Kashmir: The importance of reviving theatre as a medium of protest, debate and argument that questions a society (Report)
by Afsana Rashid Bhat
Conflict in the Kashmir valley has badly hit the theatre movement, here. Theatre experts, however, believe that it offers enough space for theatre to debate and discuss.
Theatre director Bhawani Bashir Yasir says “efforts are on to revive the theatre movement in Kashmir, which took a back seat in valley after 1989 when armed struggle began here”. He hopes for better, prosperous and rich theatre, here.
“Ongoing conflict offers a lot to write, debate and perform in order to make masses think on various lines that can be more effective through theatre, provided the state seriously extends its full financial and moral support to genuine people engaged in the field,” says Bhawani, who is also director of Ensemble Kashmir Theatre Akademi (EKTA), School of Drama and Repertory.
He adds theatre in Kashmir has lost its proper audience over the last two decades. “Without material support from audience, our theatre can’t prosper”. Bhawani, who has been in the field for last 35 years, says “unless theatre doesn’t identify itself with contemporary challenges, aspirations and public sentiments, it becomes irrelevant”.
According to the theatre director, theatre is not “tamasha” (entertainment) but it is a medium of mild glorified protest, debate, argument that questions the society to find answers for good.
Rejecting that television and films pose serious threat to theatre, Bhawani who has been awarded senior fellowship by Ministry of Culture, Government of India for the year 2006-2008 says “theatre is art of multi angles where as film and television is an art of one eye. Art of one eye can’t subjugate art of multi angles”.
He adds “the hard fact lies in the reason that there is no financial allurement in theatre while as in television and films artists get money, name and fame, which lures them. Notwithstanding the fact, theatre is a learning institution and without theatre experience an artist can’t grow in television or films”.
Abdul Latief, a theatre artist argues that theatre in Kashmir is as old as written history in Kashmir and it has three essential elements - performer, audience and stage. Tracing brief history of theatre in Kashmir, he says, “Kashmir has been a hub of turmoil and turbulences since ages. When foreign cultural influence intruded Kashmir, theatre automatically underwent certain changes. However, for last 100 years theatre in Kashmir has tried to re-emerge”.
He said that Kashmir theatre history reached us through folk performers who under all circumstances managed to preserve and perform it. “We’ve rich traditional folk form of theatre known as ‘pather’ performed by bhands (folk artists). We’ve references of so many scholars of theatre in Kashmir history vis-a-vis Khamandar, Abenau Goupt, Kalidasa”.
Contemporary theatre, he says, is hardly 75 years old. According to him, there were some theatre activities in Kashmir in the 1920’s from the religious elite class (known as dharmic theatre) and the same was performed in temple premises of Srinagar up to 1940’s.
The theatre director while chipping in says, “When new progressive literary movement emerged, it had great impact on Kashmir. Many renowned theatre activists and literary scholars visited Kashmir like Balraj Sahani, Habib Tanvir. In the meantime, IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) movement started in India, which had great impact on contemporary theatre in Kashmir. After this movement, theatre in Kashmir took flight in real sense when most of the activists performed new concepts on stage like Prof. Mohi-ud-Din Hajni’s play “Ghrees Sound Ghare” (1938) Prem Nath Pardasi’s “Bat-i-har” (1942). Formation of National Dramatic Club (1944) which later became Kashmir Kela Kendra in 1950’s was first theatre group to be registered. Then the National Cultural Front produced “Shaheed Shirwani”, “Kashmir yeh hai” in 1948 and “Kashmir hamara hai”.”
Bhawani says that 1980-1990 was the golden period of contemporary Kashmiri theatre. “In every nook and corner of Kashmir, there was a concerted theatre movement patronized by Jammu and Kashmir State Cultural Academy as district drama festivals were organized. A galaxy of playwrights, directors and actors earned popularity in theatre here during this decade. After 1990’s due to the conflict, Kashmir theatre movement went into comma. After 2002, our concerted efforts are to rejuvenate it”.
Bhawani maintains that in 2002 drama festival was held at Tagore Hall by Jammu and Kashmir Academy in which only six productions were presented and those too were repeat productions of 1980’s. “Absence of separate ministry for culture in the state, lack of rehearsal space for artists, negligible funding, lack of professionalism, institutions and public support are confronting theatre activists in Kashmir working for its revival”, he says, adding “Theatre, in Kashmir, lacks public recognition, which renders it handicap and acts as a major impediment in its struggle to survive”
Stressing importance of media the theatre director believes that it can play a positive role in promoting theatre-culture among masses. “Print media hasn’t yet grown enough to give full coverage to theatre of Kashmir or to help it gain popular acceptance. The people lack required sensibility to acknowledge theatre”. Kashmir theatre, according to Bhawani, hasn’t yet been able to get sponsorships whereas in Jammu division of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and other states private as well as public sector sponsors theatre to help its professional growth.
Theatre is a social institution, believes Bhawani adding people consider it only as a source of entertainment but it is a complete social science. “A nation without a living theatre is dead”.
- Afsana Rashid Bhat is a journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir-India. Author of the book, “Waiting for justice: Widows and Half-widows”She is a recipient of the Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Sanjoy Ghose Media fellowship (2006-07) by Charkha Communications Development Network - New Delhi, UN Population Fund-Laadli Media Award and Grass-root Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN) – Media Awards-2007. She was also awarded a fellowship in 2005 for her work on impact of conflict on the subsistence livelihoods of marginalized communities in Kashmir by Action Aid India.