The KPAC ‘camp’ is a cluster of rambling structures of the old jostling for space with its modern concrete counterparts, but still manages to retain that quaint charm of the past six decades in between them. As you travel along the National Highway towards Thiruvanathapuram, almost two kilometers past Kayamkulam, it stands, almost reflecting this defiance of the era that it ruled supreme. Though it had always been a short ride from my home, it is only now, at a place in time where you learn to appreciate and honor the cultural movements that shaped our current explorations in art , that the gravitas of this humble group of buildings finally dawn upon me. Most of which is beyond the low attention threshold of the wired generation. But even KPAC is trying to find a fair balance between sepia and state-of-the-art, and the strain is showing. It is painful at most.
This old, humble dwelling was once the ‘soul-kitchen’ of KPAC. Used as the informal meeting place, the center of fiery discussions on political perspectives and aspirations, the rehearsal camp for the artists, it was the nerve center of what the outside world came to know as KPAC. It lies locked now, but the current secretary of KPAC, Adv A Shah Jahan is determined to revive this heritage building and convert it its past glory which would also double up as a museum that shares the history of the movement via the latest in audio-visual techniques. Hope that realises very soon. Its a story that needs to be told.
The current ride for the theater artistes to venues across the state is a far cry from the dilapidated, stripped down ‘miracle on 4 wheels’ that was first purchased by K Kesavan Potti. In his tribute to Potti Sir, KPAC Johnson recalls the mother of all vans that was their mode of transport in their early years, “The van for the artistes was Potti Sir’s contribution, bought off at a throwaway price from the local junkyard/garage dealer. The chassis came from Chevrolet, it had a Ford engine, four wheels from four different makers, lug-nuts scrounged from similar models, and wooden planks substituted for passenger seats. Only one person dared to be in the driver’s seat of this contraption than ran on the collective will of the artistes – Potti Sir.” The rising wave of popularity and social acceptance of the productions from KPAC would change all that, and that included the levels in comfort of its artistes and technicians who toiled backstage to make them. It was something that they truly deserved.
KPAC is on its 55th theater production now (2011), the latest Bhimasenan has even won the Kerala State Government’s Award for the Best Drama Production from the state. But nothing comes close to the charm of the faded, chipped information board in the makeshift ‘reception foyer’ in the complex, bearing down in the half-lit cavernous room on the inquisitive visitor. As one glances through the list, starting from the seminal “Ente Makananu Sheri” [ My Son is Right ! ], it is like you taking a journey that lasts a few seconds through six decades, leaving with an impression that lasts a lifetime.
Adv Shah Jahan‘s voice betray a tremor as he recounts the invaluable historical records lost due to shortage of space at the KPAC ‘office’ , as the same was stored in a room which accorded hardly any protection from the elements. Thankfully, when it comes to the KPAC library and the delightful collection of books, it is a historical treasure trove and kept under a close watch against possible agents of wear and tear. It is an indescribable feeling as you hold and thumb through Malayalam classics in literature, ( there is a substantial collection for the politically0minded too, if you get my drift ), and know that these pages once held court to those legends, the creative powerhouses of KPAC in their quest in seeking answers to conundrums that bugged them in their private domains of thought.
I excitedly check with the helpful Secretary whether the musical instruments belonged to the stalwarts – the Harmonium clearly has sat through a lot of live performances and the creation of a number of classics. He smiles and replies, “I cannot confirm ownership, but yes, they have sat through a lot of productions in experts’ hands.”
The tiny pantry that sits sandwiched between the Library room and the main foyer area is as sparse as it comes, with an old (when I say old, it means very old) BPL color television, gazing forlorn at the classics lined up in the next room under relevant category headings (all hand-written, mind you). The quaintness never ends. What clearly comes across, when you are amidst the dusty, aged archival walls is the warmth of the flame carried by every single person associated with the Club and its functioning in the present years. Though disheartened most of the times by a severe crunch in resources ( financial mostly), they still ensure that the spirit never wavers, the institution stands tall above all. The premise is as simple as it is profound. Even for a casual visitor in its environs.
Probably the most obvious indicator of the changing cultural landscape of Kerala and the huge ( and should I rather say undue ) influence of Television that has effected a worrying shift in the way an average Malayali views entertainment is seen on the Class Program Schedule on the foyer wall. The Board in itself is another answer to simple, practical ingenuity that is almost a hallmark with the movement. An old campaign poster turned over serves as the ‘White Board” and there is a new ‘item’ that has been added recently, along with Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi, Classical Vocal Training, Eastern Percussion and Western Violin class schedules – a new item called Cinematic Dance !
Truly, KPAC is looking ahead. Yet, the fundamentals that made it the fount of the world’s most powerful people’s theatre movement seemed to stay steadfast, along with its treasured archival spirit that spans six decades.
I hope it continues to stay that way.
[ From a visit to KPAC on 18 June 2011 ]