All the World’s a Stage: An Interview With a Theater Personality

Rammohan Holagundi is one man who has donned many roles in his lifetime. Teacher, playwright, director, actor, social activist – he has done it all. A gold medalist in theatre from the Central University of Hyderabad, he is a theatre artist with a enthusiasm that is unmatched by any other.

His love for theatre began at a very early age when he started acting in plays in school. He always wanted to do his bit for the society and with theatre he found his conduit. After coming in contact with the children living in and around the slums of Old City in Hyderabad, he founded the Koshish theatre group and began his fight in earnest.

He has written and performed countless street plays about the girl child, environment conservation, child labor, water harvesting, national integration, communal harmony, family planning and AIDS. As a teacher in schools like Aurobindo, Hillside Academy and Delhi Public School among others, he teaches how theatre can be useful in real life and how one can use theatre to relax and concentrate. He has worked with juvenile delinquents from the Juvenile Home in Chanchalguda, Hyderabad with positive results.

Ask him where he draws his inspiration from and he quips, “Life imitates art and art imitates life. Life, people, society – these are my inspiration.” As a passionate artist, he loves painting in his spare time and uses these as props in his plays.

He also founded the Nishumbita Ballet and Theatre group in 1995 to promote dance and theatre among the youth. The first production of the group was Lithuania, an English play written by Rupert Brooke in the year 1996. This was followed by plays like Srushti Ke Aakhri Aadmi, a Hindi play written by Dharamveer Bharathi; Amballabanda, a Telugu play; Apahij, a Hindi play and Kaat Ka Ghoda, a Hindi play. He is equally adept at staging humorous plays like Ulat Pher, The Pie and the Tart and Pothe Poni. He has taken his team of students to various national and international theatre festivals and won many accolades for the same.

He has been felicitated by the likes of the veteran Telugu film star Akkineni Nageshwara Rao, noted director Shyam Benegal and former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu. He has won numerous Best Director awards and has also won the Best Actor award for the year 2004-05 for his performance in the mime, Bheed Mein Akele at the International Theatre Festival at Cuttack. He was awarded the V. N. Shantaram award for best direction and the Natya Bhushan at the National Theatre Conference in Cuttack in October 2004 in recognition of his being an eminent theatre luminary and cultural personality.

Recognizing his contribution of using theatre as a medium of rehabilitation at Juvenile Homes, Home for Street Children and other NGO’s, he was awarded the Red and White Bravery Award for the year 2003 in the category – Acts of Social Courage by the then Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Shri Surjit Singh Barnala.

A very outgoing person who loves cracking jokes, he is more of a friend than a teacher and his method of teaching focuses more on the students and what they think than on what he wants them to think. He always encourages his students to think out of the box and is a favorite among parents and teachers alike.

Ask him what it is that keeps him going and pat comes the reply, “My love for theatre. Theatre is something that will never die. It has endured for ages and will endure for more generations to come. I use drama as my method of raising awareness and I do realize that people’s attitudes are not going to change very soon but that doesn’t mean I stop trying.”

He laments the “its India so anything goes” attitude and talks about his experiences in Finland, “People there have so much more civic sense. It might be 3 in the morning but people still stop at a traffic signal whereas here in India, people don’t stop even in broad daylight leave alone 3 in the morning. Change needs to come from within. Unless people make a conscious effort to change nothing can happen.”

An icon is a person who inspires and that’s what Ram Mohan Holagundi – an inspiration that one can follow one’s dreams and make a difference. I have had the privilege of being his student and it has touched my life in a very subtle yet strong manner. For me and many others like me he is not just a theatre person but an icon, mentor and more importantly a friend.

Ayesha Sruti Ahmed