Mangalore : Meet Benna - Minna: Rare Couple in Konkani Theatre
Daijiworld Media Network
Mangalore, Aug 13: For Benedict Miranda, popularly known as Benna Ruzai to Konkani theatre lovers, writing plays and performing them is like a child’s play. For nearly five decades Benedict Miranda worked in Konkani theatre untiringly leaving an indelible mark with his plays that bear his distinct stamp of exclusivity. The last play he wrote was almost 12 years back but it does not mean Benna is out of the minds of Konkani theatre lovers. Far from it, his plays are staged even now by many Konkani artistes suggesting that these plays are relevant even after 3 or 4 decades. That is why Benna is always ‘a cut above the rest’, and his oeuvre in Konkani as ensured him a permanent place in Konkani literature and theatre.
All those Konkani theatre lovers grown on the staple diet of enjoying his plays and seeing him act can once more to enjoy his play “Misther” which is all set for another stage performance on August 15, 2012 at Don Bosco Hall, Mangalore at 5.45 pm. The play is presented by Karavali Konkans ® Mangalore directed by Dolla Mangalore. On this occasion Benna Ruzai will be presented with the second “Karavali Konkan Kala Prashasti” instituted by Karavali Konkans in recognition of his yeoman’s contributions to Konkani literature and theatre.
At 67 Benna is resigned to the fact that writing plays is useless especially at a time when people have no time to come to halls even if the play is above average. “Now we have reached a stage in Konkani theatre where there is no guarantee that the even money spent on papers for writing plays can be recovered. So we hardly find people who write plays unlike the good old days when there were lot of Konkani play and drama writers”, he says with a twinge of sadness, his voice almost suffocating in a whirlpool of emotions.
Benna Ruzai has accepted this changed reality without feeling dejected or desolated. Instead he says “I have the satisfaction of at least seeing my dramas being staged even now. It shows that the themes which I wrote a few decades ago are still relevant. I fell that is the greatest compliment anybody can pay to a writer”.
Talking about Benna’s contribution well known Konkani writer Cyril G Sequeira (CGS Thakode) says “Benna is a complete artiste who is well versed in various aspects of plays be it writing or acting. Being an actor he was always in a better position to come out with sensitive themes for his plays. Above all he is a good human being having a great concern for the society around him. When it comes to helping people in need he is always in the forefront”.
His tryst with writing Konknai plays began by a quirk of fate though he was performing on stage some insignificant roles from the age 15. A chance opportunity in 1963 to play a major role in a play staged at the Rosario church after the main protagonist walked out due to differences on the penultimate day sealed him a permanent place in Konkani theatre as an actor. Benna has acted in most of the plays of such stalwart Konkani writers like Gabbu Urwa, VJP Saldanha, A T Lobo, J S Alvares and many others.
Another well known Konkani writer Dolphy Cascia speaks highly about the multifaceted personality of Benna. Dolphy minces no words when he says “he is a versatile actor and remembering dialogues was Benna’s strong point because he never relied on prompting at any time. Though many consider his to be a revolutionary writer I personally feel he was tackling contemporary issues in his plays”. Dolphy also recalls the 7 roles Benna had played in A T Lobo’s play “Pahilwan Pandith” and says he marveled by his capacity to don those roles with suitable dialogue delivery for each of the 7 roles. “He did justification to all the roles with aplomb and for me he is the best Konkani actor-writer I have come across”, Dolphy declares.
A Fruitful Challenge
His initiation into writing Konkani plays was also by providence, if one can say so. Benna and his friends were watching a play “niscalpan” staged in Rosario Church and having inspired by the play Benna told his friends he too feels like writing a Konkani play. One of his friends took it as a joke and put a bet for a bottle of fenny which made Benna take up the challenge with utmost seriousness. May be that was the kind of trigger point needed for Benna to sit with a pen and paper and lo he came out with his first social play “Hanv Khunigar Nahin” (I am not a murderer) which was first staged in 1967. That was just the kind of inspiration Benna wanted to get started.
