Pioneer of modern theatre in Jammu

Lalit Gupta
With more than 30 or more registered drama groups with their Sunday, Monday, Friday performances  finding regular and liberal media coverage, the reality is that theatre scene in Jammu is nothing but  summation of individual success stories which hardly reflect a significant growth of theatre as a  whole, especially at the grass root level.
Along with the mercurial rise of a few well managed local drama groups at the national level and much touted visits to international venues, there has also been a sea change in the very attitude, the level  of commitment, dedication to the art from by today’s brigade of young persons for whom theatre is only  a ladder to the glamorous world of television and films.
In such a scenario when most of the theatre groups in Jammu barring a very few exceptions —lacking both  vision and cohesiveness, dishing out mediocre performances, depending heavily upon the Government  support, with no culture of generating revenue from the public—it is time to remember those individuals  for whom theatre was not a commercial activity but an act of devotion and deep rooted commitment.
Rattan Sharma was such a theatre artiste, who showing gumption against all odds not only pioneered a  new era in Jammu of Jammu theatre in 1950s but also became instrumental in initiating generations of  theatre actors, directors, and writers in subsequent decades.
Born in Jammu, around 1912, Rattan Sharma was second among seven issues of Pandit Raghunath Shashtri  who had left his native village Ghou Manahsaan to never go back. Drawn to theatre right from childhood,  the handsome Rattan Sharma, bestowed with kind and sensitive countenance, slowly made his place in the  local art scene of Jammu city which already boasted of vibrant practice of Ram Lila performance at  Diwan Mandir under the auspices of Snatan Dharam Natak Smaj.
During 1940s and 50s, Diwan Mandir Rama Lila Stage enjoyed a hallowed status with the association of  personalities likes Kundan Lal Sehgal and Om Prakash and Sunder as actors and performance of Prithvi  Raj Kapoor on the same stage.
In Jammu, the first modern play ‘Achhoot’ written and directed by Vishwanath Khajuria was staged at  Ramnagar in 1935. But in early 1940s recognizing the potential and popular appeal of drama as an  additional tool to set rolling the wheels of f the renaissance movement, Ram Nath Shashtri and Dinu  Bhai Pant wrote and performed Baba Jitto at the historic farmers conference at Tikri. Rattan Sharma for  considerable time remained associated with Dogri Sanstha and directed and acted in many Dogri play  under Sanstha’s patronage.
In 1945-46, when Rattan Sharma became the director of Ram Lila, he started introducing modern treatment  of the religious subjects as well as new elements in their dramatization. Such an novel approach not  only enlarged the sphere of audience, which now apart from religious enthusiasts also included other  sections of the society.
Ved Pal Deep, a prominent Dogri poet, and nephew of Rattan Sharma, who along with his two younger  brothers was also inspired by his maternal uncle to act on stage, writing about him says, “when  probably in 1946, Rattan Sharma broke away from the hackneyed style of Ram Lila and on the very Pandal  of Ram Lila staged ‘Ram Rajya’, adaptation of famous film of the same name, he unwittingly laid the  foundation of modern theatre in Jammu”. His younger brother Kavi Rattan, who in 1970’s after graduating  from national School of Drama, New Delhi, gave new impetus to theatre movement, was then six years old  only.
Rattan Sharma along with his close associate Dhayan Singh formed Jammu’s first amateur theatre group  called as Jammu Kala Mandir in 1958 with its office at Tangae Aali Gali. Other notable associates were  Jagan Nath Charlie and Krishan Dutt.
It was in the same year that the State Cultural Academy came into existence but the annual drama  festivals organized by it, only started in 1965-66. It was left to theatre groups like Jammu Kala  Mandir and others including Friends Club to keep the theatre activity going on in Jammu.
Rattan Sharma’s group Jammu Kala Mandir staged plays like ‘Seeta Ki Agni Priksha’. The play based on  Bhasa’s Sanskrit play ‘Kekaiye’ was translated by Dinu Bhai Pant, emerged as a notable contribution of  Rattan Sharma wherein he initiated the performance of Ram Lila in Dogri language instead of Hindi. It  was an instantaneous hit with the audience. Its shows were also held at the Gita Bhavan and Youth  Hostel stage, which located behind present Women College, Parade, was another venue for holding theatre  performances in Jammu. Marked by modern effects like that of blazing fire created with ingenious use of  cellophane, air, light etc., the play created a kind of spectacular effect for the local audience who  so far had seen such technical wizardry in Bombay films only.
The landmarks plays that fired the interest of masses in theatre due to the scintillating performances  of Rattan Sharma as an actor included roles of ‘Dhobi’ in ‘Ram Rajya’, ‘Saintoo’ in ‘Namaan Gran’  ‘Bangi’ in ‘Sarpanch’ and ‘Pujari’ in ‘Balidan’.
In the conservative social setting of Jammu where male actors have been enacting the roles of all  female characters, it was Rattan Sharma who dared to bring on stage, a female actor. The first of such  artist was Padma Sachdev, who was then married to his own sister’s son and famous Dogri poet Ved Pal  Deep.
“The advent of females on stage plays not only acted as widening of winter capitals social horizon but  also made the stage art look real. The husband and wife team appeared in such plays like Nefa Ki Ek  Sham, Mout Ke Geet. Once the age old taboo broke, more females ventured to act on stage”.  As a true artiste Rattan Sharma was a humanist who did embraced all strata of the society. His  friendship with artists drawn from the so-called lower strata of society was such an example. These  artistes, like elsewhere in the country are inheritors of folk music and drama, were his companions  which included Jago, Dina Nai, and Fargu and others.
Another aspect of Rattan Sharma’s artistic life was that he was enamored with Bombay film world,  especially the charismatic personality of Raj Kapoor. This led him to venture out to Bombay where his  friend Jago was already there.
Rattan Sharma returned from Bombay and took up a job in the cultural wing of state information  Department in Jammu and once again got engrossed into his life-long passion for theatre. His friend
Jago later in 1970’s managed to bring a Parsi theatre company in Jammu that staged three plays here at  Gulab Bhavan Stage. Durga Dutt Mishra, an actor associated with Rattan Sharma also acted in those  plays.
In order to ensure that more theatre groups participated in the annual drama festival he even encouraged his young associate like Kewal Krishan Sharma to form a new group. The Roopvani Kala Kendra  was such a group formed under his guidance.
The list of plays performed by Jammu Kala Mandir include Dharein de Athroon (Tears of mountains),  Mankoo, Sanjali, Khote Paise, Nefa Ki Ek Sham, Morche Par, Maut ke Geet, Sarpanch, Utsarg, Samsya,  Patharen de Qaid, Kis Ka Haath, Sadhana, Singhasan Khali Hai, Prithavi ka Swarg. The play Good Bye  Swami was staged in 1972 and also in drama festival of 1985.
Singhasan Khali Hai, in its Dogri adaptation by Dinu Bhai Pant was staged in the drama festival of  1979. It was also staged as a repeat performance on J&K Academy’s invitation Sanskriti Sangam, New  Delhi in 1980. The same play was also staged in 1980, at Mavlankar Hall in New Delhi during annual  convention of Dogra Himachal Sanskriti Sangam.
After his last play ‘Bakri’ in 1986, Rattan Sharma left stage acting. He always wanted to stage the  plays such as ‘Yugein Yugein Kranti’ and ‘Bapu Ki Hatya Hazaarmi Bar, and used to read their scripts to  his grandchildren. Rattan who laid a sound foundation of modern theatre in Jammu, breathed his last in  1992.


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