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Curtain call

Nag had lost all her teeth and dislocated her jaw in the accident ("I had to learn to speak all over again") and had to find her way through a maze of paperwork and loans to gain full ownership of the 10 acre of land on which her farmhouse stood. As she had a lot on her plate, she felt Kaavya would be better off in the residential section of her Bengaluru school. It was a decision that also involved a lot of self-flagellation and brooding. “I worried about what people would say,” she says wryly. “Then Kaavya asked me, ‘Amma, since when did you start caring about what people say?’” Her daughter’s words fortified her decision. Kaavya moved to the hostel soon after, but not without leaving a sudden vacuum in Nag’s life.

“It took death and departure for me to find myself,” says Nag. At first, she felt rudderless. “Then, I had an epiphany. I thought to myself, ‘Does your life depend solely on who is in it? Do you not do things because you want to? Where is your self-respect?’” No wonder her sister, Padmavathy Rao, also an actress and director, remarks: “She has tremendous spirit. She has been an inspiration to me, teaching me to take life in my stride with all its challenges.” Filmmaker M S Sathyu, who directed Nag's first production in Hindi too holds her in high regard: "She is a very dedicated theatre actor and one of the few who can act in many languages."

In 1999, with her property issues resolved and her health fully improved, Nag began to work on her dream to set up a theatre space in Bengaluru. “The last sentence Shankar and I shared was about theatre and my first act of sanity after his death was theatre,” she says. Two years after Shankar’s death, she set up the Sanket Trust with fellow thespians like Girish Karnad and M S Sathyu. After several visits to the chief minister’s office, the trust was allotted a plot of land on a 30-year lease. “From then on,” says Nag, “I began collecting money from anybody I was able to convince.”

Ranga Shankara finally opened in 2004, in memory of Shankar Nag, built in J P Nagar, a residential area in South Bengaluru. The facility is used exclusively for theatre and now mirrors Bengaluru’s cosmopolitan culture in terms of both content and audience, staging a play six days a week. It also holds its own productions and varied theatre activities. Over half the 60,000 children who have watched plays here have been from government schools and underprivileged backgrounds, fulfilling Shankar’s and her dream of making theatre accessible to all. Collaborations, like the one with Germany’s Schnawwl Theatre, offer inter-cultural theatre for children and young adults. Her life’s dream is fulfilled, but she has no time to sit back. She plans to replicate Ranga Shankara in other parts of Bengaluru.

The year 2010 has been special for Nag in more ways than one. She has just finished acting in the 50th performance of the play Bikre Bimb, the Hindi version of Girish Karnad’s Heaps of Broken Images. Before that, she won a Best Supporting Actress award for her role in Paa. And she was awarded the Padmashri. On the personal front, Kaavya, a wildlife conservationist, is now married and lives in Mumbai. Nag says one of the reasons her life is “so full” is that she has “kept all her doors and windows open”. She has no regrets and counts neither victories nor failures: "It's my sahaj vrithi, my particular earth that has made me so resilient." She will undoubtedly navigate old age with equally grace. As she says: “Just be happy with what you have and nurture it. Take losses in your stride. Don’t let anything break you.”

Nag's milestones

2005: Karnataka state Best Supporting Actress award for Kannada film Jogi
2006: Citizen Extraordinaire and Corporate Citizen Award from Rotary Club of Bangalore
2008: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award
2010: Star Screen Best Supporting Actress Award for Paa
2010: Nominated for Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award for Paa
2010: Awarded Padmashri

Featured in Harmony Magazine
August 2010

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