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Popularising the stage

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Arvind Gaur.
Arvind Gaur.

Two Delhi theatre groups work for the cause of drama.

Apart from National School of Drama there are two other theatre groups in Delhi whose contribution in popularising theatre has been phenomenal. I am referring to Asmita formed in 1993 by Arvind Gaur and Natsamrat set up by Shyam Kumar in 1998.

Asmita till now has 52 productions to its credit, all directed by Gaur, and on an average has been playing more than 60 nights a year. I have been privileged to see most of Asmita’s productions and feel that its work, by and large, touches upon contemporary issues. It has presented some of the outstanding Hindi translations from other Indian languages as also English. What is more, Asmita’s Director-in-Residence, Arvind Gaur, has trained and introduced some new solo artists like Lushin Dubey, Bubbles Sabharwal and Rashmi Bunny. It goes to Gaur’s training technique and his direction that these artists have won laurels in many solo festivals abroad.

In the past 12 years or so Asmita has been staging at least eight plays a year in which two to three were new presentations, running to an average of 80 to 90 shows per year. In Asmita’s repertoire are many presentations of new plays including “Court Martial” that overnight made Swadesh Deepak into a star playwright. Asmita has a made a big contribution to University theatre. It has not only organised training workshops in colleges but also directed many plays for them. Incidentally, six to seven girls of the hockey team in “Chak De” were members of the theatre workshops. Asmita takes about 20 theatre presentations to colleges every year for free . “We live or rather exist, from hand to mouth. We get no aid from any source be it government or corporate houses. In fact, we are heavily under debt. We cannot afford to be a repertory and pay the actors. To popularise theatre, our tickets are only Rs.50 as compared to most other groups some of whom charge even Rs.300-Rs.500. Most of our actors stay with us from three to six years as Asmita is like a stepping stone for them,” says Gaur.

But what happens when they leave Asmita, I asked Arvind. “Some join NSD, some move to Mumbai and some join TV and a few stay on as freelance actors. Not a very happy situation,” says Arvind.

Natsamrat, started by Shyam Kumar in 1998, has till today presented more than 600 shows of their 25 plays. Some of which have crossed the half a century mark. No mean achievement considering their tickets range from Rs.100 to Rs.300, and most of their shows run to a full house. And, on public demand, Natsamrat is the first to introduce two evening shows for some of their presentation.

Most of our theatre pundits in Delhi have seldom seen any of Natsamrat’s productions. The reason is intellectual snobbery, and what is more, they say it is just cheap and popular theatre. Yes, I agree most of Natsamrat’s plays are “popular theatre”, but then what is wrong with popular theatre, as long as it is not vulgar. Surely, if these were as vulgar as presumed by our theatre snobs the hall would not be packed full of Natsamrat’s family audiences. Yes, in many of Natsamrat’s presentations there are some aesthetic deficiencies but then the same is true of many of our so called sophisticated productions.

In my opinion before theatre pundits pass judgement on Natsamrat’s work they must see J.M. Kaushal’s “Kya Karega Qazi” or plays like “Kanjoos” and “Bichchhu” adapted from Moliere’s plays or “Radha, Rosy, Rukhsana”.

ROMESH CHANDER


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