A play written by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, highlighting her government’s development initiatives and taking a dig at opposition parties, is now a key part of the Trinamool Congress’s campaign in villages in the run-up to the panchayat polls. Around a hundred folk theatre and street theatre groups are performing hundreds of shows in rural Bengal at public meetings and street corners as the polling day draws close.
The entire initiative is being overseen by Bratya Basu, theatre personality and the state IT Minister, according to people involved in the project. Avi Chakraborty, who directed the play, titled ‘Jayatu’ (victorious), said, “Bratya Basu gave us the script a week ago. We did rehearsals and then a show, which was videographed. Around a hundred street theatre and folk theatre groups have been chosen (to perform it in different parts of the state). Wehave sent them the CD, which is a kind of guideline for enacting it.”
Chakraborty said theatre reaches out to people in a more stirring manner than political speeches. “A live street theatre or a drama on stage is more appealing to the people,” he maintained.
Chakraborty, part of Ashoknagar Nattyamukh, a theatre group, said, “The play has been kept at 15 minutes and is part of campaign for the panchayat polls.” Basu could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.
Having eight rural characters, Jayatu’s central theme revolves around development initiatives undertaken by the Banerjee government since 2011. It has songs and poems, narrated by the characters, highlighting initiatives such as ‘Kanyashree’ (Bengal government’s programme for the girl child), ‘Jubashree’ (programme for the youth), ‘Rupashree’ (initiative for marriage of young women).
Among other government initiatives, it also takes up distribution of rice at Rs 2 per kg, free bicycles to schoolchildren, establishment of new colleges and universities in the state.
The dialogue speaks about initiatives for minority development such as scholarships for students, stipends for imams, among others.
The play takes a dig at the Opposition, mainly ‘Lal Party’ – or the CPI(M) – and calls the BJP (the party is also called ‘Bharat Jalao Party’ and ‘Manush Jalao Party’ in the play) a divisive force. Theatre groups are adapting tunes for the song in the play according to local folk song flavours and traditions.
One of the characters highlights the purported danger emerging from a party that wants to divide people on religious lines, indicating the BJP. “This is the same party which withdrew all currency, and created trouble for all of us…” one of the characters says, indicating the demonetisation drive of November 2016. The play speaks about armed rallies during Ram Navami and divisive forces trying to find their feet in Bengal.
One character in the play, named Chetri, purportedly representing the Darjeeling Hills, highlights how Banerjee solved the months-long problem in the Hills by travelling there on several occasions to bring peace. Sidhartha Kishore Roy Bhandari, head of the theatre group Kisholoy Natya Sanastha, which has been roped in to cover West Midnapore district, said, “We have performed at 25 places in the last three days. We have adopted the tune of Jhumur dance (traditional dance of Purulia) for the main song. We are holding shows at street corners and large public meetings were ministers and party leaders address the people, and also (organising) independent shows.”
Recalling a show they did in Debra, in Kharagpur subdivision of the district, at 11 on Tuesday night, Bhandari said, “The response from the people is tremendous.” Representatives in the theatre groups said they hold shows from 8 am to 11 am and then 5 pm to 11 pm in an effort to avoid the afternoon heat. Each group is paid Rs 1,500 per show, and according to people participating in the campaign there is much demand for such plays in the state’s rural areas.
“So many requests from villagers and local party leaders are pouring in to perform in their areas. We are trying our best to get some time out and visit most place,” Bhandari said. “The best about theatre is that we the response from the crowd is immediate…it is good.”