(Last Updated on : 04/07/2012)
Women artists in Kannada theatre have played a major role towards making this form very popular in the state and across India. Just like Maharashtra
, and unlike West Bengal
, the modern Kannada theatre
particularly in its early period, avoided woman on the stage. The Kritapura Mandali, the Halasagi
Troupe, The Palace Company and the Ratnavali Troupe had impressive careers without including women-artists in their performances. Women, indeed, gave a natural tone to stage-plays. And they made the commercial purpose of the theatre better fulfilled. Many a troupe hurried to find women artists having good voices and brought dancing girls on the stage. Their examples, however, were unwelcome to the conservative section of the society, for it made the actor yield to immoral influences on the one hand, and prompted the audience to measure the worth of a play on false values.
Entry of Women in Kannada Theatre
From the early twenties of this century, there arose a controversy regarding the inclusion of women-artists in stage-plays. Individuals, institutions and the public took active interest in the controversy. The conservative section of theatre-goers opined that many an evidence revealed that a man would portray the woman's role with an ease and emphasis that could hardly be achieved by the self-conscious actress.
They said that only the morally loose women (professional dancing girls) with their single qualification of musical accomplishments volunteered to the stage, the temple of popular art, to render it impure with their bad ways, and that it was an irony that such women, morally so low, portrayed the great roles of Sita and Chandramati. They said finally that the drama itself was an illusion and if the man played the woman in it, it was a worthy part of that illusion; that the folk theatre in its representative modes like Yakshagana and Doddata had not entertained women artists had not suffered a whit in its impression on that account. Counter arguments were launched by the Progressive Section of spectators. They left the question of the artist's immorality to his own individual concern and considered the theatrical art itself in relation to this issue. To them it was only natural that women played women's roles.
Women In Mythological Roles in Kannada Theatre
Even the best of actors while portraying lofty roles like that of Sita
could at best express lust but not love. Only a woman could infuse a cheerful atmosphere all around, and put an end to the glaring expression of love-talk indulged in on the stage by the "male-females" and the resultant bad example set for the young boys and girls in the auditorium. The woman was to have her rightful place on the stage also, as she played a major role in all human activity. They pointed out the possibility of women taking part in ancient Sanskrit drama because of the creation of the role of Nati and the hint provided by Kalidasa
that great women-artists like Urvashi
played the roles of heroines. They spoke of the other regional theatres, particularly of Bengali theatre
which had made a great progress on account of its women-artists who uniformly maintained the dignity and high standards of Hindu ideals. Thus the controversy did considerable dust raising in the city of Mysore
The subject could have substantial arguments on both sides, but it was to a considerable extent true that many an illiterate and immoral woman had made her way on to the stage. Though she added considerable glamour to the stage, she had become instrumental in the fall of many a promising professional troupe both in North Karnataka and in Mysore. She could be easily lured by rival companies with a higher remuneration, and on such occasions, she seemed to have no scruples. For quite some time it were neither the merit of the play nor the dignity of showmanship that counted to make the play popular, but the number of girls that took part in it. Thus, if not for the sake of morality, for the preservation of the theatrical art itself, and in order to bring about a correct perspective of the theatre, the cry rightly went up to ban the woman from the stage.
Popular Women Artists in Kannada Theatre
The rational element of the argument expressed itself in the appeal for wives to act along with their husbands, an appeal for the educated men and women to take to the stage. The dawn of new reason brought its bright and warm light, and from the thirties of this century, many an example of an actor marrying an actress could be cited. The number of women-artists steadily increased on the professional stage and some of the talented artists like K. Aswathamma (Bharata Janollasini Sabha and later, Gubbi Company) Tripuramba (Gubbi Company), Lahshmibai (Sahitya Samrajya Nataka Mandali), M. V. Rajamma (Chandrakala Nataka Mandali of Peer ), B. Jayamma (Gubbi Company), Gangubai Guledgudd (Viswa Gunadarsha Mandali of Vamanarao Master), Ballari Lalita (Mitramandali of Hirannayya), Sundaramma (Chamundeshwari Company) added grace and charm to the professional stage by their exquisite performances. Apart from the women?s troupes as that of Lakshmeshwar (Stree Nataka Mandali) actresses like Gangubai Ouledgudda of North Karnataka, Nanjasani of Bengaluru
and Kamalamma and Lakshmasani of Mysore founded and led their own professional troupes. With the increase of the liberty of the individual in the field of art, as in other fields, the society gradually lost both the right and interest to question the artist of his or her morality and the controversy that raised a dust-storm in the twenties, no more existed after 1935.