Nadira Babbar, who has been strongly influenced by the IPTA tradition, believes in theatre with a message
Veteran actor SaritaJoshi became NadiraBabbar's "Sakubai" yetagain. Even after 10years it was first staged, thetale of a people hardly dweltupon - maids who runhouseholds - continue tocast its spell. For Nadira,playwright and director of"Sakubai", the ideastemmed from observationsof a lifetime. Nadira says:"Nobody has written aboutthem. It was needed to putlight upon them sensitively,with consideration, probeinto the issues. What makesthem the way they are. Theyhave courage to fight,strength to survive, be optimisticand cheerful underall circumstances."
As the granddaughter ofSir Wazir Hasan, a chief justicein the British era, Nadirarecalls a childhood in aLucknow mansion - the airunmistakably feudal.
"There were innumerableservants in the house whichhad about 50 servant quarters.Yet in that very childlikemind, as a small girl, somany things struck me asinjustice towards them,"she says.
Despite the material excessesaround, her parents- Razia and Syed Sajjad Zaheer- both Marxist leadersinstrumental in evolvingthe Progressive Writer's Associationand Indian PeopleTheatre's Association, ensureda grounded childhood."We lived in anouthouse as my father hadideological differences withmy grandfather. There werehoards of writers, poets,singers and dancers in thehouse and it's when we grewup that we realised theywere not blood relations,"says Nadira.
Probably, a take-off fromthe rich IPTA tradition, Nadira'stheatre always unravelleda message to takehome, yet never abandonedentertainment. In the past30 years, her Ekjute TheatreGroup has staged over 40productions, including "BegumJaan", "Dayashankar kiDiary" and "Yahudi kiLadki."
"Primarily, theatre mustsay something to the audience- to think and ponderover. That's the first reasonto do theatre, but simultaneouslyit must entertain."Not for her the intellectualaura of theatre. "We theatreworkers should not get carriedaway by our own intellectualmindset." Shedoes not want her theatre tobe staged in a room with 30people, where she says, 20of them leave after the firstfade out.
In India, she says: "Youhave to create an audience, amovement in theatre wherepeople go and buy a ticketand watch a play." Yet by"entertainment" shedoesn't mean "frivolous comediesor bedroom farce."It is the delicate balance ofthought-provoking theatrewedded to entertainmentthat Nadira seeks to attain."It is difficult to maintainthat balance. I think (Bertolt)Brecht achieved thatbalance. They all had strongmessages, yet were mostsimply written."
On keeping clear of theatrein English, Nadira says,"It doesn't really reach outto small cities. It mightwork in Chennai, Bangalore,Mumbai or Delhi. Butwhat about Raipur, Bareillyor Dharamshala? We doplays there."
However, keeping togethera group for long comeswith sacrifices. "People driftaway, new people come inand drift away too. I was likea pole which held on. I hadto give up personal interestslike acting. It has just been`Begum Jaan' and may be`Sandhya Chaya'."
Trained under the iconicEbrahim Alkazi - a "livingmiracle" for Nadira at theNational School of Dramaand also under masters Grotowskiand Peter Brooks,she says, we lack only ontwo fronts - "excellentscripts and technicalachievements." As one whogets to read a lot of scripts,she says, there are hardlyany that make the cut as"behetarein natak". "Evenafter a reading a wholescript I realise they don'teven begin." That has cajoledNadira to script playsand she has done six so far.