Votary of Dogri Theatre

Lalit Gupta
Eighty seven years old Narsingh Dev Jamwal, one of the very few creative individuals in Jammu and Kashmir to be bestowed with two national awards in fields of literature and performing arts, is truly a multifaceted personality.
A prolific Dogri poet and writer, who in last six decades has enriched modern Dogri literature by penning down number of poetic anthologies, novels, books of short story, essays and criticism. He has also contributed in the general cultural landscape by his successful forays in other creative fields like theatre, painting and sculpture and winning state awards in sculpture and theatre.
Although the literary merits of his works have been the topic of umpteen critical papers by critics and published in magazines and journals, books, subject of M.Phil and Ph.D. thesis and given its due place in Histories of Dogri literature and Encyclopedia of Indian Literature, it is his contribution in the development of theatre in Dogri which deserves a honorable mention.
The journey of modern Dogri theatre—which began with Vishwa Nath Khajuria’s one-act play Acchut staged in 1935 at Ramnagar and followed up by landmark performance of Baba Jitto at Farmer’s Conference at Tikri in 1948-49—can be seen more as a handmaiden to Dogri cultural renaissance movement led by Dogri Sanstha.
Stalwarts like Ram Nath Shashtri, Dinu Bhai Pant and other talented writers who set bench marks for modern Dogri poetry and prose through their creative writings were also amateur actors who put to use the medium of theatre as a platform for interface between masses and new Dogri literature which sought to reflect the contemporary reality of Dogras. The role of theatre personalities like Rattan Sharma in staging plays on behalf of Dogri Sanstha left an indelible impact on public in 1950s.
The play Naman Gran, written in 1957, jointly by Ram Nath Shashtri, Dinu Bhai Pant, Rama Kumar Abrol, was followed by Ram Nath Shashtri’s `Sarpanch’. The play based on the life of young Sarpanch Ranpat who sacrificed his life for upholding the cause of justice was another significant mile stone in Dogri theatre. Dinu Bhai Pant also wrote plays like Sanjhali and Ayodhya. Other early Dogri writers who contributed as playwrights included Ved Rahi (Dharein De Atthrun), Rama Kumar Abrol (Dehri), D C Prashant (Devika Janam). Most of these plays barring a few exceptions were never performed.
By late 1960’s under the commendable initiative by J&K Cultural Academy, starting of annual drama festivals provided an opportunity for local drama groups to show case performances based on plays of well known contemporary playwrights. The Groups selected scripts on the whims and fancy and personal preferences of their ideologues, directors, other influential members of the cast and even sometimes the sponsors. Scripts performed in annual festivals included popular plays of writers like Balwant Gargi, Ramesh Mehta, Munshi Prem Chand, Krishan Chander Mohan Rakesh and other scripts which were readily available in Hindi, Hindustani and Urdu or by the local writers. Some groups also staged Hindi translations of well known international works like Dial M for Murder etc.
The All India Radio, being the sole medium of mass communication in those days boasted of covering large segments of population, emerged as a coveted platform for local writers who vied to have their plays broadcast from Radio Kashmir Jammu. Thus many creative Dogri writers also wrote Radio plays, some of which were performed on stage as well. It was in 1965, that 34 years old Narsingh Dev Jamwal, made his presence felt in Jammu theatre scene. Born on Feb 28, 1931, in Village Bhalwal and boasting of a unique background of being soldier who had the honour of fighting with Brig. Rajinder Singh, remaining as a POW from 1947 to 1950 at Attock in Pakistan, and then in active service of State Police, Narsingh Dev Jamwal attracted many art minded younger contemporaries. It was during this time that they decided to form a theatre group which was exclusively dedicated to Dogri theatre. Named as Friends Club, the members of dram group were Puran Singh, Vishnu Dutt, Ganesh Dass, L. D. Shashtri and later on Parduman Singh, Kuldeep Singh Jandraia, Aasha Thapa and others.
Narsingh Dev Jamwal—who had already had the experience of acting in plays and skits during his service in army, stay at Kolkata as a film lyric writer and thus exposed to world of films, back in Jammu had learnt painting from Pandit Sansar Chand Baru, in whose company he was also attending meetings of Dogri Sanstha— was a versatile personality amongst the group.
The group’s resolve to not only stage Dogri plays but also write new ones proved to a significant step towards the development of Dogri theatre. With almost every member including Narsingh Dev Jamwal, also acting in plays, the first play of the group Panj Parmesar was Puran Singh’s Dogri adaptation of Munshi Prem Chand’s Panch Parmeshwar. It was followed by Jamwal’s Mandlik and Aan Marjada, Tabbar Tor, a comedy by Puran Singh, Dhoundian Kandaan of Narinder Sharma, Gopal Sharma’s Namiyaan Chookaan Nami Lo and Jamwal’s Taharaan Gunji Payiaan.
During more than decade long short but intense activities of Friends Club, the group was able to achieve many firsts such as its dedication to the cause of Dogri by contributing new scripts in Dogri, giving roles to female artists like Radha Jamwal, Three Sharma sisters: Kiran, Shane, Shusham, Aasha Thapa and also staging shows of Dogri plays at Udhampur, Akhnoor, Palampur and Delhi during the All India Dogri conference.
What marked the new Dogri scripts by the group was that instead of many other scripts written by writers as a piece of literature, their works were written by those who also acted on stage. Thus such scripts were easy to stage as compared to others available at that time. With the result many groups in districts also felt convenient to stage their scripts.
After Narsingh Dev Jamwal was assigned a Darbar Move posting and other members who were mostly government employees, also posted out of Jammu, Friends Club was forced to wind up its activities. But Narsingh Dev Jamwal, kept on serving the cause of Dogri theatre as a playwright by writing and publishing new plays which are being regularly staged by many theatre groups including Duggar Manch,
Amateur Theater Group, Samooh Theatre, Pancham etc. His plays written on requests by organizations or for special occasions like birth centenary of Ranbir Singh include Sarkar, Bhagwan Parshuram and others.
The list of published plays by Jamwal includes Mandlik- 1972, Aan Marjada-1975, Allad Goli Vir Saphai- 1976,Chousar (four plays-1980), Pinjra-1984, Kouda Guhtt and Sanskar-1985, Ram Lila( seven day performance-1987, Panj tara-five selected radio plays- 1985, Devyani-2002, Tahraan Gunji Payiaan-2002, Dev Puttar-2002, Mallika, adaptation of Aashad Ka Ek Din-2004, Saman Kasaman-2004, Bisiyar, Bhagwan Parshuram-2006, Triphala-three plays (state award)-2010, and three more plays under press.
One of the most prolific playwrights Narsingh Dev Jamwal’s plays cover a wide range of subjects— mythology, history, dogra folklore, modern day life, reflect his all encompassing vision. Today, ensconced in the quite environs of his ancestral village Bhalwal and working on many self assigned projects including his autobiography, Narsingh Dev Jamwal, one of the tallest living votaries of Dogri theatre strongly feels that local theatre groups instead of finding their niche in national scene by emulating fashionable formal trends and treatments should work to create a distinct idiom of Dogri theatre.


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