The Bay Area is home to one of the largest Indian American communities in the country—and, as it happens, one of the largest amateur Indian American theater companies. Naatak—which means theater, or drama, in Hindi—is about to stage its 100th production.
In this COVID-era world, where small arts organizations continue to struggle, it’s worth taking a moment to note the remarkable resiliency of a theater troupe launched by a couple of college students back in 1996. One of them was Sujit Saraf, who is still today the artistic director of Naatak.
“A close friend of mine and I were doing our Ph.D.s at Berkeley and Stanford. We had done a fair amount of theater as undergraduates in India, in Delhi. We thought it would be wonderful to recreate those days,” he says at a recent rehearsal in the modest warehouse space the theater rents in Santa Clara. “And we held an audition, and the first audition was held in my dorm at U.C. Berkeley.”
27 years later, Naatak is still going strong—as a volunteer operation. There’s nobody on payroll. Ticket sales go to covering costs.
“I run a little software development company. I do this [Naatak] in my off hours,” says Saraf. “I’m a techie, I’m an engineer, like, I would say, 90% of Nataak members and perhaps even 80% of Naatak’s audience.”