Theatre for theatre
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WHEN Safdar Hashmi was attacked during a street play performance in January 1989, Indian theatre received one of its biggest setbacks. The maverick theatre personality died two days later. After this unprecedented tragedy, his dream of setting up an alternative theatre space in Delhi too was held up.
Over two decades later, some of Indian theatre's stalwarts have joined hands to realise his dream. The Jana Natya Manch (Janam) — a theatre company set up by Hashmi in 1973 — is hosting an eight-day festival at Prithvi Theatre from December 4 to raise funds for creating Hashmi's dream space. Sudhanva Deshpande of Janam says that the trigger for such a festival came from actor-activist Shabana Azmi. "Shabana wanted to help us raise funds for it. She offered to do that by staging her play, Tumhari Amrita," he says.
Soon, Sunil Shanbag made a similar proposal. With that Cotton 56, Polyester 84, directed by Shanbag and written by Ramu Ramanathan, became part of the festival. Naseeruddin Shah too joined in with Ismat Apa ke Naam. Apart from these plays, the festival will feature Rajat Kapoor's Hamlet the Clown Prince, Swanand Kirkire's Aao Sathi Sapna Dekhein and Gulzaar's Lakeerein. The festival will also showcase several plays by Janam and a music concert by Shubha Mudgal.
"This is a unique event where for the first time, such a large number of eminent artists are coming together to help a theatre group build infrastructure," says Deshpande. Apart from the festival, the group has been raising funds through individual donations. Later, it intends to approach the Ministry of Culture for support.
Hashmi wanted to open a cultural centre that would provide basic facilities of a theatre-studio. "This space was meant to be a working place for theatre groups where they can try out ideas and collaborate. This idea stayed with us even after Safdar's death," says Deshpande. Janam wants to acquire space for it next year and set it up gradually depending on the availability of funds. According to Deshpande, though the Capital city has a good number of auditoriums, such a space for creative pursuits is missing. The Delhi edition of the festival, however, has been postponed due to some difficulties and a new schedule is being worked out.
The proposed space will add fillip to Janam's agenda of taking theatre to the people. The group has been inspired by the spirit of the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA). Its early plays, though initially designed for the proscenium, were performed on makeshift stages and chaupals in the big as well as small towns of North India. In 1978, this political theatre group forayed into street theatre with Machine.
Though the funds generated through the festival may not be enough to carry out their plan, Deshpande wishes that at least the December event makes people aware of their endeavour. To create the festival buzz, Prithvi will also play host to a series of platform performances, film screenings, discussions and workshops. A number of other organisations, which have worked with the idea of creating alternatives, including Underscore Records, Magic Lantern and People Tree too will be involved in this.
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