It is another matter that Benna lost the script of his first play in very funny circumstances. As his first play proved to be a hit Benna had ordered 30 plates of meat and bread for the artistes to enjoy and make merry soon after the stage play. They partied till late night/early morning and Benna realized he had left his script book on the stage. When he went to the stage next day early morning he could see pages of his book scattered here and there only to realize that in the party mood his artistes had used every page of his diary for eating the meat he had ordered to celebrate the success of the drama.
The success of the first play was just the beginning as it succeeded in striking a chord with people and from then onward Benna wrote 4 more social plays which were received very well by theatre lovers. In 1988 he made a paradigm shift of writing religious plays which were equally well received by the audience. Benna considers late Gabbu Urwa (Gabriel D Souza) as his Guru because it was Gabbu who helped him reduce his six hour long first religious drama “Ankwar Mariyechi Katha (story of mother Mary) to make it suitable for stage play.
Gabbu also gave lead role to Benna in most of his stage plays. “As the drama was too long I went to Gabbu who helped by guiding me to make it into normal 3 hour play. I consider him as my guru, my friend, guide and philosopher who supported me in all my endeavors”, says a grateful Benna.
Most Konkani artistes identify Benna with Minna (original name Theresa Miranda) his actor wife, and is generally accepted that together they have enriched Konkani theatre in a big way. It was their mutual love for theatre that brought Benna and Minna together which ended up in matrimony in 1970. Benna recalls: “we were acting together in a play named “Devmsar Nadtha” written by Gabbu Urwa. I enacted the role of Kasmir and Minna acted as Anne in a comedy role and love blossomed from then on to end in holy matrimony”. Minna is also actor in her own right and is quite popular and together this couple has taken Konkani theatre to greater heights.
Triumph over troubles
The couple was beset by many personal problems from 2003 onwards particularly with regard to Minna’s health. She was diagnosed well in time for breast cancer in 2003 and in 2010 she underwent open heart surgery at Narayana Hrudayalaya in Banglaore. Minna was supposed to undergo only angioplasty but doctors had observed a few clots just above her chest which would have endangered her life leaving them the only option of open heart surgery.
The couple is grateful to Konkani people for helping them in their hour of need especially when financial help was needed for the open heart surgery of Minna. Benna had had only Rs 11,000/- with him and the surgery needed Rs. 2.60 lakhs. Doctors said he can some more time to arrange funds. Benna was in a fix and on the suggestions of his friends he decided to stage the play “Mother Tereasa” to raise funds for the operation. He also sent personal letters to nearly 200 Konkani people spread across the globe asking their help. Konkani theatre lovers who knew Benna and Minna did not hesitate to come to their help. About Rs. 6.80 lakhs was collected through the contributions of people out of which Benna has spent about 3 lakhs on staging the play. He had some money left with him which was again spent on Minna when she aggravated her wound leading to gangrene recently.
Benna voice is filled with gratitude when he recalls the timely help given to his wife. “It is because of the generosity of the Konkani people I got my Minna back”, he says with a choked voice.
Benna had established Benar Kala Kutam in 1982 and organized 7 nites under the banner including the Meena Nite where Meena was awarded the title of “Konkan Maina”. More than 15 plays have been produced under the Benar banner. Benna has also tried his hand in journalism and was the Associate Editor of “Mai Gamv” for two years. Apart from plays he has written humorous skits and poetry, which mirrors the multitalented personality he is. Benna has been felicitated with many awards from various organizations from time to time recognizing his contribution to Konkani theatre.
Benna who was working as Manager in a tile factor has retired and is devoting his time in the service of the needy. But he works from home by filing sales assessment for a committed group of clients. “I don’t have many needs because we are only two and it is like “Hamv thaka the maka”, he says in chaste Konkani.