NITF 2020 International Theatre Fest enriches Jammu cultural landscape

By Lalit Gupta

Concluded on Feb 13, 2020, the Nutan International Theatre Festival (NITF 2020) was a welcome gamut of absorbing story lines, intense performances, distinctive voices and glimpses of various fascinating forms.

Apart from providing much needed impetus to the local theater scene, NITF 2020, came as an opportunity for Jammu audience to discern what is happening out in other centers of theater performance. Such festivals which enrich Jammu’s cultural landscape are likely to attract dedicated audiences to creative art of theater.

NITF 2020, a unique NGO initiative led by the passionate and young Roopesh Jamwal and sponsored by his family, was organized in collaboration with ‘Lakshya The Aim’ and tactical support of senior theater artiste Vikram Sharma and curatorial inputs by well known theater personality Mushtaq Kak who during his many outside sojourns had the opportunity to watch the invited plays live.

The successful completion of NIFT 2020 owes to unstinted support by brigade of young volunteers from local amateur groups and above all the technical team of the Abhinav Theatre, the venue of the fest. NIFT 2020, other than Jammu, will have two more editions at Chandigarh and Jaipur.

The Jammu edition of NIFT 2020, held from Feb 1 to Feb 13, was marked by the participation of twelve groups- one from Nepal, ten groups from different parts of the country and one from Jammu.

The play scripts/adaptations were of well known playwrights like Badal Sarkar/ Pratibha Agarwal, Dharmavir Bharti,- Samuel Beckett, Mithleshwar/Vibhanshu Vaibhav, Swadesh Deepak, Yogesh Tripathi, Jagdish Ghimire, Ipshitaa Chakraborty, Shiv Batalavi and Ashish Pathak. In addition to the above, NITF 2020, also showcased plays written/directed/acted by Sikander Khan and Ambika Kamal who represent the new generation of multifaceted creative theatre professionals.

The range of themes that drew attention towards variegated issues faced by the society included the mindless destruction brought about by wars, (Andha Yug by TAAM Manipur) metaphysical anxiety and existentialist angst, despair, alienation experienced by middle class (Evam Inderjeet by Rangkalpa, Endgame-Rangyatri, Jammu, The Confessions by Theatre Village, Nepal), contemporary plight of traditional performers of  Nautanki (Babu Ji by Flying Feathers Arts Association, Delhi), Tamasha artistes (Kirtan by Brown Thespians, Chandigarh), Mirasis (Bhanwarya Kallet by Kalander Group, Rajasthan), adaptations of Shakespeare in regional colors,(Kulsoom Sapno-Ujagar Dramatic Association, Jaipur), social evils and human greed (Court Martial-Sukhmanch, Delhi and Chauthi Cigarette-Rangsaaz, Delhi), women verses patriarchy, caste and conflict (Loona by Manch Rangmanch, Amritsar and Agarbatti by Sangam Rangmandal, Jabalpur).

What emerged as the strong point of NITF 2020 was the inclusion of plays which have already been awarded in prestigious theatre festivals or won accolades. Designed and directed by  directors mostly academically trained from leading drama schools of the country and abroad, barring a few self-trained ones, the presentation styles ranged from realistic to abstract and to the innovative. From one extreme of the catching realism of Evam Inderjeet, Court Martial, Chouthi Cigarette, Agarbatti, and Bhanwarya Kallet, to the absurd and conceptual Endgame to the theater of roots—wherein the quest for a truly indigenous idiom the elements of traditional performing forms are used to give an earthy feel and native context—best seen in Nautanki style of ‘Babu Ji’, Punjabi ‘Kissa’ in Loona, Rajasthani folk forms in ‘Kulsoom Sapno’.

There were also few welcome productions which were post-modernist in design. These were Andha Yug, The Confession, and Kirtan. The fragmented characters of theses plays formed a collection of contrasting and parallel narratives. The young directors discarding popular genres and styles emphasized upon the physical to focus upon the psychological. Here actor’s bodies, their physicality emerge as important tools of expression. While in Andha Yug, the director Joy Maisnam used combination of movements drawn from Manipur’s folk dances and martial arts, the play Kirtan was symphony of bodies in modern dance movements, intense but short spurts of sounds, changing emotions though facial expressions and gestural movements. The Confessions, directed by Bimal Subedi, was a novel presentation. Here the angst of the protagonist finds expression in form of a forceful monologue delivered under the canopy of blood and glucose transfusion bottles with dangling lines. It was one of the most creative set designs of the festival. With stage mostly bare and bereft of sets, elaborate props, and costumes, such performances marked with the amalgam of dance, sound/music and sight offered a kind of new Gestalt, a unique spectacle, a fresh vision that is left open for the audience to interpret.

One can only hope that such theater festivals organized by community initiatives like that of Nutan Prayas Manch are held regularly and grow in stature and influence over the years to serve as platform to showcase talent and develop a keen audience in Jammu. (Ends)