On any given afternoon, Nagarthpete is where the term`street theatre’ gets a new twist. School children rush offstage. Cows wander in from the right. Heroes in tight t-shirts lounge indolently while Marwari housewives argue on cue with vegetable vendors in fluent Tamil. Seated on a chair outside his shop, Sri Bharathamatha Theatricals, BJ Srinivas and a few celestial beings make up the fascinated audience.
The gilt covered Gods and Goddesses watch the show indulgently. The mythic spheres they inhabit, replete with metaphysical disruptions and equally unusual occurrences are perhaps just as exciting. We have become masters of the public spectacle, political, social, civic or otherwise. Bharathamatha Theatricals swings the people of India from farce to tragedy daily, while the world watches us, stupefied.
But Srinivas is no newcomer to the scene. Established in 1915 by his grandfather Sri B Nagappa (who peers down from high up on the wall), the shop plays a backstage role in the successful maintenance of the grand cosmic balance. It not only manufactures and supplies Gods and Goddesses to temples in the city, but also transports them inter-state to Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra and Tamil Nadu. The price for divine intervention is anywhere between Rs.10,000 – 65,000. But instead of super fast celestial chariots, mythical birds and other traditional vahanas, the 8mm thick, painted paperboard deities now make their way from godown to garbagriha in a lorry.
The market has remained constant over the years, he says, with orders continuing to arrive from temples in and around Bangalore. At this point, his narrative is broken by a curious friend who wants to be photographed against a backdrop of shop shelves lined with shiny crowns, Mysore pettas and other parapanelia. Picture taken, we continue to chat on the sidewalk flanked by noisy traffic on one side and disembodied Gods eavesdropping on the other. On the street, an angry ensemble of cycle bells and scooter horns asserts itself. They are stuck behind the villain of the piece, a car that has forgotten the explicit stage directions saying `one way’.
Handed down to Sri BN Janardhana, Srinivas’ father, the family business also supplied quaint elephant horns, turbans and costumes to various institutions including the Yakshagana Mandali. Rare and unusual finds were sent to the Veerendra Hegde Museum in Dharmasthala. Over time, the company branched out to produce elaborate theatre backdrops and wedding mantapas. Once made from cloth, these are now fashioned out of plywood and would fit perfectly into a Surabhi Theatres production or a pre-modern Kannada play.
But once a year, the little shop located near the Dharmarayaswamy Temple, stars in the most exciting big ticket show on the road. Bangalore’s largest civic performance and city festival, the Karaga Shaktiyothsava. Srinivas says delightedly that this is where the jasmine clad Karaga bearer stops for a puja before heading out for the famous all night round of the Pete. He invites me to watch it from this vantage point next April. I accept. The Pete opens its arms wide when you approach it on foot.
The key players on the street have sorted out their lines and the car now heads off in the right direction. The show is over. The audience moves on. The scene shifts and rearranges itself. The signal changes at the Town Hall junction, releasing a new rush of cars and scooters into the area. Evidently, the script doesn’t change much on this side of the erstwhile Pete-Cantonment divide.
Find it at : No 48/1, N.S.T Complex, Nagarthpete, Bangalore 560002.Ph: 080 22243211