Theatre director Sanjay Upadhyay throws light on what makes Madhya Pradesh Natya Vidyalaya, Bhopal, work

Sanjay Upadhyay attracted the attention of discerning audience and serious theatre practitioners of the country with his experiment with the rich folk theatre and music forms of Bihar to evolve a musical theatre that is uniquely his own. Today as a director of Madhya Pradesh Natya Vidyalaya, Bhopal, he finds rare opportunity to expand his artistic vision rooted in the folk tradition. “Bihar has multiplicity of traditional folk theatre forms. Some of these are on the verge of extinction but Madhya Pradesh is a mine of traditional art forms and most of these forms are vibrantly alive as a way of life of the masses. The vibrancy of these forms and their theatrical vitality were first explored by Habib Tanvir as a part of modern theatre and contemporary sensibility,” says Sanjay. A graduate from National School of Drama (NSD), he says, “The syllabus of school is different from the one being followed by NSD. Our focus is to expose our students to the practitioners of folk forms and tribal arts and stay with them for sometime. They are encouraged to assimilate those elements with the technique of modern theatrical craft to enrich the legacy of Habib.”

Delving into the details, Sanjay adds, “Our search for modern theatre is inspired by the dialects being spoken by tribal and people living in various regions of the State which will enable our students to evolve a theatre that mirrors the life the masses. We do not copy the western style of realism and try to discover it in our own traditionAt the same tome we teach our students, western theatre and Greek classical theatre, Brecht’s concept of epic theatre which appears close to our own folk tradition as far as form is concerned. Habib evolved his own idiom after experimenting a merger of folk forms with epic theatre. Our students try to invest these forms with contemporary socio-political contradictions. We also teach and give practical exercises to our students in the latest trends including post-modernism – this part of our syllabus is inspired by the NSD pattern. Of course, Natya Shastra occupies an important part of pedagogy.” According to him, the school conducts a one year full-time course in the theatrical art — both theory and practice. Each student is given a scholarship of Rs. 5000 per month and there is hostel facility. After completion of the course the students work as interns doing theatre in their own regions. One lakh is given for the duration of internship.

Besides a nicely crafted curriculum, other factors that work in favour Madhya Pradesh Natya Vidyalaya, is its faculty, most of whom are permanent NSD graduates and eminent theatre practitioners. Renowned theatre teachers and outstanding practitioners are invited — like Mohan Maharishi, Devendra Raj Ankur, Uttra Baokar and Nicholas Dutch from Germany etc. — from all over the country to deliver lectures and train the students in different aspects of theatre.

In Madhya Pradesh, theatre is gradually gaining popularity among culturally conscious people, because of the efforts of B.V.Karanth, who produced “many memorable plays as the head of the repertory of Bharat Bhawan. “Theatre movement in the town got a big boost. His impact in the theatre continues to be seen in the works of Alok Chatterjee, Sanjay Mehta and Saroj Sharma.”

As a former Patna-based theatre practitioner, Sanjay formed his group Nirman Kala Manch 25 years ago. As an innovator of musical theatre, he has produced a number of significant plays, contributing immensely to enrich the theatre movement in Bihar. He feels that despite the fact that he is now in Bhopal, his theatre group in Patna is active in the field of theatre and he tries to go there whenever possible and guide the members of the group. “When I go back to my home State after completing my tenure as a director, I will be vastly enriched with the folk tradition of Madhya Pradesh. I have discovered that the folk music and theatrical forms of both the States have various points of convergence. You will find a new vitality, colour and new meaning in my future works, thanks to my exposure to Madhya Pradesh’s rich and glorious folk and tribal traditions.”