Theatre for Peace Festival, Humsaya, by Ajoka Theatre based in Pakistan has audiences of Chandigarh completely floored. For the last three days, it’s been houseful at Tagore Theatre, with the group receiving a resounding welcome every day, and the audience connecting with the members and their art at many levels.
“After the show, there are long discussions that people have with the group members, with many senior people sharing their memories of Pakistan and the undivided Punjab,” said Sahib Singh, director of Adakar Manch, who has been largely responsible for this unique festival. Singh has been taking his theatre productions in Punjabi to Pakistan regularly, working closely with director Madheeha Gauhar and playwright Shaheed Nadeem to devise new ways to share their art and feelings in the form of seminars, workshops and performances.
Humsaya is the result of creative collaborations of artistes who believe in the philosophy that theatre has the power to bring change and bring India and Pakistan closer.
The idea of Humsaya has also highlighted the importance of people-to-people contact where politics does not dictate terms.
And the spectacular act is for all to see, as this effort resulted in “Kabira Khara Bazar Mein” written by Bhisham Sahni and designed and directed by Kewal Dhaliwal, a prominent writer and director and the man behind Manch Rang Manch in Amritsar. “Kabira Khara Bazar Mein” is our latest production and our tribute to the progressive short-story writer and novelist Bhisham Sahni, who was born and brought up in Rawalpindi and went to the the Government College in Lahore.
“It’s our ode to him on the occasion of his birth centenary,” said Gauhar.
Dhaliwal, for the last two decades has been working with the members of Ajoka, training them in both acting and technical aspects of the stage, by holding free workshops twice a year in Amritsar, where the actors from Pakistan also get to work with Dhaliwal’s group, and stage a full-fledged festival in June.
The creative collaborations have also resulted in Dhaliwal and Madeeha staging festivals in Pakistan and Amritsar. “We have also performed a play, Yatra, based on the Partition of India and the no-man’s land,” Dhaliwal said. “Art for art’s sake, the idea that we believe in is that young people from both the countries should meet in person to realise that we are not different. There are many misconceptions created by politicians that need to be cleared and what better way than theatre to share our past, present and future,” added Dhaliwal.
‘Kabira Khada Bazar Mein’ emerged from Ajoka’s desire to do something on Sufism, and Dhaliwal says, the resemblance between Sufi and Bhakti message is striking, with Bhakti and Sufi poets having incorporated each other’s verses and sayings, in many cases word by word.
“Challenging the caste and class system, love and compassion were the main thoughts and Kabir defied the class and creed divides of the14th and 15th century India, and fearlessly challenged the mullahs and pundits alike. I have done a few improvisations in the script, using live music, a chorus which is part of the set created by sarees and borders from Banaras, the place he was born, in a family of weavers. The play, replete with Kabir’s poetry, colour, 70 dohas, live music brings on stage the many aspects of Kabir and his relevance even today,” Dhaliwal said.
“The play was a huge hit in Pakistan, and we have done five shows. For the actors, it was a production that got them closer to the many aspects of the poet-saint,” summed up Dhaliwal.