Theatre

Play in the shadow of the gun

Voice of the people: Bhawani Bashir Yasir.  

He came all the way from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, to watch the theatrical production of his nephew Mohammad Muzamil Hayat Bhawani featured at the recently concluded Graduate Show organised by the National School of Drama, New Delhi. “But my main motive was to ensure his commitment to come to his roots and contribute to the growth of Kashmiri theatre which is struggling to restore its glorious heritage and to develop into a vehicle to reflect Kashmiri people’s political, social and cultural aspirations,” says Bhawani Bashir Yasir, an alumnus of NSD, who is passionately involved in the Kashmiri theatre movement working in a hostile atmosphere since 1971.

After working in theatre for 15 years as an amateur artist, his seniors in the field advised him to join NSD. He got admission to the school and passed out in 1987 with specialisation in direction and stage designing. “I am worried about my nephew because most NSD graduates from Jammu Kashmir prefer to go to Mumbai or stay in Delhi in their quest for greener pastures and nobody is interested in going back to their soil to work because they do not find any future in theatre in Kashmir. I too had offers for work both in Mumbai and Delhi but I was determined to go back to my people. I left my regular job in the Department of Education and became a full-time theatre worker knowing well that working in a milieu in which violence is let loose by militants and Indian armed forces is risking one’s life. In 1987 I started my own repertory, Kallakaar Repertory Circle, at Doru-Shahabad, but in the Valley theatre activities came to a standstill from 1992 to 2005 because of militant violence and I was compelled to close Kallakaar Repertory.”

He continues, “However, I took courage and formed Ensemble Kashmiri Theatre Akademi (EKTA) in Srinagar but could not become functional for a long time because of continued uprising of militancy. In 2004 EKTA became vigorously active to rejuvenate the near-dead Kashmiri theatre movement. The opening of the School of Drama and Repertory under EKTA in Srinagar in 2006 was another bold and positive step to strengthen our mission to bring to our fold young and talented Kashmiri youths.”

A man of many parts, Bashir is a Kashmiri poet, playwright, stage designer and director. “Under the banner of EKTA we have organised Budshah Theatre Festival in 2011 which was the first ever venture of its kind in Srinagar. It has a national character.”

What inspired him that he left his well paid job to engage in a profession that does not offer social recognition, let alone economic security? “I belong to the rural area of Doru-Shahabad, Anantnag which was once a centre of Kashmiri arts and literature. Ghulam Mohammad Bakshi, the then Prime Minister of Kashmir and Jammu, was fond of organising there an annual festival of folk dances, songs and theatre,” he explains. “These songs and dances greatly fascinated me. I was a regular participant in children’s plays. So I grew up in this atmosphere which left a deep impression on me. Theatrical fare presented at the festival was mainly anti-landlords which inspired landless peasants to agitate against the landlords. Bakshi, who protected landlords, stopped patronage to this cultural event.”

Talking about the history of Kashmiri theatre, Bashir says the first play in Kashmir was “Grees Sundgharei” (The House of a farmer), written by Mohuddin Hajni in 1940. The play indicts feudalism, focusing on the plight of landless farmers. Before this play was staged there used to be religious dramas like “Krishan Sudama”.

Inspired by the slogan of land to the tillers, various plays were written and staged. Sheikh Abdullah did his best to cripple this movement of farmers to protect the interest of landlords.

“During those days, the Indian People’s Theatre Association and Progressive Writers movement were actively involved in the social political movement in Kashmir but these movements could not be sustained. Today Kashmiri theatre has lost its legitimacy. It has degenerated into a slogan mongering platform sponsored by the State. It is in pathetic condition and completely divorced from the people and their struggle.”

He adds, “To regain its legitimacy and national recognition, it has to be bold, sensitive, artistic, keenly aware of the struggle of the people fighting for their cultural political identity. They have become sandwiched in the mindless violence between militants and armed forces. There are the cases of 10,000 women whose husbands have disappeared and for years their whereabouts are not known. Neither are they declared dead. These women are called half widows whose lives have been shattered. Theatre being the mirror of society and a medium to reflect people’s anguish, frustrations and angst against the State, it must be bold to express the contradictions of the society in a creative way.”

Born in 1954, Bashir is influenced by the elements of traditional and folk forms of Kashmir and tries to synthesise these elements with modern dramatic techniques to reflect contemporary sensibility with the flavour of Kashmiri culture. He studied these forms in depth, like Daastaan, Rouve, Bhan Pathar and Dhambali. All these have metaphorical value. “No criticism of the Maharaja of the State was allowed. People used these forms to expose the anti-people policies of the State through the medium of these forms which are vibrant and very much alive.”

Influenced by the call “back to our soil”, at present Bashir is busy organising Budshah Theatre Festival 2012 to be held in October- November in Srinagar. Ten plays will be selected from different states of the country and five from different regions of Jammu and Kashmir. “A festival of this kind will go a long way to give impetus to the contemporary Kashmir theatre movement and it is the duty of young talented and trained Kashmiri theatre artists like my nephew to go back to their roots and strengthen the theatre movement and give voice to the people’s aspirations and their struggles to discover cultural and political identity.”

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 8:42:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/play-in-the-shadow-of-the-gun/article3811726.ece

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