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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

National Street Theatre Day: Three young groups vent concerns about the agrarian crisis and politics of hate

In 1989, the year theatre activist Safdar Hashmi was fatally attacked during a street theatre performance in Delhi, his birthday, April 12, was observed as National Street Theatre Day. The Sahmat grounds spilled over with students and audience members of all ages to mark the 30th National Street Theatre Day.

Written by Dipanita Nath | Updated: April 17, 2018 10:23:56 am
National Street Theatre Day With the play Bhein, Maitreyi College’s dramatics group, Abhivyakti, hit hard at the politics of hate. (Aanchal Kalra)

Development is trying to be born in a maternity ward but the passage is blocked by a number of issues. “Aadhaar card has not been linked,” announces the hassled doctor. After some time, he re-emerges to say, “Vikas can’t be born because you haven’t given up your gas subsidy.” A few minutes later, he is ready to give up because “Vikas cannot be born due to GST”. When Vikas is finally born, it is decided that he won’t be an IAS officer but a gau-rakshak. This is the storyline of the play, Bhein, with which Maitreyi College’s dramatics group, Abhivyakti, hit hard at the politics of hate, when they opened the 30th National Street Theatre Day at the Sahmat headquarters in Delhi.

In 1989, the year theatre activist Safdar Hashmi was fatally attacked during a street theatre performance in Delhi, his birthday, April 12, was observed as National Street Theatre Day. The Sahmat grounds spilled over with students and audience members of all ages to mark the 30th National Street Theatre Day.

Scenes from Kheti Bhaari. (Aanchal Kalra)

Dressed in black kurtas and blue jeans, the students from Abhivyakti enacted stylised scenes of Dalit killings and attacks on minority communities, to the accompanying sounds of djembe, matka, ghungroos, dholak, harmonium and manjira. It is usual for Sahmat to decide a theme every year, and this year’s was the plight of farmers. “The issue of the peasantry is all over, middle-class people are concerned about what is happening to the farmers but you don’t hear about them in mainstream media,” says Sohail Hashmi of Sahmat.

In the lawn of Sahmat, with the roar of traffic providing a sonic backdrop, and the sun setting over tree tops, arts organisation Bigul presented Annadaata, the story of Bhola and Bhandari. The play opens with Bhola perched on top of a ladder trying to catch the airwaves so that he can listen to Mann Ki Baat on the radio. “We have been told that achche din are coming. In that case, the rains will surely come,” he says, even as Bhandari insists they get a loan to start sowing seeds. In one of the final scenes, the dead body of a farmer is carried through the audience that clustered around the performers. The play ends with a recording of the Prime Minister’s speech promising better days to farmers.

The last players of the evening were from the SGTB Khalsa College group, Ankur. In Kheti Bhaari, a ladder or vikas ki seedi symbolises the rungs of power while the government office is the doorway to prosperity through which corporates and a goon carrying chunav ka samaan pass freely but not a group of farmers, who want answers from the establishment. The minister, who owns a smart pair of sunglasses, is an indictment, not only of the present government but of all the ones that have come before, whose policies have led to the agrarian crisis. The evening ended with an ovation for all three performances and drowned the sound of traffic.

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