Bombay Showcase

The third intifada

Vikram Phukan  

For more than a month now, a group of gifted young Palestinians have traded the scorched rubble and crumbling walls of a sprawling West Bank refugee camp in Jenin for the congested alleyways of an industrial settlement in Delhi’s Shadipur Depot. Here, merely a stone’s throw away from the site of the erstwhile Kathputli Colony, whose teeming street performers have been scattered by a aggressive redevelopment scheme, Studio Safdar has been home and headquarters of the Jana Natya Manch (or Janam) since 2012. Now, in this space for alternative thought, a new playground for the discontent is being forged by Janam alongside The Freedom Theatre (TFT), a Palestinian community-based theatre and cultural centre.

When it comes to the trailblazers associated with their respective cultural movements, the two groups share twin concerns.

A flashpoint in history now only casually remembered, Janam’s Safdar Hashmi was murdered in 1989 in Jhandapur while performing the street play, Halla Bol. In 2011, the founder of TFT, Juliano Mer-Khamis, was killed by a masked gunman outside The Freedom Theatre. These are both egregious instances of cultural assassination that continue to reverberate in the psyche of those who have persisted with theatre of resistance despite odds.

Joining hands

The artistic collaboration, dubbed the Freedom Jatha, has been flying under the radar in India, with only sporadic press mentions at a time diplomatic parley between India and Palestine has reduced to a trickle.

This has led the groups to embrace social media with a vengeance, and certainly the outreach effort has been heartening. For those linked in to the official channels, striking images of cultural solidarity populate their timelines — from the guests’ arrival in India to a flurry of national colours, to the zestful theatre workshops with respected Indian names such as Sunil Shanbag and Neel Chaudhuri, to their tentative experiments with Indian food (even if its gastronomic gamut now includes hummus and pickles). The humble premises of Studio Safdar is now a broadcasting hub, the laughter and joy of open-hearted collusion its clarion call.

The Twitter hashtag #freedomjatha is gaining currency, even as TFT drama student, Ihab Talahmeh, talks compellingly of freeing himself from the occupation of the mind, if not of land, on YouTube. An Indiegogo campaign, funded by well-wishers from all over the world, has raised $4,785 till date for the Freedom Jatha.

Bubbling oppression

As they prepare for a month-long India tour with their shared stories of resistance showcased in a joint production, one can only hope that momentum on the ground, so important to people’s theatre, will be the wind at their back. In India, for many, oppression is bubbling just beneath the surface. In Palestine, a state in disrepair, its signifiers lie everywhere, after two spells of protracted armed insurrections (or intifadas) in the past 25 years. In the words of Mer-Khamis,

“We believe that the third intifada, the coming intifada, should be cultural, with poetry, music, theatre, cameras, and magazines.”

Certainly, for Janam, for whom this project has been a shot in the arm, this language is wholly familiar. While creating equivalence between cultural anxieties isn’t necessary to build bridges, there is no denying that the two groups are natural allies embarking upon a journey that portends far-reaching effects.

The Freedom Jatha commences December 18 at Lucknow, and will travel to several Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata. The complete schedule can be viewed on the Facebook pages of the two groups.

(The writer is a playwright and stage critic)


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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 6:13:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/the-third-intifada/article7989846.ece

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