Feast on regional theatre, thanks to Games

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Thursday, September 9, 2010

NEW DELHI - Theatre lovers should be happy with the Commonwealth Games. For, the mega event in October has yielded a rich bounty of regional theatre, children’s plays and awards to promote the language stage in Delhi.

The National School of Drama (NSD), for one, has organised a panorama of regional festivals and standalone plays around the Oct 3-14 event.

It will host its popular festivals for children - Jashne Bachpan and Bal Sangam - between Oct 4 and 15 as part of the cultural package for the Games. These are otherwise held in November.

At least 600 children from all over the country will stage their respective traditional theatres - in formats of dance and drama - at Bal Sangam while 27 theatre troupes will take part in Jashne Bachpan.

“We have invited one troupe each from Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan and Germany for the festival,” said NSD spokesperson A.K. Barua.

A new award for vernacular theatre has been announced by the LNJ Bhilwara Group in the capital this week to boost the fortunes of the language genres, otherwise threatened by television and Bollywood.

The Bhilwara Natya Puraskar announced Monday carries a purse of Rs.200,000 and Rs.100,000 for two outstanding plays scripted and staged in Hindi.

“We will award two plays from a list of three - ‘Chanakya’ (directed by Mumbai-based Manoj Joshi), ‘Main Rahi Masoom’ (directed by Bhaskar Shewalkar of Rangadhara) and ‘Ambedkar and Gandhi’ (directed by Amrit Gaur and produced by Asmita Theatre),” said chairman emeritus of LNJ Bhilwara Group L.N. Jhunjhunwala.

“The plays will be staged at Sri Ram Theatre in November,” said the theatre connoisseur.

A screening panel comprising Bansi Kaul and Suresh Sharma, associated with the NSD, shortlisted the three plays from a list of 100.

“The award will resuscitate the genre that has the potential to convey a powerful social message,” Jhunjhunwala said.

Bharat Gupta, an academic who has been associated with the capital’s Hindi stage for nearly four decades, said: “Theatre now needs more creative talent to cling on to our traditions and folk legacies in the deluge of globalisation.

“It must free itself from the influences of popular Bollywood culture.”

The annual northeast theatre festival from Sep 6 to 16 at the NSD has been timed keeping in view the Oct 3-14 Games.

“It showcases the rich diversity of stage tradition from the region. This year we are hosting the festival in Delhi as a prelude to the Commonwealth Games. We are planning another festival of northeastern regional theatre, Octave, in November,” NSD’s Barua said.

The panorama features contemporary language plays like “Guti Phulor Gamusa”, “Moirang Parva” and “Sita Haran Bali Badh” from the region.

Two stand-alone plays “The Little Big Tragedies” and “Begum ka Takiya” compensate for the lack of adult theatre in the NSD package, Barua said.

The Delhi government will present “Kaifi Aur Mein”, a play featuring Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar as part of the Delhi Celebrates cultural gala for the Games.

Former NSD director Mohan Maharishi told IANS: “A lot of good theatre is flourishing outside the NSD that should be recognised and regional repertory company artistes should be treated as professional actors.”

“I receive several calls from IIT and IIM students who seek my advice on the feasibility of joining the stage as professionals. But the industry is unorganised.”

He is currently rehearsing for a play, “Andha Yug”, directed Bhanu Bharti. It will be staged at the Feroze Shah Kotla complex in November.

The modern avatar of Indian language theatre can be traced back to the 19th century with productions like “Harishchandra”. In the 1850s, amateur troupes, inspired by Western styles, began to perform plays in their own languages across the country.

While Mumbai hosted Marathi and Gujarati plays, stalwarts like Girish Ghosh and the Tagore clan in Bengal popularised plays about the Indian sensibilities of that time. The movement subsequently spread north and south.

The dynamics of indigenous theatre changed in the 20th century with the formation of the Indian People’s Theatre Association in 1922. Theatre became a source of livelihood, political struggle and experimentation.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

Filed under: Commonwealth Games

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