Last week, I got an invitation from a friend. He was staging a play. Being a theatre aficionado since my childhood, I was excited and managed to reach half an hour early. As I entered the premise, I took a deep breath; actually I was smelling time. I was at the historic Tagore Hall. In fact, I was excited about reliving my childhood memories. As a kid I would tag along with my father who has staged many plays there. Those colorful lights were mesmerizing , be it oversize black and red curtains, or artists reciting their lines while changing in green rooms; getting into those shimmery, colorful costumes looking vibrant and full of life.
Thunderous applauds and reactions were honesty form of appreciation for an artist then, I vaguely remember it but the atmosphere used to be literally larger than life. The concept of theatre was to bridge the gap between classes and masses.
Theatre has truthfulness; it is right in front of you. It carries you along and makes you feel like you are a part of it. Theatre is spur-of-the-moment and authentic. There is a sense of pragmatism in theatre.
I was backstage with my friend, he was introducing me to his actors who were obviously not interesting in meeting me, and instead they were curiously asking me about the audiences in attendance. Well, there was a handful of audience and I couldn’t tell them that, so I smiled and wished them luck. They made a hurdle and started praying but one actor wearing a white long kurta sneaked out of the hurdle and cautiously drew the curtain, he wanted to see the attendance. Another young actor followed him shortly but his excitement was short lived. They started talking to each other; actually assuaging each other.
The elder one said, “Less audience, probably the promoter needs to work on his skills a bit more. Our play didn’t reach to people, maybe they would have come,” they younger one interjected and said “or maybe not.” I was standing quietly in one of the stage wings and smiling.
The elder one said “No one remembers those astonishing days, that out of the ordinary, intangible liveliness between audience and performer; it was a sacred relationship.”
Younger one retorted, “Have we pinned our hope on something that no longer exists?”
Elder one looked at me and said, “Hope they don’t abandon our stages, our theatre seats or our stage doors. Director yelled out their name and they ran towards the green room. I entered the theatre and took a seat in last row.
Barring the power failure twice in the middle of the act, the play was worth watching. I think those two actors were right somewhere. It seems time has taken a toll on theatre in Kashmir. Like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kolkata, Orissa and other places of India, Kashmir was also a flag bearer of art and theatre in true wisdom.
Theatre in Kashmir needs an evolution of consciousness. A new generation of fired-up artists and audiences is in the offing.
How do we inculcate that culture of theatre in our coming generation, where are those awareness street plays, bhand pather, and skits? Amid this pandemic we need more skits and street plays to extend awareness among people from far flung areas.
Children should be encouraged to see plays. Workshop for younger artists should be organized. Schools should include this form of art in curriculum. Amalgamation with reputed institutes like National School of Drama and FTII should be taken in consideration along with inviting various theatre troupes from all over the globe to breathe life into our dying theatre.
Let us nurture a new breed of technicians, actors, writers, costume designers and directors before it’s too late. Theatre, originally a means to express thoughts and culture is now at intersection. It has already suffered at the hands of cinema, Television and now OTT platforms. A lot of theatres have been shut down or converted into cinema halls.
Since 1961, Tagore hall has entertained and established many. This hall has witnessed many emotions and expressions. World theatre day was initiated in 1961, the same year Tagore hall came into existence. I don’t know about you but I do believe in signs.
And I also believe theatre will again regain the spotlight in our culture and bring all of us together.
Remember, art is not moving back, our idea and plan towards art is. Support theatre and provoke it to do innovative, challenging and better.