Founded in 1949 by a small band of enthusiasts in the little village of Heggodu, Karnataka, Ninasam has, over these five decades, evolved into a many- winged cultural institution that has won wide recognition. It has been acclaimed as a unique experiment in fusing culture and activism, art practice and social commitment, individual creativity and collective responsibility. Originally begun as an amateur theatre group it has branched off in several directions and now enfolds a variety of sub-institutions and projects which are engaged in multifaceted activities. Its exploration of a new synthesis of formal and non-formal modes of arts education has been seen as a refreshing attempt at revivifying the vital links between the arts and the community. This endeavour of Ninasam to be a bridge between the microcosm of rural Karnataka and the macrocosm of the world at large has brought it many honours, one of the highest of which has been the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Creative Arts, Communication and Journalism, conferred on its co-founder and guiding spirit, Late. K.V. Subbanna, in 1991.
WINGS AND ACTIVITIES
The Ninasam family, at present, consists of the following bodies:
1. Ninasam Theatre troupe: Fondly called the the ‘Mother troupe’, this is a loosely formed amateur theatre group which has been putting up theatre productions regularly since its establishment in 1949.
2. Ninasam Theatre Institute: Begun in 1980 and recognized by the State Govt. of Karnataka, the institute offers a 10-month diploma certificate course in theatre arts which is roughly modelled on the three-year Bachelor’s Course offered by the National School of Drama, New Delhi. With an intake of about 15 students every year, the institute has so far turned out more than 500 trainees, a large majority of whom have engaged themselves full-time or part-time in Kannada theatre or other allied fields like journalism, socio-cultural activism, primary education, and now in the emerging field of television.
3. Ninasam Tirugata Theatre Repertory: Started in 1985, and composed mainly of the alumni of the Ninasam Theatre Institute, this is a wandering theatre troupe which takes 3 new productions to different parts of Karnataka every year. It has so far performed at more than 250 centres, most of them rural/semi-urban, and put up around 3,000 shows over these 23 years, reaching a total audience of about 19,00,000, a feat unmatched in the annals of Indian Theatre. With its judicious selection of plays and production styles, it has taken Indian as well as Western classics, old as well as modern masterworks to an unparalleled variety of audiences all over its home state.
4. Ninasam Film Society: One of the very few rural-based film societies in India, it has been the only such society to not only hold screenings of world film classics but also conduct every year, for an unbroken period of 15 years, a 10-day film appreciation course for the general public, in collaboration with the National Film and Television Institute of India, and the National Film Archive of India, both of Pune. It has also been the only film society to organize film festivals and film appreciation courses in about 50 different rural places in the state. It now conducts, on a regular basis, short-term film courses for college students and cultural bodies in their own locations. Besides, it has published a large number of books on films—all of them in Kannada—thus making a significant contribution to film studies in Karnataka.
5. Ninasam Prathishthana: A foundation established in 1991 with the sum of money that late K.V. Subbanna received as part of the Magsaysay Award and made over in its entirety to Ninasam, this wing has been holding short-term courses in literature, drama and theatre, and allied arts mainly for college students and members of cultural groups in various parts of the state. Around 15,000 persons have benefited from the 150 such courses held so far.
6. Ninasam Culture Course: A major event on the Ninasam annual calendar, this 7-day course combines academic sessions during day-sessions with a week-long cultural festival in the evenings. Every year, an average of 100 participants of a richly heterogeneous composition—teachers, students, social activists, artists, media persons, doctors, engineers, lawyers, farmers, shopkeepers, housewives and the like—attend the course where they have the rare opportunity of interacting with some of the best intellectuals and artists of contemporary India as well as watching some quality cultural programmes. Begun in early 1990s, the course has so far hosted about 600 resource persons, 500 performers, and 2,500 delegates.
In addition, Ninasam has also been conducting various medium- and short-term training courses and workshops, particularly in the field of theatre, film, literature, and culture. It has also lent its premises for the use of several local organizations engaged in socio-political work. Some of these activities are summer workshops for children, training camps for local self-government bodies, and environmental groups.