Mangaluru: Stage Play by Jailbirds from Mysuru Prison Enthrall and Wow Audience

Mangaluru: For 17 years, Hulugappa Kattamani and his wife, Prameela Bengre, both reputed directors from Rangayana in Mysuru, have been working with prison inmates, teaching them about theatre and even staging productions. For three days, they will putting up a very special shows at Don Bosco Hall-Balmatta in City, comprising 30 prisoners from the Mysore Central Jail. Jayanth Kaikini’s “Jategiruvanu Chandira” (an adaptation of Joseph Stein’s “Fiddler on the Roof”) was already staged on the inaugural day, Tuesday 22 September. On Wednesday, 23 Sept, ‘Soole Sanyasi” at 6.30 pm by KV Subramanya, and on the final day, 24 Sept. “Maranayaka” at 6.30 pm by HS Shivaprakash will be staged. This three-day stage play is part of “Jailninda-Jailige Rangotsava” organized by artists of Sankalpa Kala Tanda- a theatre group of Mysuru Prison inmates.

The inauguration of the three-day show was held on Tuesday, 22 September- Kamal Panth IPS, Additional Director General of Police (Prisons), Bengaluru, inaugurated the show by lighting the traditional lamp along with other dignitaries on the dais namely- Mahabaleshwara MS- Chief Officer, Karnataka Bank, Mangaluru; Sadananda Suvarana-Senior theatre artist; and Gopal B Hosuru IPS, Inspector General of Police, Bengaluru. Addressing the audience, director of Sankalpa-Hulugappa Kattimani said, ” This year we have 30 inmates from Mysuru Prison who will take part in the three-day stage plays, of which 10 prisoners have already been released and few more will be released in the nearest future for their good conduct while in prison.”

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He further said, ” Nearly 254 prisoners, among which 64 who had completed 14 years of jail term were released by Governor of Karnataka for their good conduct and behaviour while imprisoned. Once these prisoners are released, with the theatre school they can master their acting talents and become professional stage artists. Already many have become good stage artists due to regular practice and stage shows during the past 17 years of Sankalpa’s inception”. Sadananda Suvarna speaking during the occasion complimented Kattimani and his troupe for putting up great stage plays, which has the power to bring changes in the community and also politics. Mahabaleshwara also spoke and complimented the troupe. DC AB Ibrahim who arrived late, after the formal inauguration was done, sat in the audience and enjoyed the play till the end.

Speaking to, Hulugappa Kattamani said, “My wife and I have been interacting with prisoners in Mysuru and Bengaluru for 17 years, teaching them yoga, painting and Kolattam, apart from theatre. We also bring in theatre experts to interact with them.The troupe has been practising for seven months, including music and dance. Gopal Hosur (IG of Police, Karnataka), has been the backbone of this initiative, and Kamal Panth, the ADGP, has now stepped forward to support us. For the first performance, we had a convoy of 100 policemen accompany 30 prisoners. Now, the police trust them, they know that there will be no trouble.”

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“Art has influenced these prisoners in many ways. We are not merely teaching them theatre we help them learn a way of living. One inmate, for instance, has been very influenced by Gandhi now. The best part is that theatre encourages teamwork. That’s very important for the inmates, because they have their own, very vulnerable world. We try to stage a play at least once a year. We had planned show in Mumbai, and it was Kamal Panth’s idea to take this troupe across the country.” added Kattamani. He believes that exposure to the world will only help these people – and he appears to be right, too. “They are like ripe fruits,” he adds, on a philosophical note. “If you let them stay in jail, they will rot.”

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When asked, are there any chances for these prisoners to escape when they are on theatre tours, for which Kattamani narrated a story- When a show was organized in Shravana Belagola, the site of the monolithic Gomateshwara atop a hill, the convicts expressed their desire to go close to the statue as the Mahamastakabhisheka was going on and they would never get an opportunity easily to watch this ritual. “I took them,” says Kattimani, “and to be honest, my heart was pounding. The escorts were as tired as the prisoners. And there were all chances of a successful escape attempt as the hill lies open to such adventures.”

None of that happened. When they came back down, a media person asked one of the convict-actors: “The opportunity was right there… didn’t you feel like escaping?” The prisoner (actor) said: “What are you saying? If I run away, who will play my role this evening?”

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