Some connections are just too strong to deny and, in this case, the connection was predestined. Jagdish Raja and Arundhati Raja are the co-founders of Jagriti Theatre Bangalore and the Artistes Repertory Theatre. Over the years, they have been tirelessly working to bring unforgettable experiences to audiences in India. We were lucky enough to get a small peek into their journey with theatre and of course, each other.
How did the theatre find you?
Jagdish: Drama and Elocution were my strong points in school. My Macbeth and a schoolmate’s Macduff’s last battle was shouted off the stage lest we inadvertently rip the curtain! I was adjudged Best Elocutionist in a Bombay Interschool Contest. Some years later, I was honoured with a place on the English narrators’ panel of the Films Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Arundhati: It started in school for me too. I grew up in England and we often did plays…even in our English language and literature classes. I was in all the school plays during my time there. I got my first good review in the local newspaper of the town where I lived and where my school was, for my role as Thomas Becket in Murder in the Cathedral. (Yes, it was an all girls’ school). I always wanted to join the repertory theatres which were very popular at the time, but of course was not allowed to do so!
How did you meet? What clicked?
Arundhati: We met through family as Jagdish’s sister was marrying a cousin. But next year will be our Golden wedding anniversary (50 years) so memories of early days are … 🙂
I had left India when I was 5 and Jagdish had been back and forth a couple of times when he was younger. We were married in the UK. In 1972 we decided to try it back in India. As a young couple we were coming back, while people our age were going the other way. We chose to live in Bangalore even though we hadn’t ever set foot in the city!
How did you decide on co-founding the Artistes’ Repertory Theatre?
Arundhati: We began our theatre journey in earnest on returning to India in December 1972 and then to Bangalore in early 1973. In 1976 we went to watch Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author by Bangalore Little Theatre. We joined them after that and then were active members until 1982.
We were rehearsing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1982 when we decided to form our own theatre company. We just needed to be able to make our own creative decisions without having to refer to a committee. Jagdish named us The Artistes’ Repertory Theatre (Artistes are performers. Artists are not). This production was the first play to be performed in the then newly opened Chowdiah Memorial Hall.
ART, as we became known, went on to produce over 30 odd plays and we established ourselves as a well-loved theatre company. We built a reputation for good productions. In those early years there was only Doordarshan and not many foreign movies. We had no trouble filling theatres for our shows, including the 1000-seater Chowdiah.
With very few western plays, our mainstay – successful productions from the West that no one in India had ever seen before – drew our audience. Then came the changing face of urban India and our audience changed along with it. The fast development of Information Technology and an increase in global travel meant that we no longer had an audience that craved for all things Western. Many had seen the original productions on Broadway, the West End or the Fringe.
This is when our ART journey changed a great deal with a quest for new writing…in English, but very Indian.
The shift from owning a production house to actually building a theatre must have been huge. Was it always a shared dream?
Arundhati: Since theatre was and is something that we both love, it was definitely a shared dream to have our own theatre. Ever since the formation of ART we had been talking of it. It took us ten years to get the theatre finished. There was a lot of heartache in between when the building stopped for nearly two whole years – but we got there!
What does working in the theatre together mean to you?
Arundhati: Actually, theatre is a demanding profession, requiring time away from family and often at times when everyone is home and you have to be at rehearsal or in a show. It has helped that we are both so involved.
A theatre quirk or habit you have picked up from each other?
Arundhati: No quirks or habits. When we are either acting or directing, we never see each other as husband and wife!
Jagdish: Playing George and Martha (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee), driving back from rehearsal, muted and dumbstruck, on the 16 Km ride to Whitefield, still blistering from exchange!
Arundhati: Oh yes! Forgot about that!