Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Getting street smart

Street plays continue to make a valiant attempt to usher in social change with 'relevant theatre', says Ismat Tahseen

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare? —W. H. Davies,

Leisure Considering the fact that the Aarushi Talwar murder case had its ripples across the country, it was but natural that its impact has been felt on the roads as well. Literally. '

Theatre groups that focus on contemporary social issues have swiftly made plans to incorporate the tragic case — or at least references to it — in their social commentaries. And these plays serve to make the common man stop and think. In a city where the person next to you on that railway queue may not even have the time to cast a friendly nod towards you, leave alone stop to lend a helping hand, this attention is welcome.

Little plays that are enacted at railway stations, by the road side and at bus-stands, that are established modes of communication, seek to shock, amuse, delight… in effect make people think hard on issues that are close to their hearts.

While these plays may not have the trappings of lavish sets and props that a stage play begets, but they do have all the drama and impact nevertheless, prompting the bystander to stop, stand and stare. Says 40-year-old Manjul Bharadwaj, who formed Experimental Theatre Foundation (ETF) in 1992, “Acting, if without true worth, is useless. “ETF put up 3,650 street shows last year; they moved from suburb to suburb staging plays. Our play Mera Bachhpan on child labour was staged more than 12,000 times nationwide and due to it more than 50,000 child labourers across India were freed from labour; I guess it ushered in a revolution,” he says with a tinge of pride.

Nothing beats the aura of being on the street, he reiterates. “Technology might be growing in leaps and bounds, but it cannot compare to the face-to-face interaction you have with others. It’s like a one on one with each person in the audience, one that impacts social change,” he adds.

Street plays can be seen in the most unexpected places – behind the vegetable stalls in your market place or at the bus stop – a group of people, acting out a short skit or play, for any one who might wish to stop and watch. “We’re not just philanthropists providing free entertainment,” says Mujeeb Khan, founder and director of Indian Drama and Entertainment Academy (IDEA). From a 15-minute street play on the tragic story of slain model Jessica Lal called Justice for Jessica, to plays on Zaheera Sheikh, Bilkis Bano and monthly plays on divorce and drama staged outside the Bandra family court, IDEA aims to reach out to the aam junta to create greater awareness about social issues, calling them to change what they believe are the social ailments.

“We won’t let any issue rest,” says Khan. “Halla Bol, our play based on the BMC’s plan to clean the city, was also well-appreciated.“ Street play artists also have to keep abreast of current affairs. “We distribute newspaper clippings to the public to convey our message more strongly.”

The only problem that these artists seem to have is a space to stage the play. “We should have dedicated places like Hyde Park in London,” Khan says. “Very often at railway stations the police come and stop the play saying the premises are under the Central Government jurisdiction,” Khan says. Notwithstanding these hiccups, the IDEA group has a few more plays up its sleeve.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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