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In 2009,Asmita theatre group was celebrating 15 years on the stage—a period marked by houseful plays such as Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions,Moteram ka Satyagraha,Rakt Kalyan and Court Martial besides performance at festivals in the US....

Written by Dipanita Nath |
April 11, 2010 12:16:48 am

Director Arvind Gaur talks about why his group Asmita looks beyond the stage towards street theatre

In 2009,Asmita theatre group was celebrating 15 years on the stage—a period marked by houseful plays such as Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions,Moteram ka Satyagraha,Rakt Kalyan and Court Martial besides performance at festivals in the US,the UK,Russia and France. Directors such as Mallika Sarabhai and Lushin Dubey had collaborated with the group and a certain Kangana Ranaut was among the Bollywood names who had trained here. So,it came as a surprise when director Arvind Gaur made his announcement— Asmita would now shift focus from stage plays to street plays.

The move was a reversal of normal theatre practice—most street theatre groups aspire for success on stage,and street theatre or nukkad natak is generally reserved for campus and activists groups. Asmita is,thus,a rare instance of a successful stage theatre group taking to the streets.

For the past one year,Asmita has performed more than 70 street plays every month,three times more than their stage appearances during the period. “The issues range from domestic violence to domestic helps,from civic sense to child education,” says Gaur,adding that he had begun his theatre career with a street play called Videshi Aaya with students of Zakir Husain College in the 1980s.

Gaur has directed most of the plays for Asmita and he adds that all the while,he prepared proscenium plays,his heart lay on the streets. “In street theatre,there is no separate level to divide the audience from the actors and eye contact and conviction alone marks out a strong performer. Moreover,audience reaction is brutally honest,” he says. Though Asmita did street plays every year,these were few and far between.

“Our plays are not meant to entertain,they educate. And the first to get educated are the actors themselves,” says Gaur. One of their recent street plays was on road rage and was performed during the Auto Expo and at various Delhi University colleges. “We had to first look into ourselves to understand the message before we could pass it on. Now,I follow road rules to the letter,” says Disha Arora,a recent graduate of St Stephen’s College and an actor with the group.

The language is local but not colloquial,and there is no storyline. “Our street plays evolve through a series of vignettes. For instance,in the play called Naukrani,about domestic helps,the snippets range from unregistered agencies that supply domestic helps to the Shiney Ahuja incident to minors working as maids,” says Shilpi Marwaha,the co-ordinator for street theatre at Asmita. At a labour colony at Khandasa village in Gurgaon,where many domestic helps live,the performance of Naukrani was met with heavy silence and tearful eyes.

At Anupam shopping complex in Saket,however,the play on garbage brought in the police. “But,we have one unbreakable rule — we don’t stop,not even for the cops,” says Marwaha.

The actors are in their early twenties and range from students to young professionals. Arora adds that she got a sense of fulfillment when their play on civic sense and littering gained an instant response at Bhikaji Cama. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when several people from the audience bent down and started picking up the garbage thrown around the park,” she says. It’s a kind of thrill,adds Gaur,that the stage cannot provide.

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