A space for dialogue

RELFECTIONS ON STAGE The panelists at the event  

“Is theatre a safe space?” That was the moot question which emerged from the discussion on “The Politics of Theatre” focusing on how theatre is seminal to social change. Discussing this, the panel comprising theatre artistes and playwrights Arvind Gaur, M.K. Raina, Bishnupriya Dutt and V. K. Sharma suggested that theatre cannot be a safe haven as it disturbs and raises bitter questions. The question assumed relevance as moderator Sanjay K. Roy referred to the US President-elect Donald Trump’s statement that “theatre must always be a safe and special place” made in response to what he termed as harassment of Vice President-elect Mike Pence by the cast of “Hamilton” last November.

The discussion held at theMahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) in New Delhialso discussed how theatre can be a reflection of the times as well as a catalyst for social change. Present as a political force in every epoch, theatre has always mirrored the socio-political thought of its time. At its height, Greek theatre took up ideological positions and also gave voice to women, foreigners and slaves who did not have any place in the political space.

Bishnupriya Dutt, a faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University asserted that theatre is a political medium. Her father Utpal Dutt was among those artists who took theatre to streets after Independence and contributed to West Bengal’s theatre movement. “Theatre of that time cannot be termed as Left-oriented as it was a vision for post-independent India, where society was expected to be more egalitarian and based on a principle of social justice , equality in terms of economic opportunities and was against the privileges that the few rich enjoyed,” said Dutt.

Arvind Gaur, who does street theatre with political themes, stressed on the problems faced by artists during performances. “You sometimes risk your life along with your family and career while pursuing theatre as a full-time profession. But luminaries like those associated with Indian People’s Theatre Association including Utpal Dutt, Safdar Hashmi and Gursharan Singh, stodd against all odds and did theatre and put questions to those in power and society at large . Theatre should make people question certain things and if does not, it lacks somewhere,” said Gaur.

Continuing in the same vein, Gaur said, political theatre which informs and heightens consciousness at times results in a tussle. Lamenting the Ramjas College incident in which a group of students disrupted an event, he asserted that youth will take charge against such fringe elements through the medium of theatre.

Tool for awakening

Veteran theatre activist M.K. Raina, who at present does theatre in Kashmir onpolitical issues, remarked that community and theatre are woven together. He emphasised that theatre should be done in places like Kashmir where it can be used as tool for political awakening at the village level. He also shed light on how State kept a check on the artists by deploying State machinery to disrupt performances. “There are draconian laws like Dramatic Performances Act, which the State uses against theatre people. There are other means including barring a theatre group from a competition or ensuring non-availability of auditoriums for the performances.”

Raina, a founding member of Sahmat, the theatre foundation formed after the demise of theatre activist Safdar Hashmi remembered how Safdar had to pay price for speaking truth on the streets. “Rabindra Bhavan became the centre of protests against Safdar's murder but his funeral had thousands of people walking from Rafi Marg to Nigambodh Ghat showing that people admire those who stand up for them. One thing is clear, people in the arts are not going to be silenced any more. This is the biggest test for theatre artistes in a time when the fascist power are rising all over the world and there is a strong need of unity to stand against them,” cautioned Raina.

On the cards

March 6: Elephant In The Room (English) directed by Yuki Ellias at Shri Ram Centre and Outcaste (Hindi) by Randhir Kumar at Kamani Auditoruim

March 7: Kaali Naadakam (Malayalam) by Chandradasan at Shri Ram Centre and Dhumrapaan (English-Hindi) by Akarsh Khurana at Kamani Auditorium

March 8: Mahabharata (English-Hindi) by Anurupa Roy at LTG Auditorium and Awddyo Shesh Rajani (Bengali) by Bratya Basu at Shri Ram Centre

March 9: Katha Sukavi Suryamall Ki (multilingual) by Rajendra Panchal at LTG Auditorium and I Don't Like It As You Like It (English) by Rajat Kapoor at Kamani Auditorium

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 9:52:10 PM |

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