My visit to The Rangakarmee Studio Theatre, Kolkata – Ninad Samaddar
It’s not unusual for me to be excited when I walk into a theatre space. But to feel a distinct tingle? That happens at only a few. And it is a guarantee whenever I walk into The Rangakarmee Studio Theatre, founded in 2008 by the late Usha Ganguli.
The space itself is gorgeous. Located on 61 Prince Anwar Shah Road, it offers two orientations ‘The Usha Ganguli Mancha’ and ‘Binodini Keya Mancha’. The former is a gallery-style seating of 20 ft x 18 ft and can accommodate around 70 people while the latter is an arena-style setup of 25 ft x 15 ft, seating about 80.
Equipped with state-of-the-art lighting equipment and a surround sound system, the RST was a dream come true for the group that had been rehearsing in courtyards, common areas, institutional spaces and rented spaces for over 3 decades. And as is evident from my conversations with the people who run it, Usha Ganguli was at the centre of this 30-year struggle. Her ethos, her principles, her rigour and focus on people is housed within these very walls, and in the people who take her legacy forward.
I was invited to visit the space on a Monday which is typically a day off for the group. I was pleasantly surprised to see that everything was just as functional as any other working day.
A warm offer of laal cha (tea without milk) with 2 biscuits from Somboron (Naskar) Da, a hurried smile from Dipesh (Rajak) Da as he ran after a little black labrador puppy (named Actor) and I knew it would be a good conversation. I edged past Amal (Saha) Da and Subir (Kumar Sen) Nanu to make my way to the main rehearsal hall where Anirudh (Sarkar) Sir was conducting a rehearsal while Rani (Tripty Mitra) Ma’am and Tandra (Banerjee) Di who were observing, like Usha di was from her picture on the wall.
I know, it’s a lot of names, and I’m deliberately not mentioning the names of at least 30 young acting enthusiasts who are always present at the venue.
“There is a degree of seriousness and rigour with which we rehearse which remains unchanged in the presence or absence of a director or audience.” – Ranjini Ghosh (20)
It might have been easier to also give them their respective titles of Venue Manager, Studio Associate, Treasurer, Secretary and Creative Director, but I think it would be a disservice to limit their involvement to their designations. They’re all decathletes, capable of multiple tasks in multiple arenas of the theatre. Because RST follows the credo of Total Theatre.
“When we are not rehearsing for a play, the space makes sure that we have readings, workshops, something to keep our creative juices flowing.” – Sneha Roy (22)
“This space resonates with my work ethic, culture and has given me much more clarity than I ever expected.” – Aditi Bishnu (28)
Inspired by Total Football, (because how can anything in Calcutta not be inspired by that sport) the group epitomises ‘Total Theatre’. Just like in Total Football, where a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, every member of the company steps in unfailingly and unerringly for another, ensuring that no task is undone, and that all tasks benefit from multiple perspectives.
I’d like to introduce some of these people and highlight the parts of my conversations that stayed with me.
A Total Theatre volunteer with a specialisation for producing and direction.
“I joined Rangakarmee over a decade ago and have remained with the theatre group ever since. In the early days, I would come to the venue with Usha di, sitting by her side as she directed and acted. Those car rides back and forth taught me more about theatre than any encounters with professionals or books could. For example, she would always say that there are no first or last impressions; everyone is equal and must continually prove themselves. And that punctuality and consistency are critical for continued growth, as people and as a space.
I think it’s a testament to the value of her teachings that when she passed, those whose lives she influenced (myself included) rushed in to carry on her tradition with the RST. Nobody had to be asked to do it. It was the most natural thing in the world.
A Total Theatre volunteer with a specialisation in percussions, venue maintenance, ensemble training and as Actor’s Elder Brother.
“My life is Rangakarmee. Each morning, I eagerly await da’s (Anirudh’s) call, uncertain of my tasks for the day, as they change constantly. Surveying new equipment for the space excites me, maintaining and servicing old ones too.
Funny enough, my early years with Rangakarmee elude my memory; I was so young in 1987 when Usha di needed a child for a play. Since then, I’ve watched every rehearsal, sitting in her lap. Now I’m 37, soon to be 38, I can’t imagine life without this, this urgency to be here. I’m honing my percussion skills, dreaming of showcasing them in a Rangakarmee musical someday.
In ‘Chandalika,’ Usha Ma’am’s final monologue requires four instruments: Dhamsa, Nagara, Bangla Dhol, and Dhol. I play them all, even managing two sticks in my mouth!
I feel like I was born to another family, but I found my true family here at Rangakarmee.”
A Total Theatre volunteer who makes the best laal cha and is always the first to open the door and the last to close the door of the space.
“I have been affiliated with the theatre company longer than I can remember. I have been involved in the construction of sets, transport and assembly of the sets, assisting in costumes, you name it. Once, a group needed a dead body on stage, I did even that!
Since 2008, the space has become like a second home where I make sure all the boys and girls, actors and guests leave with a smile and a cup of tea. One may say that my job isn’t easy but when you love the people and the place it always spills into the work.
“At RST, I feel like they have defined what is learning and unlearning for me, for life.” – Shubham (23)
On my way back home, it occurred to me that the space is gradually acquiring a distinct consciousness, emerging as an entity shaped by the collective input of its contributors. As a Calcutta resident myself, I can only hope that more people contribute to and benefit from this edifice. It may have been the brainchild of one individual, but it sustains through the efforts and care of many, and it belongs to all.