Dr. Aziz Hajani, Secretary J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, and Dr. Sudhir Mahajan, Senior Drama Instructor, certainly deserve Kudos for envisaging and successfully executing the recently concluded mega Annual Drama festival 2018.
This came out a corollary to Academy’s initiative in galvanizing the theatre movement in J&K by enhancing play production fee for each selected play to Rs. 500, 000, and a spate of state-sponsored Nukkad Natak festivals to encourage young actors and also enlarge the outreach of theatre by taking it out of proscenium to the public on street.
Never-Before Bonanza of 22 plays : The Annual Festival 2018, a one-go bonanza of 22 plays in Dogri, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi and Hindustani languages, brought together winter capital’s and even from other districts a community of more than 400 theatre actors, playwrights, performing artistes, singers, lyricists, music composers, visual artists, sound, light and set designers to showcase their journey as amateur practitioners of modern theatre in J&K.
Festival’s venue, the Abhinav Theatre with its lawns decorated with posters of the plays, buntings, and regular performances of folk artistes—bore a look of carnival which saw winter capitals artists of all hues and theatre aficionados arriving at the venue much before the time of performance only to exchange views, feedbacks about previous day’s performance or just to share the bonhomie and celebrate the excitement.
Notable Gains: Stellar Productions/ Best Actors/ Emerging Pool of Young Directors: Top first five ranking productions of the fest were: (listed as per fest’s calendar) Roheet Verma’s Gudia Azad, Rajneesh Gupta’s Tandav, Sunil Sharma’s Ek Aur Durghatana, Yamini Cultural Society’s Adhe-Adhure, Pancham’s Sir Sir Sarla and Natraj Natya Karmi’s Macbeth. Other plays which also made their presence felt were Kasali’s Nachangi Sari Raat, Balraj Bakshi’s Kanoon Shikan, Doosra Aadmi Doosari Aurat, Samanbal, Kunju Chanchalo, Karamgati, and Dozakh.
The festival sprung up amazingly talented first-timers like Channpreet Kaur. It was also marked by top-class performances by young actors like Balwinder (Tandav), Mridul Anand & Amar Chouhan (Kunju Chanchalo), Sandeep Sharma (Karamgati), Suneel Sharma (Death of an Anarchist) Dilsad Ahmed Sazi (Kanoon Sikan), Sapna Soni (Dosara Admi Dosari Aurat), Sabia Khajuria, Javed Gill & Neha Rani (Nachangi Sari Raat), Ritu Manhas (Nagamandala) and senior actors Umesh Singh, Gurmeet Kaur Jamwal, Danesh Dogra (Adhe-Adhure), Kusum Tikku, and Makhan Lal Saraf (Samanbal).
Rohit Verma, Suneel Sharma, Dilsahd Sazi, made their presence felt as young actor/directors who if given proper training and exposure in direction could easily touch further heights in theatre direction.
Welcome Voluntarism: As a happy consequence of the opening of a much-needed facility of a canteen in Abhinav Complex, which has become artistes’ meeting point for exchange and sharing of ideas, has also led to a spirit of camaraderie amongst the theatre community. The result of which was felt during the Annual Festival 2018, when young actors came forward to work as volunteers to help the management. One only hopes that Academy officials will further channelize the energy of the young talent by creating permanent rehearsal spaces and making the visit to tits Canteen a more welcome experience by putting up some canopies in an artistic ambiance created out of wooden logs etc.
Fixed Calendar: Though Academy has already initiated steps, it must fix the calendar for the submission of scripts, evaluation based on rehearsals and holding of the annual theater festival—preferably immediately after Darbar Move.
Quality versus Quantity: The abysmal standards of some of the plays presented during festival have shown that for the lure of quantity the quality has been compromised: It has also put a question mark on the judging process. The Academy needs to ensure adherence to strict standards of selection, and discourage bhai-bhatija-vad. The judges of impeccable credentials should be brought in, and loopholes in the rules should be plugged to daunt any misuse of Academy’s artiste friendly policies.
Reframing and not Amendment of Rules: The Academy has to put a stop to the practice of amending rules as an easy way out. It needs to reframe rules to accommodate new practices and trends. Especially it must scrap its archaic rules and criteria for selection of play scripts.
Credibility of Theatre groups: It is a matter of concern that NGO’s who specialize in fleecing government funds by clubbing/adding in their mandate the categories of art and culture along with environment, education, welfare of women, and what not—are also managing to stage plays by a proxy cast of gullible actors, only to pocket the enhanced production cost. In order to nip the evil in the bud, the Academy must change rules to review all NGO’s hitherto registered with it, so as to ensure only those NGO/Groups which are solely created to work for the promotion of arts only, get the benefit of registration/subsidies.
The repeat of plays: To encourage the staging of new scripts, the existing rules should be amended to discourage groups to repeat plays after a gap five years.
Dummy Directors: To alley the deeply uneasy feeling among genuine artistes/groups, the Academy must blacklist all those groups who lend their banner to recently mushroom unrecognized groups and also those who participate with dummy directors.
Sprucing up Abhinav Theatre Management: Abhinav Theatre, one of the best auditoria of the country, was renovated by the State Government by spending more than five crores. But sadly the upkeep of this premier cultural space is found. The manager of Abhinav Theatre must ensure its proper maintenance, upkeep and also the strict implementation of international norms of theatre culture. This includes barring the entry from the main door after the start of play, ensuring that the footlight work so that all those coming a little late are not forced to use mobile flashlights, proper upkeep of theatre door closures, reining the overenthusiastic photojournalists to approach the stage for clicking photographs and use of flashlights, silencing mobile phone, not allowing children below 12 years, and sensitizing the public with clear instructions to not to disturb the ongoing productions.
State of Art Sound and Light Equipment: There is urgent need to augment the Sound and Light Equipment, as the groups from the country and outside complain about the lack of the state of art facilities of sound and light to realize the full impact of their creative works.
Holding of Workshops: Cultural Academy must actively facilitate holding theatre repertoires and workshop by outside experts from NSD etc, to orient the young talent with technical aspects like light design, theatre music, set design along with acting, direction. This is furthermore important as the J&K State’s education department, and the state and central universities have yet to wake from slumber in giving due place as a subject to the performing arts in schools, colleges and in higher education.