is Tagore Theatre?
A shot in
the arm for ayurveda
Tagore Theatre, probably designed for the needs of artistes 50 years ago, now requires drastic structural changes, says NSD Professor Ashok Sagar Bhagat in a candid one-to-one with Chaman Ahuja
Chandigarh is proud of its Tagore Theatre; but how good is it, really? Perceptions vary. Witness, a few samples.
A local theatre director: "It is good, very good—a boon for the amateur theatre in this region. We have no problems, except that it is becoming increasingly unaffordable."
The management: "Higher rental is unavoidable. Air-conditioning and lighting cost so much—as also, the maintenance, renovation, and updating of equipment. We are always trying to enhance the technical facilities, to make the ambience more beautiful, the auditorium more comfortable, the stage more user-friendly. No wonder, the hall is always overbooked now."
The original designer: "It is a perfect proscenium-cum-intimate theatre; at least, it was before the management brought in those fancy notions about decorative and technical outfits."
A visiting professional director: "May be it is all right for mere amateurs, but it doesn’t meet professional requirements. You can’t have musicals or ballets here, not even plays with big sets or huge casts. Entries and exits are awkward; a dancer can’t move out dancing. The equipment is either inadequate or outdated; cyclorama is never blue enough. To perform here, you have to make too many artistic compromises."
An old timer: "I have heard stories about foreign troupes, professional groups, even NSD and ICCR people refusing to perform here because its stage has problems."
A regular viewer: "I am no theatre man but there are irritants galore. Power supply is erratic; stereo-system is moody. Sitting in a corner-seat in the first few rows, you can’t see one fourth of the action on your side of the stage. On the other hand, one may see performers, backstage workers and others in the wings—peeping out or even quarrelling; one knows in advance what to expect. People make a thoroughfare of the ramp between the entrance-door and the stage area, and seating the orchestra there is so distracting!"
A street artist: "People are so finicky about inessentials like performing space. If you have art, you can perform anywhere; you don’t need any theatre at all."
In view of this heterogeneity of perceptions, how about the assessment of an expert? As it happens, Ashok Sagar Bhagat, Associate Professor of Theatre Architecture at the NSD, was invited last year as a consultant. Apart from his deep scholarship in the field and his international exposure to theatres all over, he is known for viewing things from the angle of the end-users. Although quite happy with the building of Tagore Theatre as such, as also with the acoustics of the hall, he is critical of almost every segment of the stage—the proscenium, the apron, the wings, the cyclorama, the green-rooms. His feeling is that the theatre might have been designed as per the needs of the theatre people 50 years ago and as per the grammar of theatre architecture then, but today its frequent use as a multi-purpose auditorium calls for drastic changes in its structure, more so because the grammar itself has changed.
Bhagat is sympathetic to the administration’s keenness for changes in respect of the overall look, interior decoration, cushioned seats, foyer, canteen, equipment, systems, etc., but these things don’t get priority in his scheme of things. He votes for structural changes first because, according to him, unless the necessary changes are effected, both Chandigarh theatre and Tagore Theatre will remain stuck in the past. The problem, he feels, goes back to the time of designing: instead of designing the stage first and then creating an envelope for it, the envelope was conceived first and then the stage was fitted into it. No wonder, although, ideally, the stage depth should be much more than the stage opening, here it is even less: hence problems with cyclorama, big sets, and dance programmes. The problem got compounded because, in the effort to squeeze in the green rooms as well as the sound booth, the wings could not be broad enough. To cap it all, the positioning of the proscenium and the proscenium wings at an angle of 45 degrees has created further complications: on half of the stage, the entries and exits have to be diagonal (and towards the cyclorama) rather than straight, and the audience can see things happening in the wings.
