Dr. Chandrasekharam, the Actor-educator

( Published in Educational India in October 1965 )   

The place of drama in education is unique. Like any other art, it has a cleansing and therapeutic effect on human experience. It leads the growing mind of child towards the appreciation of a true and full humanity. Action in itself is superb education. It drives home, any point, well done, in such a manner that no other means of communication surpasses it. Every good teacher must necessarily be an actor, great or small. It is his sincere desire to express what he feels when he reads out, be it a passage of science or art, through correct sounds and proper gestures that makes him a good communicator of knowledge-in other words-a true teacher. And it is the same desire of man to understand others that imitate that makes the pupils understand the teaching of their master" observed Dr. Chandrasekharam, the famous Actor- educator, the other day, when he conducted the Drama Education Week at Machilipatnam. I as an educator of ten years' standing, as a teacher of Shakespeare and Shaw, as a critic of drama and the stage, and as a Master of Arts and literature, fully agree with the sentiments expressed by the outstanding mono-actor, Chandra­sekharam. It has been my good fortune to come in close contact with this interesting man with many-faces as well as with many ideas too, for the past five years, more so for past few months. Though to the world he is a Mono-actor, Make-up Artist, Quick-change Expert, Play­wright, and a Play-producer, he is a scholar inspite of his meagre high school education, a practical philosopher, and a true follower of the path of the Geeta, though he lacks the traditional stamp of a man of religion upon him, and a true humanitarian with - out accompanying show of a modern humanist. it is in itself an education to be in the company of Dr. Chandrasekharam, and I am very glad to say that my contact with him has enriched me more than I can express.

     Dr. Chandrasekharam is essentially an actor. He honestly believes in the words of Shakespeare that all the world is a stage and that men and women are merely players and he, one man in his time, for he is 61 now, did play many parts, figuratively as well as literally. His changing of disguises in 2 or 3 minutes, with the available make-up material on the stage speaks much to his creative imagination and his remarkable power of personation. His 60 make-up photographs as Nehru, Tagore, Shaw, Aurobindo, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Thayagaraja, Christ, Prakasam, Lincoln, and so on, which were exhibited in connection with the Drama Festival, along with the very useful books on stage and drama and the valuable paper cuttings, old and new, and a series of photograph-reproductions which trace out the history of the stage through the ages, speak volumes of Dr. Chandrasekharam's genuine service to the stage. When young boys from schools and colleges approach him, hesitatingly, and request him to teach them acting, Chandrasekharam smiles the broad smile of a simple man with a plain heart, pulling their legs for a while, and says, "Who am I to teach acting to you?   It is within you, and when God made you he made you an actor too!" This philosophizing naturally embarrasses the youngster, because in these days of formal education our boys and girls cannot realize the importance of informal education. To them learning anything, merely means getting by rote the got-up answers of their school master. Chandrasekharam further tries to clarify himself by saying, "Several of us, due to several reasons, murder the actor in us, just as we murder the child in us, you will become an actor also for all children love acting." He next pats acceptingly on the shoulders of his new find and soon he has an honest follower. In this manner, though Chandrasekharam is not a teacher in the traditional sense, he has his pupils all over the country from all ranks and walks of life, from students, teachers, lawyers, clerks and officers.

       Dr.Chandrasekharam believes in education through entertainment. In fact Drama is education through entertainment, education not for a set of students who take an examination and forget what little they pretend to learn, but it is education for the community. That is why he argues that the theatre should go to the audience, and not the audience to the theatre. His Simple Travelling Theatre and the activities of Sri Sakuntala Drama Academy, the head-quarters of which is at Madras, are standing examples of his theory being put into practice quite successfully. His aim has been to create a National Theatre for India. With a little of paint and a few properties with him, he and his small party of enthusiasts walk directly into a colony of workers, into drudgery-ridden offices and banks, and into argumentative law-courts and provide the cramped minds there with fun and frolic artistically peppered with mild and un-harmful satire so that they become human and laugh at their own follies! The celebrated C.R. described this as "rendering great service to the community.

       Dr. Chandrasekharam’s contribution is not limited to one aspect of the stage. Space prevents me from getting into further details about the varied interests of Sri Chandrasekharam. But to put it in one word, he is a true man-of-the stage.

      At this age of 61, Chandrasekharam is naturally anxious that all that he did for the community must be recognized and find a place not only in the hearts of men but in the form of an institution. He approached institutions and individuals as well as governments, but to no purpose. I am not surprised at this, because Chandrasekharam does not belong to our generation. He is far ahead of us. As Gandhiji put it, we are politically free but it will take several years for us to be culturally and economically free. Men like Chandrasekharam, I am sure, belong to India of such freedom. It is high time that the Indian Theatre Institute recognizes the constructive work that Dr. Chandrasekharam is doing and help establishing his work on a permanent and useful basis so that the community at large will be benefited.