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Artistes’ cradle in tatters

- Legal tangle, Phailin hit theatre revival in Puri & Cuttack
The dilapidated stage of Annapurna theatre in Puri. Picture by Sarat Patra

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 21: Legal tangle and reluctance to carry forward the state’s theatre legacy had prepared its deathbed, Phailin struck the final blow.

The Annapurna theatre institutions, the foundation on which modern theatre in Odisha flourished, are languishing in dire straits. The Annapurna A in Puri and the Annapurna B in Cuttack, which have been the cradle of some of the best actors and dancers of the state, are now struggling for survival. And after Phailin, the weak structure has fallen into ruins.

But, the state government pleads helpless as it cannot interfere in the revival of the buildings since both are entangled in legal issues. “We had sanctioned funds for renovation and preservation of both the institutions. As both are involved in legal issues, we cannot interfere,” said culture minister Maheswar Mohanty.

The Annapurna in Puri was set up with the help of the then king of Keonjhar on a land that belongs to the Jagannath temple of Puri and was a part of Uttarparswa Matha. The organisation got registered in 1960, but over the years, new artistes did not join in large numbers and the troupe slowly died down.

In 1989, the state government renovated the theatre and increased the number of seats apart from repairing the stage. But, the artistes could not properly take care of the administration. Hence, the district collector was appointed as the chairman and the district culture officer as the secretary. In 2003, some more repair works were conducted on a small scale, said Puri district culture officer Prafulla Samantray.

“We used to host at least one play a month staged by local amateur troupes. But after the storm, most of the portions have collapsed. Also, a case between the matha and the Jagannath temple administration is going on in Orissa High Court regarding the land. Hence, the culture department cannot take any action of conducting repairs,” said Samantray.

The Annapurna B was formed in 1942-43 in Cuttack by Lingaraj Nanda after a fall out among some artistes from the parent Annapurna group. With its origin in Puri, it was extremely popular throughout the state. But when the artistes grew old, there were not enough young performers to carry forward the legacy. About four years ago, the theatre was almost shut and its auditorium used only for local programmes. But, a few amateur groups are now staging their shows once in a while.

However, the infrastructure is in a shambles. Now, the leaseholders of the land, where the theatre stands, have filed petitions to get it converted to freehold land. “The centres had turned into cultural hub of the state. Talents from all over the state used to gather here. But, they are deteriorating,” said actor Ramachandra Pratihari. “I feel that the state government could have taken ownership and saved them,” he said.

From actors such as Ramachandra Pratihari, Bhanumati Devi, Durlabh Chandra Singh, Nityanada Das to Byomakesh Tripathy, Dukhiram Swain and the founder gurus of Odissi, Pankaj Charan Das, Debaprasad Das and Kelucharan Mohapatra — Annapurna A was the alma mater of the legendary artistes of the state.

Similarly, Annapurna B moulded artistes such as Kelucharan Mohapatra and actors such as Samuel Sahu (Babi), Hemant Das and many more.

“In 1933, Somnath Das, a pioneer in theatre, founded Annapurna in Puri. But initially, as was the demand of the audience, only mythological plays used to be staged. Bauri Bandhu Mohanty of the troupe introduced the concept of social plays in 1935 — which was a sea change in the theatre scenario in Odisha,” said Samantray.


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