Main akela hi chala tha Jaanib-e-Manzil magar...
Log saath aate gaye aur Caravan banta gaya!
Nothing better than the aforesaid poetic verses by renowned lyricist (Late) Majrooh Sultanpuri can express the interesting journey of Nadira Zaheer Babbar's theatre group, Ekjute, which has now completed 30 glorious years of entertaining, educating and enlightening people through the medium that Nadira says “is the only language I ever mastered the best!” Little wonder then, that the theatre festival being held to commemorate this wonderful journey, has been aptly titled “Ekjute 30 Years Caravan”.
Point out the simile and Nadira exclaims “Why, of course! That is exactly how the Ekjute family began with a bunch of theatre enthusiasts, to traverse over three whole decades that saw more and more people join hands and make the family into the wholesome unit it has become today.”
Established by Nadira and husband Raj Babbar (actor, MP) in 1981, Ekjute has always been at the forefront for change, experimentation and heightened quality in Hindi theatre in India. With both the pioneers being alumni of the prestigious National School of Drama (NSD) wherein they were fortunate to learn under stalwarts like Ebrahim Alkazi, the Babbars were firm about maintaining the highest standards in each and every theatre production they came up with.
The insistence continued even after daughter Juhi Babbar-Soni and son Aarya Babbar came into the fold and till date remains a stronghold of every Ekjute venture.
As every indigenous and ambitious venture is wont to, Ekjute too had its periods of crests and troughs.
However, when quizzed if she felt like giving it all up and choosing a safer vocation at any point of time, Nadira gasps: “Never ever! Theatre has been my passion; the only thing I can claim to have ‘educated myself' in life. It is the only medium of expression that I know. How could I ever give up something so dear to heart? Also, I owed it to my guru Alkazi to surmount all obstacles and contribute whatever little I could to theatre. It was this zest and a sense of loving responsibility that kept me going despite facing quite some problems due to lack of funds, lack of exposure and lack of popular support. Thankfully, now with the other mediums becoming all-encompassing, theatre has received a dollop of boost vis-a-vis all the aforementioned factors. There is much more awareness and interest about theatrical activities; people are keen to be an audience if not join in as actors etc; and overall, the scenario is changing for the better. I'm happy about that.”
Till date Ekjute has produced more than 125 plays and performed more than 12,000 shows in India and other countries like the U.K., the U.S., Dubai, Singapore, and Pakistan. Some of the most popular plays created by Ekjute include “Dayashakar Ki Diary”, “Sakubai”, “Pencil Se Brush Tak” and the latest one “Bollywood Ka Salaam 1950s Ke Naam”. Comprising a repertoire of more than 75 artists, some of Ekjute's alumni include prominent names like Anupam Kher, Sarita Joshi, Perizad Zorabian and Sushma Reddy among others.
While producing plays has undoubtedly been her elixir, Nadira avers that the decision to conduct workshops was the biggest turning point and a leap ahead for the group. “When we began our annual workshops 20 years ago, it was not the norm at all. However, sensing an imminently increasing need for fresh talent in near future, Ekjute decided to conduct workshops, with the result that today we have a pool of talent par excellence be it in acting, art direction, scripting et al!”
Such is the demand for these workshops (which are presently being conducted in Mumbai only) that Nadira has had to increase the annual count of workshops to two for adults and one for children.
Nadira speaks fondly about ‘Ekjute 30 Years Caravan' as she reveals “the fest, which has already begun in Mumbai, will continue till the end of this year as we travel with it to Bengaluru, Delhi, Jaipur, and Lucknow. In the Mumbai chapter, we'll be showcasing 25 shows of 18 productions such as “Gorky & Tinku Ke Karname”, “Ji Jaisi Appki Marzi” and “Begum Jaan” in 11 days. Platform performances from our traditional folk forms, street plays on socio-political topics, theatre workshops, seminars, exhibitions of sets and costumes, felicitation of old backstage workers, decoration and lighting will be the other attractions of this festival.”
On a parting note, Nadira remarks: “It has been a wonderful journey so far; albeit I've never really looked upon it as a journey. To entertain and enlighten was the mantra I always strove by; and by God's grace, it feels wonderful to have been able to adhere to it thus far!”