Fumble and Rumble marked festival of plays

Lalit Gupta
Organized by J&K Cultural Academy after a gap of two years, the magical journey of the Festival of Plays 2020-21, here, started with an opening-day fumble and also ended with a rumble. On the bright side, it was also marked by a few takeaways.
The Fumble: Disruption in the normal working of J&K Cultural Academy due to stopgap bureaucrats as Secretaries came to the surface on the opening day of theatre fest when a sudden power shutdown minutes before the opening time happened. The Academy officials scurrying to get the last minute sanction for diesel to run the emergency generator at the Abhinav Theatre, a sad commentary on its working was witnessed by the audience who had to wait outside the hall for more than one hour.
The Rumble: First time in the sixty years history of theatre fests in Jammu, a play was called off on an unsubstantiated complaint that it hurt religious sentiments. The closing day of the 15-day event at the Abhinav Theatre witnessed a high drama. With heavy police presence on the outside, and a houseful audience inside helplessly watched few ‘elements’ browbeat the artists and created ruckus. Eventually, the organizing J&K Cultural Academy, in a bid to be politically correct called off the show. Thus, raising a question mark on the Academy’s commitment to its constitutional mandate of promoting creative literary and artistic expressions in Jammu and Kashmir.
Takeaways: Every Theatre festival leaves a mark on the memory. The performers rejoice at the high points and become aware of the need for more work in areas like acting, costumes, set, light and sound designs. While the audiences in retrospection muse over the themes, storylines and relish the intense dramatic moments that moved them and caused the aesthetic rupture and enjoyment.
Local Playwrights: The recently concluded Festival of Plays out of the 14 featured plays more than half were the original plays and translations/adaptations by local Playwrights. These in Dogri were Rajneesh Gupta’s Shah Shahni, a moving tale of the meeting of lovers separated by 1947 Partition as well as an ode to Jammu city’s grand secular tradition. Shashi Bhushan’s Dogri comedy ‘Sass Puran’ Dogri comedy play ‘Sass Puran’ as compared to a negative image, portrayed mother-in-law as a loving and compassionate one.
The original Hindi plays were Vikram Sharma’s Antanavaran, a psychological thriller, Rakesh Roshan Bhat’s ‘Mujrim Mein Nahin Par Mein Hi Hoon’, a tropical play that competently reflected upon the empty nest syndrome faced by Indian middle-class parents, and Kumar. A. Bharti’s ‘Passport’ which could not be stage after misplaced protests, was comic satire how bad characters even after death retain their bad qualities. Captain Maharaj’as Kashmiri play ‘Sare Jahan Se Accha’ reiterated faith in the secular traditions of Kashmir valley. Another category was that of translations/ adaptations by local playwrights of well-known plays. These included Shiv Mehta’s masterly adaptation of Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder, Vikram Sharma’s translation of Augustus Strindberg’s Miss Julie, and Rajneesh Gupta’s moving translation of Tagore’s Kabluiwala. Also staged were foreign play translations by Indian playwrights such as Suresh Bhardwaj’s Hindi translation of Albert Camu’s French play ‘Les Justes’ titled Jayez Hatayare, S M Azhar’s Hindustani translation of Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie as Patjhad and J.N.Kaushal’s Hindustani translation of Euripides’s Trojan Women. Another category was that of Indian Modern Classic plays in Hindi such as Vijay Tendulkar’s Pancchi Aise Aate Hain, Meera Kant’s Ant Hazir Ho and Balwant Gargi’s Loha Kutt in Punjabi.
One of the highlights of the fest was that the actor/cum directors outnumbered those who gave exclusive duty as a director. The actor/directors who left a mark in both fields of acting and direction included Sunil Sharma-Jayez Hatyare, Meera Tapasavi-Shah Sahni, Gurmeet Jamwal/Mohit Mehra-Patjhad, Shashi Bhushan-Sass Puran, Javed Gill-Sakhram Binder, Sapna Soni-Antanavarana, Vijay Goswami-Pancchi Aise Aate Hain, T.S. Premi-Loha Kutt. The other directors who effectively directed plays were Rohit Bhat, Rajnesh Gupta, Vikram Sharma, Ravinder Sharma, Jitendra Jotshi and Sachin Dhar.
Talented Debutants: Another take away of the fest was the entry of talented debutants who impressed the audience in their very first offering as actors. These were Kanchan Rajput (Patjhad), Mannat Bhau (Kabuliwala), Varsha ( Miss Leela), Nisha Mehra (Pancchi Aise Aate Hain), Jahnavi Sharma (Trojan Women). The talented newcomers who gave impressive show included Deepika and Radhika (Trojan Women), Shital Bhan (Miss Leela), Nazuk Bhagat (Ant hazir Ho). Other notable performances were by Meera Tapasavi, Pawan Verma, Sandhya Khartol , Neeraj Sethi, Pratriksha Sharma, Usha Slathia, Ritu Mehra, Gurmeet Kaur, Mohit Mehra, Vivek Sangotra, Sapna Soni, Aditya Bhanu.
The Fest also saw theatre groups mounting elaborate realistic sets such as Loha Kutt, Antavarana and Patjhad, while Kabuliwala, Miss Leela, Trojan women, Ant Hazir Ho, Pancchi Aiase Aate Hain used symbolic and minimal sets. The light and sound designs of the plays left to either directors or other amateur enthusiasts came out to be a mixed affair. The long-due proper training and exposure through dedicated workshops for members of groups’ technical teams will certainly help the amateur theatre enthusiasts of the winter capital further spruce up their productions. The senior theatre make-up artists Shammi Dhamir and Kamal Sharma also did a good job in giving appropriate looks to actors as per their characters.
If theatre, the socially relevant art form has to become integral to the cultural life of the citizens, there is an urgent need to increase the number of awards in various categories with handsome prize money, to attract talented young persons toward theatre and secondly to regularly organize theatre festivals in major cities and towns of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.