Due to the challenges posed by the pandemic, Mahalakshmi Ladies Drama Group has adapted to new challenges
The last few weeks has been hectic for the crew working on the sets of Brahmanda Nayagan – a divine journey with Tirupati Balaji. Camping at a mountain near Chengalpattu, the team has braved tough weather conditions to complete some of the major scenes of this film slated to be released on YouTube in mid-December.
This is Mahalakshmi Ladies Drama Group’s second production for cyberspace. Their first, Endaro Mahanubhavulu, was released in February this year and won rave reviews.
“We had 3.3 lakh viewers watch the film on our YouTube channel, which was a big boost for us,” says actor and founder Gnanam Balasubramanian, well-known as Bombay Gnanam.
For all those uninitiated, this is one of the oldest drama groups in the city with an all-women ensemble. Started in 1989, the group carved a niche for itself on account of its unique methodology. Its shows are not ticketed and is open to all. It does not have a fixed number of actors and any woman, irrespective of age and skill, who wants to try out her acting skills can be part of its productions that are largely focused on social subjects. From 2014, the theatre group broadened its focus to cover spiritual drama.
“In pre-COVID days, we would do at least 35 rehearsals before staging a play in any of the sabhas. As our artistes are a floating crowd, a majority being homemakers, it needed such practice and I am glad we were able to bring many women on stage. Some showed their talent through screenplay and direction,” says Gnanam.
Homemaker Kamala Easwaran, who has been associated with the theatre group for the last 18 years, says the platform gave wings to the dreams of many women. “I had no experience when I joined the group but learning from an all-women group helped shed inhibitions,” says Kamala, who is in her 70s. As part of the group’s shows she has travelled to Kolkata and Singapore.
The pandemic has marked a tough period for the theatre group that has been forced to adapt to new challenges. “Our YouTube channel, launched in 2019, became a platform to connect with theatre lovers across geographies and we started becoming more tech-savvy,” says Bombay Gnanam, who has acted in films and serials.
The group made a big shift by including male artistes in its production. “Unlike performing on stage, where there is a gap of 15 to 20 feet from the audience, we noticed that for certain male roles the camera is easily able to identify that it a female who is playing the character. As it did not suit the digital platform, we now have male artistes also playing various roles,” says Gnanam.
In Tirupati Balaji, which is about the life story of Lord Balaji, there are 86 characters and a majority are men. The group is also looking for new avenues to raise funds.
“At sabhas, we had a collection box for people to donate anything they wished to. Other operational expense like paying for a hall and for visits abroad were taken care of through sponsorship,” says Gnanam.
She says that though their artistes are volunteers not expecting any money they have other operational expenses to meet.
When do they plan to come back to the stage? “Till April 2022, we are clear we will continue this way after which we will need to take a call,” she says. That is an important decision as prior to the pandemic, their shows at sabhas drew a house full of audience.
“We don’t want to take a chance in these times.”