Bhagat is too pragmatic to suggest a total overhaul; his solution lies in re-utilising the space of the unnecessarily long apron stage for lending depth to the main stage as well as for creating an orchestra pit, in demolishing the present small green rooms and shifting the sound booth to a cabin above to create more space in the wings. With these basic structural changes, necessary alterations may be possible with respect to fly-space, hoisting system, green-rooms, etc. Green-rooms, in any case, should be closer to the stage and bigger than what they are now: after all, they are there not just for make-up but also for waiting, for tuning instruments, and for last-minute rehearsals, instructions or discussions.
Bhagat’s suggestions are not too difficult to implement. In the live media of theatre, as practices keep changing, theatre houses also have to undergo structural changes periodically. Witness recent changes even in the legendary Peking Opera, Bolshoi Theatre, Berliner Ensemble, etc. True, there are theatre houses that remain unchanged because they are heritage buildings; and Tagore Theatre has not earned that status within a few decades of its existence.
The recent initiative of the government to introduce standardisation in ayurveda is a welcome step, but it may not be feasible to standardise all its products, says A. Saj Mathews
Ayurveda’s foray into the international market is expected to get a boost with the plan of the Union Government to introduce standardisation in this traditional system of medicine.
The move has been widely welcomed by top ayurvedic houses of Kerala, the heartland of this centuries-old medicinal system. Though delayed, the move will bring in the much-needed order in ayurvedic trade, which has been plagued by lack of quality standards both the in the case of formulations and therapies presently available in the market, they say.
Not only Indians but also foreigners lured by the Indian system of medicine can now hope for genuine medicines and their chances of getting misled and taken for a ride would get reduced.
However, bringing strict standardisation in traditional systems like ayurveda is not all that easy, points out N V Subrmanian, CEO of the Thodupuzha-based Nagarjuna Herbal Concentrates, a leading ayurvedic drugs manufacturing firm. There are a number of ayurvedic formulations which contains a wide variety of ingredients.
"Though the move is welcome, the fact is that it will take years to bring in perfect standardisation in ayurveda, which is practised not only by qualified physicians but also hundreds of practitioners who have acquired the knowledge from their ancestors," he said.
Addressing the whole gamut of traditional ayurvedic formulations is a herculean exercise especially as these traditional practitioners have their closely guarded formulae, passed on from one generation to the next and never disclosed to outsiders.
Dr Pradeep Jyothi, chief executive of the Thiruvanthapuram-based Vasudeva Vilasam Aryvaidya Sala, says that the move will succeed only in the case of general ayurvedic formulations, which number around 400.
"It will not be practical to bring in total standardisation in ayurvedic drugs unlike in the case of allopathic formulations which have a proven scientific base," he adds.
However, standardisation will come as a boon to the ayurvedic industry which is now flooded with substandard formulations under a variety of brands.
He said prescribing strict quality standards would be difficult as the ingredients like herbal roots and leaves procured from different geographic zones and during different seasons would never have the same characteristics and quality.
Dr Pathrose Paulose of the Paruthvayalil Ayurvedic Hospital, run by one of the oldest Ayurvedic houses in Kerala, says that the move is welcome since it will enhance the reputation of the traditional Indian system of medicine. "It will also put an end to the unhealthy practices which had done a lot of damage to the ayurvedic industry.
Quacks and self-styled ayurvedic specialists had a field day during the initial years of AIDS scare. Today rejuvenation therapies are available in every nook and corner of Kerala and many of them do not follow the traditional standards and prescriptions.
A major issue is the lack of focus on research in ayurveda. There are so many areas which are still very ambiguous. The issue of using metals in ayurvedic formulations remain a controversial one and this can be cleared only through concerted research.
Meanwhile, medical tourism is flourishing in Kerala, thanks to the availability of world-class allopathic medical facilities coupled with the ayurvedic rejuvenation therapies.
However most of the ayurvedic resorts and clinics that have mushroomed in the state are under a cloud in connection with the quality and authenticity of the therapies.
This is also an area where standardisation and accreditation should be brought in, feel most reputed players in the field.
Putting the 5000-year-old ayurvedic house in order is not an overnight job. However, the move by the Centre is a path-breaking step that will yield rich dividends for the industry in the coming days.