S Ve Can – An interview with S Ve Shekher

Pic: Nishanth Krish
The world of theatre in Chennai is incomplete without the mention of S Ve Shekher, who has donned several hats as an actor, playwright, director, television artiste and director. He gives a candid account of his work and his love for Chennai
During his school days, Sattanathapuram Venkataraman Shekhar, or S Ve Shekhar, as he is popularly known, would accompany his father for various theatre productions and provide special sound effects for his plays. His father S V Venkatraman directed the plays of Cho Ramaswamy . Growing up in such a culturally vibrant environment S Ve developed diverse interests early in life, one among them being photography .“I wanted to be a cinematographer. My father, who donned many female roles in plays, taught me photography but he was not in favour of me joining the film industry as he felt that it was a job with no permanent salary . I joined college but spent a lot of time watching films,“ he says. Encouraged by the success of a Singapore drama tour in 1974, S Ve formed his own troupe Natakapriya, which has produced 24 stage plays so far, having completed 6,200 shows.
S Ve believes that Chennai has a ready-made audience for theatre. “Back then, there was no television to keep you bound to your home.Entertainment was guided by four things -cinema, beach, park and drama. People actively took membership in various sabhas. Dramas would be staged on all weekdays and on a Sunday , there would be up to three shows in a sabha. Today , the audience has thinned considerably , with television having taken centrestage. Why move out of your home when with a remote you can have multiple options?“ Today , there are over 15 functioning sabhas. “Theatre productions are also more expensive today . Performance costs have gone up. No one can take drama as a full-time career. It has worked for a few like Crazy Mohan and myself. But after every show, more than 75 per cent of the earnings go into paying for the lights, mikes and orchestra,“ he says.
S Ve also had a successful stint on television. His 17-episode serial Venna Kolangal has been re-telecast over 10 times on TV . “I acted in the first TV serial for Chennai Doordarshan. But getting a slot in DD is like a lottery ticket. Payment is another issue. We have to understand that a bureaucrat cannot run an institution, guided purely by the rulebook. An artistic person needs to have a say when it comes to programme content,“ he says.
Currently , S Ve is a member of Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) and he feels an attitudinal change is required with respect to censors in India. “The board is there to certify and not censor. It should be done with a creator’s perspective not with that of a bureaucrat. Ultimately , we need to understand that if there are no films, the board also will have no work,“ he says.
As an artiste, S Ve believes that India is the best place to be in.“Where else can you experience such freedom? You can live anywhere and do what you want,“ says S Ve, who feels that an artiste needs to walk out before he is hit by saturation. “I am postponing my saturation by minimising the exposure. I would not want to be thrown out. Like Cho, I would like to do a successful play and walk out of the stage with pride.“
S Ve is a complete Mylapore product. “This is a syncretic and cosmopolitan place. You have temples, churches and mosques all within a small radius. It is a culturally rich place. Once you settle down here, you wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.“

(This was published in a special anniversary issue of The Times of India in April 2016)

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