant that several performances have been shelved, but the effects are even further-reaching. If Ranga Shankara is the ultimate stage in Bangalore, Kala Soudha is the audition - where new actors are discovered and experimental material goes on trial, at rates that don’t tax either performers or audiences. This is the stage that helped build confidence for an entire generation of current theatre actors, says Kishore Acharya, actor and founder of Clear Waters Media. “Here, fresh talent flourished,” Kishore says. “It also provided a new avenue for Kannada theatre because of its audience and location.”

Kala Soudha has developed an audience for itself over the years despite its proximity to Ranga Shankara, explains Pallavi Arun, who performed at the venue on opening night in a music show. “When I first performed here the paint was fresh and the seats brand new,” Pallavi sais. “All these years later it is still a great venue, thoughtfully built with excellent acoustics.”  

It’s alright for the BBMP to expect more revenue from something they consider to be prime property, Kishore says. “But the challenge lies in assuring artists that they will not face the brunt of the revised rent structure.” Satish is also quick to point out that it is important to maintain the space as a cultural and theatre stage and not allow the film industry to make it their domain. So, as Prakasam fights to retain its managerial role at Kala Soudha, it has kept the petition alive to continue to generate public awareness. In spite of this chorus of support, we can’t help but feel like there will be much more drama before the spotlight is switched back on to KH Kala Soudha.

Getting there: Ramanjaneya Temple Compound, Hanumantha Nagar, Basavanagudi. Log on to their Facebook page for more updates on the campaign.

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