Of Parsi and modern Hindi theatre


August 18, 2007

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Art | India | Theater

PATNA: When it comes to setting standards in theatre, every Bihari Hindi theatre artist or director invokes the lessons learnt at the National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi. Ironically, contemporary practitioners of Bihari theatre have reservations about NSD performing plays based on Parsi theatre tradition.

Why and how has it happened? “To say the least, the attitude of every Hindi language critic and scholar towards Parsi theatre has been reprehensible,” said senior theatre artist Ajatshatru, adding: “They consider Parsi theatre tradition ‘heya’ and ‘heen’ (low and demeaning). This attitude of the Hindi critics destroyed the Parsi theatre tradition in Bihar.”

Speaking about the contemporary Bihari theatre scene, he said: “Today, the Bihari theatre scene is barren. There isn’t much creativity involved. They talk about ‘nukkad’ theatre. What creativity is that? Overall, there is no discipline, no dedication, no punctuality and no rehearsals,” Ajatshatru said.

The local playwright, actor and director Suman Kumar picked up the gauntlet. He referred to the experimentation and improvisation being done on the Patna theatre scene, which had led to resurgent staging of modern plays, frequent performance of short stories in the Proscenium theatre, sophisticated presentation of plays from the folk theatre tradition and even the nukkad plays, since the late 1970s. “I can only say that Ajatshatru is not aware of it. Nor has he seen perfectly crafted street plays,” Suman said.

Probably, this — a fitting debate on the Parsi theatre tradition and what followed in Hindi language in Bihar thereafter — was what the organisers of Magadh Artists had planned while celebrating its 55th foundation day here on Sunday. The topic of the seminar was: ‘Parsi natak aur adhunik Hindi natak’.

The exhilarating part of the seminar was that the speakers confined themselves to their own contribution to building the Bihari theatre tradition rather than indulging in meaningless talk about what was happening in Delhi, Mumbai or other metros. The other participants were doyens of Parsi theatre tradition in Bihar, Chaturbhuj and Akhileshwar Prasad Sinha, while Vijay Amaresh, Paresh Sinha, Navneet Sharma and Madhukar Singh represented the later Hindi theatre tradition.

Curiously, every speaker pointed that the Parsi theatre style of Chaturbhuj (now 80) had inspired him to practice theatre activities. They called him “Gurudeo”. Chaturbhuj had started his career in theatre around World War II(1945). In due course, having founded his group Magadh Artists in 1952, he emerged as an institution: actor, director, playwright (specialising in historical and mythological dramas) and worker.

Significantly, the frequent complaint of the modernist actors and directors was that “we neither have good plays to perform nor encouraging audience.”

This distinguished those belonging to the Parsi theatre tradition from them. For, they wrote their plays, gained perfection and audience, and showed commitment.

Original article here