For years, a prominent actor, humorist and writer, Seth Rafi, enthralled audience with the extraordinary performances, today, he struggles with his speech after suffering a brain stroke.
Like Rafi, many artists are struggling and meeting the same fate. They get more distressed after witnessing the fortune of Rafi and many others.
“We have failed to create a conducive environment for art to grow,” said Bashir Ahmad Lone an actor who has also featured in a Haider movie.
“I have been doing theatre since 1975 and I have seen many ups and downs in this profession,” he says. “Although I got to work in Bollywood but the story of actors is depressing and every day we hear some heart wrenching stories from our own actors.”
Another veteran theatre actor and TV personality, Qazi Faiz says, while government failed at many fronts to give voice to artists, few semi-government organizations proved even more disastrous.
“We have been failed at many fronts. We see deception from official side and we witness a depressing development of our own artist fraternity,” he says.
For a prominent actor, Zahoor Zaidi, the changing story of Kashmir’s theatre has changed lives of many actors. He says at a time when Doordarshan, Radio Kashmir (All India Radio) or other organizations remain shut for the actors, the current situation of theatre in Kashmir was giving sleepless nights to the actors, playwrights and other stakeholders, associated with the profession.
“There is no work around. There is no improvement of art and craft. Artists are struggling on daily basis,” Zaidi says.
Zaidi, like many artists, in Jammu and Kashmir, is struggling to make his ends meet. However, he keeps his hopes high, saying that the days of “mental torture and trauma shall end for them soon.”
“For past many years, artists associated with Theatre, TV, Radio are struggling to survive—be it actors, directors, producers, musicians or anyone associated with this so-called industry,” says Zadi.
“We are all disconnected and dejected with what is happening around us. We have been pushed to the wall by the authorities.”
“We are caught in a world of negativism, no good is happening around us. Look around the streets of Kashmir, you get a sense of fear, when you look into the government offices, there is nepotism, there is corruption and we end up living a miserable life,” Zaidi says.
Zaidi, who is into the field of acting from last over 37 years, is about to bid adieu to the creative field, saying it might have given him fame but not a decent living. Zaidi has featured in several Bollywood movies, besides featuring in some top TV Advertisements in Pakistan.
Prominent theatre Director, writer and former broadcaster, Nisar Naseem, says few small steps could make big changes in the world of theatre in Kashmir.
“All we need to have a will to change the current situation. Nothing is lost. We can still have this movement at its peak and work for polarizing theatre and drama at grassroots level,” Naseem says. “It is true that we are witnessing a massive downfall of the theatre in Kashmir but we need to go back to grassroot level and connect youngsters with the art and the stage craft.”
Naseem said that there was a need to recreate a conducive environment for the artist fraternity and the government-run cultural organizations have to organize regular technical courses for the youngsters and refreshing courses for the playwrights and the theatre actors and directors.”
Arshad Mushtaq, a noted playwright and theater director said, there was a need to involve younger generation towards the craft. “We can’t afford to have robots around, when we have a potential to produce creative gems.” Mushtaq, who himself started a theatre group Theater for Kashmir, a creative initiative with children in 2012 to expose them to the creative field.
Famous theatre artist and director, Bhawani Bashir Yasir, said that theatre has to be made organised across Jammu and Kashmir in order to give it a new life. He also urged government to introduce theatre curriculum in schools. He said schools should have at least one subject related to art and culture, especially performing arts.
Another prominent actor, GM Wani, who has featured in many Bollywood movies and recently he successfully performed the role of Pakistan’s Prime Minister in one of the most viewed web series, Bard of Blood, released in 2019. Wani was critically acclaimed for his role in the web series.
“We are old and struggling,” says Wani. “I have spent over 45 years in the field and I see this as the worst period ever for any creative person.”
Wani has a suggestion for all the newcomers in the field. “We aren’t doing anything. We aren’t earning anything. I won’t suggest our energetic youth get lost in this mess.” He says many times, the people at the helm of affairs at the Mandi House, New Delhi, were briefed about the issue of Kashmiri artists. However, nothing productive came out.
Another prominent artist, theatre director and art researcher is Ayash Arif, who is a household name in Kashmir for his performances in many Kashmiri dramas. He along with his co-actor, late Shadilal Kaul, aka, Niki Bab, mesmerized the audience at a time when Kashmir witnessed curfews and surge in violence.
“We have never seen a painful situation in Kashmir,” says Arif. “Since 2010, they (Central Ministry) have blocked each and everything. We are around over 15000 families associated with this industry in Kashmir. However; no relief has come to us so far.”’
Arif says there are many artists including Sound, camera, lights, makeup, who are suffering on an everyday basis. “Few of our artists suffered brain strokes in these testing times. “From last 10 years, the families of artists are suffering immensely. In addition to that, the Government of India issued renewed guidelines, which is an arbitrary decision by the authorities and they should reconsider the decision before artists take any other course of action.”
Famous actor and chairman, Joint Action Committee (JAC)—an amalgam of freelance producers, actors and filmmakers, based in Kashmir, Zameer Ashai, said that the artist community in Kashmir were going through a difficult phase in their professional career. He said that eight years have passed; Doordarshan, has shut its doors for the artist community—leaving them in a lurch. “As artists, we are suffering. We are being victimized by the concerned quarters from Srinagar to Delhi. Every day, we are humiliated and treated indifferently,” he said.
Renowned actor, Kusum Dhar, says that theatre in Jammu and Kashmir needs a creative touch. He says that the current situation of theatre and other organizations have affected families of artists as their livelihood was dependent on the channel.
Noted actor and humorist, Nazir Josh, castigated the government of India’s policy of shutting down the much-hyped Kashir Channel, alleging that the channel has become a “scandal.” He also said that shutting of theatre activities have left many families penniless.
“People need a window of entertainment not vulgarity,” Josh said, adding “Theatre should have been revamped by now. We need stage back not the sufferings.”
Meanwhile on World Theatre Day, Kashmiri artists pledged to take the theatre movement ahead and bring more youngsters on board to set the stage right. Prominent actor, Farooq Sheikh, said that lack of official support drives youngsters away from the stage. He said that over the years Kashmir has witnessed massive socio-political changes and it has really impacted on the overall functioning of the theatre here. “Theatre is oxygen for the society and it is very sad when you see the theatre dying a slow death in Kashmir,” he said.
“Our young generation should learn this craft from the schools only,” he said. “It is not necessary that every aspiring actor ends up in films or doing theatre. In developed countries theatre is done to understand human personalities and their society.”