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Jamunia Smile

It is difficult to describe a theatrical production like Jamunia,because it treads a thin line between being a drama and a musical.

July 27, 2011 1:08:25 am

I&B ministry has smartly packaged information on rural government schemes into one mega theatrical production

It is difficult to describe a theatrical production like Jamunia,because it treads a thin line between being a drama and a musical. Dharmendra Jai Narain,aka DJ,had this exact idea in mind when he began conceptualising the play last year. “It was an initiative by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) that made Jamunia see the light of the day. The main aim of the ministry was to let the people know about the various governmental schemes that are available for the people. And the challenge was to educate people and at the same time,entertain them,” says Narain,who directed the play.

Narain recently took up the directorship of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and has also been the frontman of the pop/rock band,Aryans. He was heading the Song and Drama Division under the I&B Ministry when the idea for the play was being thought about. The tall task was to direct a production that incorporated governmental schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) and Right To Information (RTI) into the narrative,as well as a story. “And they gave me only three months to do it,” laughs Narain. “I was in shock when they told me the type of story they wanted to relate and the time frame they were giving me. Since the stage,duration and every other aspect of the play was big scale,the only way we could pull it off was by just getting down to working on it.”

The figures are staggering. The play required a set up time of nearly a month. Twelve truck-loads of props were brought in while setting up the first show in Rai Bareilly,and a total of seven stages,around 400 ft big,were built. The play cast and crew totaled 150,and a 40-60 ft screen for AV projections was installed. It also had ten songs in it,that ranged from 30 seconds to over three minutes in duration. “It was Sanjay Srivastav,a colleague and dear friend,who helped in the brainstorming and in the writing. The story deals with the life of Jamunia,an unlettered woman,whose husband passes away,leaving her in penury,” Narain says.

Jamunia, however,refuses to resign to her state and goes on not only to become literate,but also to fight the feudal system in the village. She becomes the sarpanch of the village and helps her fellow villagers to build an ideal village. “It’s a story of giving a face to the changing nature of rural India. Not about fighting the system. Rather,it is about using the tools provided by the system to better the lives of individuals and,in the process,perfect the system itself,” says Narain.

The play has so far been showcased at Amravati,Rai Bareilly,Panna and Jhansi. Amongst audiences sometimes numbering over 20,000,the women in these places showed a lot of interest. “We would show the play for seven days at a stretch at the venues and the reactions would be classic. First day,the ratio of people would be 50:50 with an equal number of men and women,and subsequent shows would have a ratio of around 80:20,with 80 per cent being women,” Narain says. He mentions that women are forging changes in their villages. “You know you have done a good job when women come up to the lead character and ask her to stand for elections in their villages.”

The government has taken up the play for adaptation in 10 languages. “This is what we want. For it to reach out to everyone,sans any lingual barriers. The tricky part is that the adaptations will need to retain the punch and entertain value.” In addition,All India Radio (AIR) will be broadcasting the show from August 15 this year. There are talks of Doordarshan taking it up to produce a full-fledged TV series that may begin airing from January 26 next year. As of now,Narain says he has his hands full with his new duties as the director of the FTII. “Now that I have seen how the mega-theatrical play worked out,I would like to make a full-fledged movie on it,” he smiles.

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