Well-known theatre director Bhanu Bharti recalls relishing the magic of theatre as a student of Rajasthan University
I was a student of Rajasthan Art College for Boys under the Rajasthan University, Jaipur. There was no drama society in our college. I was associated with the students’ movements and have great fascination for theatre. I was made secretary of the cultural society and was eager to stage a play. The college authorities were indifferent to my plea of doing theatre in college. There was no infrastructure.
Undaunted, I went ahead with my plans. There was no script. I requested Hari Ram Acharaya, a writer and Sanskrit teacher in the college, to write a script for us. He agreed and wrote Aakaal Sandhya, a commentary on the devastation caused by drought which was common in Rajasthan. With great difficulties, the college authorities agreed to provide funds to book Rabindra Manch. For the first time the students started talking about drama and theatre.
However, another problem arose. To select male cast was no problem but finding female cast was a real hurdle. There were only two girl students in the college who were in the Psychology Department. After a lot of persuasion one girl agreed to participate in the production. I directed the play. The show was greeted with a lot of excitement. We wanted to continue this practice.
In this atmosphere of apathy of the college management towards theatre, it was not possible to produce another play. As a secretary of the college’s cultural society and actively involved in the students movement, I continued to discuss the role of theatre in the cultural life of students and insisted that a drama society should be opened but no initiative was taken by the college.
In fact, a drama society was initiated at theb Rajasthan University by Prof. Bhalla and Miss Parbhu of the English Department. The society was confined to staging English plays. Among the student actors, who stood out as fine performers, were Prof. Bhalla’s son Ashok Bhalla, Vijaya Bakaya who retired as the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, Kishore Anjala Sharma (Bedi) and Basu Dev Singh. This was a club with a narrow base formed by convent educated students and professors of English literature. In this atmosphere, there was no space for Hindi theatre. During those days, there were little theatrical activities in Jaipur city though radio plays were immensely popular among theatre lovers. Hindi theatre was initiated in a serious manner in Jaipur in the mid ’60s when Mohan Maharishi, after completing his training from National School of Drama, returned to Jaipur and started conducting workshops and producing plays for University students. While I was a student at Rajasthan College, I participated in these workshops and this initiated me into the art of theatre, inspiring me to join the National School of Drama, New Delhi, and to become a trained theatre practitioner.
As a college student, I remember having seen the play Baaraat Aa Rahi Hai enacted by Mohan Maharishi, Maya Asrani and Arun Mathur at Maharani College. This was the first theatrical event of its kind in the history of Jaipur as well as of Rajasthan University.
As a student of NSD, a whole new world of theatrical art opened before me. But I continue to remember the magic of theatre as a college student and the feeling of resentment for the apathy of the college management towards theatre during our time. As soon as I completed my degree from NSD, I went back to Rajasthan University and formed a theatre department.
Having devoted nearly four decades in the creative world of contemporary Indian theatre , today I feel happy that our campuses are throbbing with theatrical activities,.I am sure this will go a long way in enriching the aesthetic sensibilities of our young people and awaken in them socio-political consciousness to build a humane society.
(As told to Diwan Singh Bajeli, author of the just released book “Theatre of Bhanu Bharti — A New Perspective” )