The plays of Jan Natya Manch are radical statements about caste, class and freedom. Sudhanva Deshpande, a director and actor with the group, is identified with these larger-than-life performances in public spaces but, while writing Bahut Raat Ho Chali Hai, he changed his style completely. He tells a story about an artist, called Nisha, who is under attack from the right wing. One night, she is suddenly visited by her former partner, Arvind. In the following hours, some wounds are healed and others open. Written in 2001, the play has rarely been staged and theatre group Barefoot! is organising a dramatic reading on July 30. Excerpts from an interview with Deshpande:
The Ayodhya chapter
Something key in the play happens on December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid fell. The protagonist is in Ahmedabad. I was in Ahmedabad at the time, living on a campus that was under curfew and saw the tension close up. When I wrote this play in 2001, I did not know that the post-Godhra violence would unfold in a few months. Now, looking back, I feel the play captured some of the mood of the times.
All in the head
The play is structured like a psychological thriller. Nisha had walked out of the relationship and one part of the script is about closure. The other part, which is important to me personally, is that Nisha is an artist. This reflects on the role of an artist in society, personal integrity and the ideas of compromise.
The big part
There is no singular role that an artist plays in society. Some of the duties are to create works that can divert the mind but also elevate it. Bertolt Brecht had said, ‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.’
Many real events, my experiences, those of my friends and those I have heard about, have been mixed up in a way that becomes fictional. I had been wanting to try my hand at a story that was naturalistic, with well-rounded characters who had backstories and motivations rooted in emotional and psychological history.
The play has an illustrious history of non-performance. It got produced at the time I wrote it. The main lead was played by an actor who has become a minor star in Bollywood. It was selected for the Prithvi Festival and the Bharat Rang Mahotsav. The script has been translated into Marathi by Jyoti Subhash, a well-known theatre and film actor from Pune. A few students of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi staged it. Given the play’s history, I have no hopes it will ever be produced again.