Many a rockstar has been born in a garage,many an artist in clammy attic rooms. On the outskirts of Amritsar,where green paddy fields shimmer against the warm sky,a humble factory has become a platform for great flights. Punjab Naatshala,a theatre hall,was once a workshop that made equipment for harvesting. A part of the factory is still operational and buzzing,the dichotomy adding a layer of contrast to one of Indias most technically equipped theatre spaces.
The brain behind Punjab Naatshala is Jatinder Brar,66,who can claim the title of theatre geek. An engineer and stage lover,he shows off the Naatshala with the pride of a gadget freak. Click,and the roof of this theatre opens, he says,brandishing a remote. The theatre is now an open-air areana. The basement under the stage also slides open for actors to make their entry. The 30 ft stage is a revolving one,bringing different worlds in front of the audience in minutes, he adds. Theres more by pressing a button,a 12-foot platform rises behind the stage,allowing directors to play with levels. And theres also his punchline a network of sprinklers that creates artificial rain. Clearly,a lot can happen over a play here.
Punjab Naatshala,where art meets technology and dreams merge with design,has a past fuelled with passion. Brar,a script writer and theatre director,would use the factory premises for rehearsals as a child. After college,as work and life consumed me,and I went through my share of struggle,I realised that theatre was my need, says Brar. He realised the need for his own space so that he and other theatre people like him wouldnt have to depend on others for space.
Brar earmarked 2,250 sq yards for the Punjab Naatshala,designing and creating every inch of it himself. In 1998,on World Theatre Day,the Naatshala opened its doors to the public. Since then,it has been staging plays every weekend,and is among the few theatres in the region to have ticketed shows. Half the productions are in-house,and the remaining by directors from across the country such as Ratan Thiyam,Gursharan Singh and Habib Tanvir. Delhi-based National School of Drama (NSD) conducted its international theatre festival here in January. For the audience,it was a rare treat to watch plays by eminent foreign directors, says Brar.