For the last 20 years, actor and theatre director Anita Shabdeesh and playwright Shabdeesh have been nurturing their belief in the power of theatre. Their theatre group, Suchetak Rangmanch, was an act of faith — staging meaningful plays that resonate with the prevalent social conditions and narrate stories of the common man. The premise was simple and courageous, “theatre may not give you economic gains, so the aim was always to do quality work, which would stand the test of time and was not limited to the urban audience. It is a principle we have never compromised upon, no matter what the odds”, says Shabdeesh. The group is all set to stage the Suchetak Naat Utsav to celebrate 20 years of its establishment, with the four-day festival (June 1 to 4, Punjab Kala Bhawan) dedicated to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The group’s new production, Chal Amritsar London Chaliye, written by Shabdeesh, will open on June 1 and June 2, and with the play presenting the dramatic account of the time between the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the martyrdom of Udham Singh. Connecting the past with the present, Shabdeesh researched various documents, books and trial papers to present the real truth of Udham Singh’s life and work.
Looking back in time, Anita, another member of the group, recalls how when she started her journey as an actor more than 20 years ago, she worked with all theatre groups across Punjab, guided and inspired by her mentor Gursharan Singh, who played for the rural audience, as his theatre was rooted and minimalistic. “But there were many times when we wanted to play a particular script, but no one was ready to do so. For theatrical freedom, we decided to form our own group and establish cinematic theatre and the first play we staged was Asghar Wajahat’s Inna Di Awaaz in 1999, which depicts how the system plays with artistic freedom in the context of the Emergency, and that in a way, became our group’s manifesto. Ever since, our theatre has been a celebration of creative freedom and a comment on the times we live in,” says Anita.
The second play of the festival is a solo performance by Anita, titled Man Mitti Da Boleya, a voice against rape. Taking several true incidents of rapes, Shabdeesh has written the script, for he felt many do not know the real truth, with the media highlighting only a part of the pain, agony and harassment the victim and the family have to go through. “Power, politics, role of the police and the status of women in society. We need to wake up to the reality,” says Shabdeesh.
The festival will close with Kripal Kazak’s play Talaq, directed by Lakha Lehri. The play brings to the stage the many layers of relationships and how we approach these in different situations.