The Ranga Shankara experience is something else again. It grows on you. It encompasses you. It embraces you. And you come away richer and glowing with contentment.
On show was Gowri Ramnarayan's "Flame of the Forest" a great display of pomp and grandeur of the Pallava dynasty. Of the lives and times of Mahendra Pallava, of the beautiful Pallava court dancer Sivakami, of the splendour of Kanchi, the capital of Pallavas, of the conquering king Pullikesin.
With minimalist props and sets, it was easier to drive away the images of present day Kanchi and fill your mind instead with the imagery described by the Pallava king to conquering king Pullikesin. It was not difficult to imagine the magnificence of Kanchi in 590-630 AD, its temples, its silks and its beautiful women. And it was also easy to understand why Pullikesin almost gave up his plans to conquer the kingdom, mesmerised by the town's beauty.
But beauty needs to be conquered and Pullikesin is mortal after all and Sivakami, the pride of Kanchi is captured and imprisoned in Vathapi. And there comes one ravaging one war after another and as is always the case with any war, whether it is in 600 AD or now in 2007 women and children are always the victims. The aging Sivakami's narration of the ways of a conquering army and of the incident of a small girl being thrown around from one soldier to another was so chilling, that this could have been Iraq or Afghanistan.
The ‘Flame of the Forest’ or Kalki's ‘Sivakamin Sabatham’, is also about Sivakami's own spiritual journey through the physicality of pride and ego and of surpassing it all to enter the realm of humility and the divine.
But if the play was fascinating, what was more remarkable was that Ranga Shankara is probably the only venue where a 3.30 pm show timing is available for a play. I had always been to an evening show and this was the first time I was going to afternoon theatre.
This opens up so many possibilities for a relaxed afternoon, basking in the afterglow of a delightful play and chilling out in the Ranga Shankara café after the show. Sitting on the rough hewn wooden benches and watching the world go by is a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday evening. The food is not bad either. Mirchi bajjis, bondas, akki rotis, ragi rotis, gulam jamuns...
And that's not all. There's now a Sankar's bookstore to add to the experience. So browse and buy your favourite titles while you wait for the show to open, or if you don't want to leave just as yet, after the show. So instead of going to a mall or a matinee film try out Ranga Shankara for a change. This month a Kannada drama festival is on the cards.