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Updated: February 22, 2013 19:19 IST

Son of the soil

Pheroze L. Vincent
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Jharkhandi theatre artiste Jeetrai Hansda brings modern techniques to grassroots theatre.
Jharkhandi theatre artiste Jeetrai Hansda brings modern techniques to grassroots theatre.

In “Fevicol” to be staged in Delhi soon, Jeetrai Hansda works with the form of traditional adivasi drama

Fevicol is a brand name synonymous with strong bonds. Jharkhandi theatre artiste Jeetrai Hansda has used it as a metaphor to express the unbreakable bond of adivasis with water, forests and land. “If two planks of wood are stuck with Fevicol, you will have to break the wood to separate it. Our link with the land is the same. So also is the grip of problems like displacement on us. That’s why I called the play Fevicol,” says he says.

A graduate of the National School of Drama (NSD), Hansda wrote the play as part of his diploma project. It was staged at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav here, last month, and now been nominated for seven of the 13 categories for the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) this year. It is also among the 10 META plays which will be staged in the Capital from March 3 to 8.

On displacement and migration

A resident of Bagbera near the steel-city of Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, he grew up with the pangs of industrialisation. It is no surprise that his play focuses on displacement, identity and migration. While the play is based on issues faced by indigenous people everywhere in the world, Hansda explains that these issues affect tribal and non-tribal alike. “Poverty plagues every community, pollution affects everyone, the current model of development affects diku and adivasi alike.”

Diku, is a term used by adivasis for outsiders, migrants or invaders. Hansda explains that though the term is now a generic one for all non-tribals, it originally meant oppressor.

The play is about a guest in an adivasi home who gradually takes control of the family in his ambition to set up an industry at any cost. It exposes how rhetoric can be used to subvert the truth. The play features the Singrai dance, a traditional sensual dance especially popular among Santhals, which is based on folklore about the origins of adivasis. The dance is used to depict progress in the story.

Hansda was older than many of his classmates at the NSD. He finished when he was 36. Though the theatre bug bit him early, in 1988 when he was 14, financial constraints let him graduate as late as 2006. “Once I learned to read, I began seeing the local Hindi papers. They had reports of plays in Odia, Bangla and Hindi. But we adivasis had dance dramas all night, almost every night. We were invisible to them,” he says.

Adivasi drama

He joined the Jayalakshmi Natya Kala Mandiram in Jamshedpur to learn proscenium theatre. Traditional adivasi drama is held open air, jatra style, in the light of a gas lamp if at all. After spending some time in Jamshedpur, he realised that his village folk won’t stand a chance in formal theatre companies.

So, he started the Maidi’s Artist Association of Tribal in Bagbera, named after Jharkhandi dramatist Maidi Hansda. “The performers are all children of colliery workers, hadiya (rice beer) sellers and farm labourers. Some of them are matriculates, but most of them work as shepherds during the day and do theatre after sunset,” he reveals.

Years at NSD

The NSD helped him a lot, he explains, despite his rudimentary knowledge of Hindi. Native speakers of Santhali, Hansda and his actors are at ease with Sadri or Nagpuri— a dialect of Hindi which borrows from the tribal languages along with Odia and Bengali. “The crowd at the NSD was English educated, but soon they recognised my skills. I learnt to analyse issues and translate them on stage. I learned how to use the elements and how to use them in popular theatre,” he says.

What he learnt in Delhi, he has introduced to his group and village audiences in the Kolhan region of the Jharkhand. “We still find it difficult to get halls to perform. Very few people think adivasis can do theatre. But look how far we have come,” says Hansda.

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