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Heggodu: Where ‘Shakespeare’ is a Language

“Have more than thou showest, Speak less than thou knowest, Lend less than thou owest”. Can you ever imagine discussing this quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear with someone who sells fruits, tea or owns a grocery store in India? No, right? Miracles do happen and you should keep your eyes open when you experience such things in life.

Source: Ninasam

Literature has always been a form of expressing someone’s thought through stories, films, plays etc. But finding it where you least expect people to know about plays and playwrights, can turn out to be something beautiful.

There exists a haven for literary scholars and enthusiasts. It is a village and literary wonder nestled away in the northern part of Karnataka. So, let’s embark on a literary journey in Heggodu and know more about India’s relationship with Literature.

A thread between people and classic literary works

Source: Ninasam

How does a village with a population less than 1000 have so much knowledge about classic plays and their playwrights? How does Heggodu boast of a library housing films and plays from all over the world? The answer to all your questions can be traced back to K.V Subbanna’s visionary theater company- Nilakanteshwara Natyaseva Samgha (Ninasam).

Ninasam was built in 1949 with a vision to bridge a gap between the village’s people and classic literary works. On its way to attain a legendary status among the local folks, this theater company became the backbone of a publishing house, travelling theater company, library, film society etc. It also organized workshops in the summer and film festivals.

It is fascinating to know that the journey of Ninasam not only helped people of the village understand the works of Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht or Leo Tolstoy, but also have a deeper appreciation for their works that have enthralled people for decades.

A rewrite of classic plays and films in Kannada

Source: Ninasam

The locals only understood Kannada and had trouble understanding foreign literature. In order to remove the language barrier and bridge the gap between Urban and Rural Karnataka, Subbana would re-write plays and films from different languages into Kannada. He even published them at the publishing house of Akshara Prakashana. Since, there was no subtitles back then, he would translate every scene for the audience.

If you spend a few days in the Village, the morning will pass away in discussions about various plays, films and evenings with theater performances. These events range from classical music, dance or drama. Because of this, people living in the village have got a chance to understand and grow a liking for the works of writers such as Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, Bernard Shaw and Girish Karnad.

Children here are trained for participating in Yakshagana performances. Yakshagana is a form of folk theater that includes a combination of music, dance, costumes and dialogues. These performances are traditionally showcased from morning till evening. This form of art is usually found in the coastal districts of Karnataka.

The love for art is so immense in Heggodu that you will see people stop to look at notice boards to see the upcoming performances at the theater complex. Villagers dressed in their best attires along with their family watch these events in awe. It is uncommon to find such a respectful audience because they show their emotions in scenes that require it otherwise do not participate in loud talks during the show.

The extraordinary blend of literature and theater

Source: Ninasam

This place is not just a village, it is an extraordinary world of literature and theater. You will not find scholars or people dressed up in costumes walking around, but shop owners and chai wallahs who are passionate about literature and love talking about playwrights and their plays.

It will paint a happy picture when you notice that these people not only work but take time out to enjoy and participate in different art forms. Visit Heggodu not for its cultural history but for the soulful performances that bridge the gap between the literary and the real world.

Curated by Ruchit Rastogi