Politics cannot be separated from street theatre as it is not just defined by its art but also by its intent, according to veteran thespians Sudhanva Deshpande and Moloyashree Hashmi.
At the fourth edition of ‘Lila’s Prism lecture series’, the talk titled ‘Jan Natya Manch: Shaping a pocket (the resistance)’ was about introducing people to the nitty-gritties of street theatre group and how Janam made the medium as its own.
Founded in 1973, Jana Natya Manch (People’s Theatre Front; Janam for short) is the New Delhi-based theatre company.
Having done some 8,500 performances of nearly 100-odd plays, the group specialises in left-wing street theatre in Hindi.
“Street theatre is about giving primacy to politics. Don’t do street theatre if you don’t have politics. We at Janam don’t define it just by its form, but also by its intent. Its biggest resource is imagination of audience,” said Deshpande, actor and director with Janam.
But making sure that people don’t decipher his message wrong, he added, “Please remember it cannot be sloganeering alone too. Only sloganeering and attempting to run a message down people’s throat has neither worked before, nor will it work in future too.”
While distinguishing street play from other forms, he says it’s an exact opposite of a play which has Naseeruddin shah acting, who everyone admires and love.
“You like Naseeruddin Shah and you want to watch him. In street plays it is just the opposite. You don’t know us, forget about liking. On the contrary, we interrupt your life by performing in the middle of the road. Also, here we want you to watch us. You vote by your foot in this case,” said Deshpande.
The group is known for taking on crony capitalism, deep-rooted patriarchy, and communalism through plays like ‘Halla Bol’, ‘Machine’, ‘Woh Bol Uthi’, ‘Aurat’ and ‘Dil Maange more Guru ji’.
“When people ask don’t you feel scared about the things you say so openly in your play, I tell them that we have our plays in bastis (villages), industrial areas and in the so called down-trodden areas. Police and people with power, they don’t come to such places. And hence we are safe,” said Moloyashree, veteran theatre artiste and President Janam.
The evening also saw both talking about Founder of Janam Safdar Hashmi and his vision that is reflected in all the plays made under the group’s banner. An actor, director and communist playwright Hashmi was murdered in 1989,while performing his famous street play ‘Halla Bol’.
“Safdar was someone unique. Can you believe he and Rakesh Saxena wrote ‘Machine’ in a single day. He could see the future. He was always there to perform for workers and would do all that he could to support their movement,” said Moloyoshree, wife of Safdar who to her credit have had performed ‘Machine’ over 1000 times now.
Deshpande, who is also author of the book ‘Theatre of the streets: The Jan Natya Manch Experience’ was very blunt in saying that “art can’t change the world, especially if it’s a bollywood movie.”
He emphasized on the definition of artist and said: “You should understand that artist is no solitary genius. He is no creator. He is just an intermediary who gives what he takes from society. It’s just that the form is different.”
When asked about pedagogy and how to make sure that an actor is politically sensitised, Deshpande said, “Make them witness the lives of people living in the margins by walking through the streets of villages.
“This is what we do with our actors while we are in the process of making plays, and it works,” he added.
The Lila Lecture series includes 13 seminal conversation spread across August to December 2016 featuring 30 trailblazing practitioners of alternative institution-building.