Jammu to Johannesburg Journey of a Cultural Ambassador

Mohd Yaseen

The man who has many firsts to his credit has created yet another history for being the first person from the region to reach to the highest position of culture and is currently representing India as the Cultural Diplomat to South Africa. His amazing journey can inspire generations, particularly those who look for offbeat professions. Usually people excel in one profession and perform average in others but here he set a unique example of mastering everything which he chose during his professional life. He is an out of the world combination of creativity and administrative acumen. As a creative person Balwant Thakur revolutionised the cultural scene of this region and took and brought Jammu & Kashmir to the National/International limelight. He won the highest Indian honour in performing arts i.e., Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for direction in Theatre in addition to Padamshree in the field of Culture. As cultural administrator, he created history when he headed J&K Academy of Art Culture and Languages between 1995-2003 and won best awards for Jammu & Kashmir in the Republic Day Celebrations, New Delhi for the year 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002 respectively. He worked as Regional head of Indian Council for Cultural Relations in Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and made a record by bringing 18 countries to Jammu to showcase their culture for the people who never had the occasion to witness foreign artists performing in Jammu.
Born in a hilly village of district Reasi, Balwant Thakur got fascinated to the local traditional performances at the early childhood. Though he was good in academics but performing arts, particularly, theatre always remained his top priority and despite having LLB professional and Post Graduation in Journalism and Mass Communication, he took a huge risk and became the first person from the erstwhile, State of Jammu & Kashmir to take-up theatre as his full-time profession. Having the credit of having over record 6,500 events and successful programmes, Balwant Thakur as of now is one of the most creative theatre directors of the country who have given a new identity to Indian theatre with their highly innovative theatre productions. Balwant Thakur is credited for being the youngest theatre director of India who has participated over three hundred National/International Theatre Festivals as director, which is a record in the country. Known as a magic man of theatre, his outstanding visual poetics on stage like ‘Ghumayee’ ‘Bawa Jitto’ ‘Suno Eh Kahani’ ‘Chauraha’ and ‘Mahabhoj’ have given a further push to the theatre scene of India. Credited for bringing Dogri theatre to the National and International limelight, he has been highly instrumental in creating a new cultural renaissance in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. As a theatre director he took Dogri to the ultimate heights and made yet another record of being the first person to take Dogri theatre to Frankfurt International Theatre Festival, World Experimental Theatre Festival, Russia, commonwealth games and Theatre Olympics.
Recognizing his outstanding contribution in Indian theatre, the Department of Culture, Govt. of India Awarded him the National Senior fellowship for three years to do research on the performing modes of Jammu. In 1992 he was decorated with yet another prestigious award of the country i.e, ‘Sanskriti Award’ for direction in theatre, which is given once in three years to a theatre person in the country. Same year he got The Ford Foundation (USA) Grant Award for his research project ‘Search for a New Theatre Language’. This gave a new flip to his creative endeavours and he won the rarest honors like ‘Abhinayak Samman’ ‘Saptrishi Samman’ ‘Naksha Samman’ ‘Tagore Samman’ ‘Prithivi Raj Kapoor Samman’ ‘Maharaja Gulab Singh Memorial Award’, ‘J&K State Award for Life-time Achievement’, ‘Punjab Kala Parshid Award’, ‘B V Karanth Award’, and ‘Kala Nidhi Purskar’
In Children’s theatre, Balwant Thakur is one among the very few theatre directors of India who have revolutionized the theatre scene and have evolved a new dramaturgy for children. His plays like ‘Mere Hisse Ki Dhoop Kahan Hai’ ‘Aap Hamare Hain Kaun’ ‘Hum Hain Naa’ and ‘Bhag Beta Bhag’ are being credited as the most demanded children productions which have been featured in almost all the major theatre events in India.
Widely travelled Balwant Thakur held his presentations in Bangkok (Thailand) Singapore, London, Oxford, Brighton, Stratford, Berlin, Frankfurt, (Germany), Rome (Italy) Moscow, Yoroslov, Belgrade, St. Petersburg, Turkey, Shanghai, Bejing, Nanjing, Xining, Almaty, Bishkek, Denmark, Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhaabi, and Dhaka.
As of now Balwant Thakur is posted in Johannesburg as cultural diplomat of the country and heads the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre. His prime mandate is to bring nations together through cultural initiatives. According to him Culture is a set of values and practices that create meaning for society. This includes both high culture (literature, art, and education, which appeals to elites) and mass appealing culture. This is what governments seek to show foreign audiences when engaging in cultural diplomacy.
In such a short span of time he has enchanted the South African region with magnificent Indian performances. In last three months he has been able to organise over 30 Indian events which were not witnessed by the African audiences since decades. Despite being in a foreign land, he has again established the fact that it’s always the individual that matters and has surprised everyone with his magic and now Indian cultural events are drawing pack-houses. He is a firm believer of the fact that India has been a world leader of culture and it’s his sole responsibility to establish that legacy and cultural supremacy of the India.