He has taught theatre to some famous individuals. And they include Anupam and Kirron Kher, Neelam Mansingh, Rani Balbir Kaur, Mahendra Kumar, GS Chani and Satish Kaushik. And now the whole of Punjab is gearing up to mark the first birth centenary of legendary thespian Balwant Gargi in a big way. The centenary falls on December 4, 2016.
For the next few months, the stage will be set for theatre directors to present the life, times and works of the legend in their own dramatic styles for the larger audience. Marking the celebrations, the Panjab University has announced 2016 as Gargi centenary. A committee, comprising theatre artistes, scholars and academicians has been selected to chalk out a plan for the celebrations,which would include staging of Gargi’s plays, seminars, workshops on his style of theatre et al.
At the Department of Indian Theatre in PU, which Gargi had set up in 1972, Prof Mahendra Kumar is quietly striving for a Gargi Museum of Theatre Arts at W-11, where the thespian resided, wrote and rehearsed his plays for nine years (1968-77). After imparting education in theatre at University of Washington, Gargi came to PU and started teaching theatre. Such was his passion, that he gave theatre in Punjab professionalism and dignity.
Gargi’s art director and artistic partner from 1969, till his death in 2003, Kumar says that Gargi before coming to PU had travelled all over the world and was of the firm view that the power of his own dramatic literature needed to be supplemented with equally brilliant scenic design. The Open Air Theatre on the campus was unused, before he used it as foundation of the Department of Indian Theatre. And it was at W-11, that his first batch of students, now established actors and theatre directors of the country and many of their contemporaries learnt their first baby steps in theatre, under his patronage. “He lived, wrote, rehearsed there, and for many of us W-11 was second home, since for three years we operated from there. Tea, coffee, food, intellectual and creative simulation, warmth and encouragement.W-11 is an special space, filled with some dramatic memories and experiences.
It is appropriate for me and the PU authorities to raise a memorial to Gargi’s huge artistic contribution to the whole region of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal. And there cannot be a better place than W-11. I visualize it as a Stratford for the Punjabi Shakespeare. Gargi himself would have liked to see the place as a hub of artistic activity where young actors, painters, poets, researchers and writers could meet, and interact over a cup of tea,” says Kumar. Kumar has appealed that the space is earmarked to be developed as Gargi Museum of Theatre Arts with MP Kirron Kher’s initiative and funding, and is confident there will be consensus from all around.
From the very beginning House Number W-11 (now the warden’s residence) was officially attached to the Department of Indian Theatre, with Prof Gargi operating as head of the department from here, and after him theatre person Amal Allana occupied it which was later allotted to Mohan Maharishi. “It will be a befitting tribute to Gargi’s commitment, passion and love for theatre,” Kumar added.