Few people are as equipped to talk about the city’s art & culture scene than actor, dramatist, and managing director of Margadarsi, Shankar Melkote.
On a cloudy afternoon, we are sitting in an unmarked cabin on the top floor of the Eenadu office “I am the first occupant of this cabin. I’ve been here for 32 years. They installed this to drive me out but I’ve persisted,” says Shankar Melkote laughingly pointing to the fire drill that now adorns his wall.
In person, he is much like the characters he plays on screen — affable, funny and charming. But of course, so much more. He’s a voracious reader, a connoisseur of contemporary Indian art and a worshipper of Hindustani classical music among many others. But most recently, he is the first recipient of the Kalakriti Award for Achievement and Excellence.
“In the citation for the award, they’ve said that this was for achievement of excellence in theatre,music literature and fine arts, which have been my involvements. My initial spontaneous reaction was that on the spur of the moment, I can think of 20 other people in Hyderabad more deserving of the award. But they said, we’ve not come to ask, we’ve come to tell you,” he says, with his trademark laugh.
Melkote can choose to be modest and self-effacing but his contribution, particularly to theatre can hardly be overstated. As a part of the dramatics circle in Hyderabad, and then of Little Theatre, Melkote started the tradition of dramatised readings in the city. “About 15 years ago, we found that conventional theatre was not within our resources. In the sense that to mount a production, you needed money. But my group of friends, felt that at our age, it was right to pass the hat around. So we thought of the alternative — dramatised readings. Also, play scripts were limited in number and as socially and politically people we felt that, we could in dramatic readings, address many issues confronting the society we lived in,than confining ourselves to making English language plays,” he explains, before adding, “We started by reading in drawing rooms and on the lawns of our friends’ houses, to audiences that were 15-20 in number to a point in time when we read to 550 students in IIT Chennai.”
So is he happy with the art and culture scene in Hyderabad? “We are a little, but not far behind other cities. In fact, I think it’s an exciting time to be in this space. There is a lot happening in art and theatre in the city. And of course, Andhra Pradesh has always been crazy about films.”
Speaking of, how does he find the jarring contrast between the highly cerebral tone of theatre and the mindless farce of Telugu films, he says, “Unfortu-nately, the revolution which swept Bollywood has not come here. But it has to come. The paying public is not a fool. How long can you keep on thrusting hero-centered formulaic films down their throat? There has to come a time when they will not accept it anymore. The off-beat, small-budget, screenplay driven films are doing well.”
More than anything else, Melkote believes he’s a very lucky man. “In the field of dramatised readings, I have started something that has caught on which proves my initial hunch that there would be an audience for this activity. I’ve been lucky in films because I do short roles. I can’t afford to because I still have a job.”
Due to his unconventional looks, proficiency in English and a unique diction in Telugu, he is a novelty for the Telugu audiences with close to 200 movies to his name. He is often mistaken for a foreigner but he is quick to assert that this is where he belongs. “I could have settled anywhere. But this is the city I was born in, this is where I’ll die. I love this city, its people, its soil. To me, it’s the greatest place of all.”