World Theatre Day: Kashmir losing stage, artists suffer

“Artists are creative beings. They are the cream of society. However, in Kashmir, artists are socially rejected, bullied and pushed to the wall and the outcome is disastrous.”
A kashmiri artist performs during a cultural event in Srinagar.
A kashmiri artist performs during a cultural event in Srinagar. File/ GK

Srinagar: For Khurishid Mir, 45, a theatre practitioner in Kashmir, theatre is losing its sheen and Kashmir is losing the stage with hundreds of artists facing hardships.

“We are not just losing the art. We are losing the stage as well,” Mir, flanked by his fellow artists, told Greater Kashmir. “How many plays have you watched? How many new artists have you seen taking up the theatre in Kashmir,” he asked.

“Irony with us is that we are having a lot of people on the forefront who have nothing to do with the theatre and theatre activities,” he said, adding “most of the artists in Kashmir wither survived on the productions from Radio Kashmir (now All India Radio) or Doordarshan, Srinagar. But unfortunately, both of these institutions have shut their doors on us. This has greatly impacted our work and our livelihood as well.”

Mir, who also runs his Yemeberzal Youth Club, said that attracting younger generations is becoming difficult as there are very few avenues with very meagre monetary benefits.

“At a time when the world has access to various forms of entertainment, we still keep going back to ancient performative arts like theatre. World Theatre Day, teaches us that we should really work hard for the preservation and promotion of our rich history, significance and the greater ways in which an artist can commemorate the art of theatre,” he said.

Mir’s concerns are equally echoed by his fellow artists and theatre practitioners who believe that Jammu and Kashmir’s government was not doing enough to preserve and promote arts and culture in the region. They alleged that “Babugiri must end if arts have to be promoted at all levels.”

“Jammu and Kashmir a land of rich culture and heritage successfully passed on from generation to generation. However, the current situation is pushing the artists to the wall and we are suffering on a daily basis,” actor and theatre artist, Hassan Javid, told Greater Kashmir.

“Our various art forms play a significant role in passing on the culture, especially theatre,” Hassan who runs Firdous Dramatic Club, said. “Theatre in Kashmir needs a lot of work. We have arguably superb theatre artists but we are all suffering as there is no comprehensive cultural policy in place," he said. Hassan's teenage daughter recently penned a letter to his father, thanking him for taking care of her and the family despite all odds.

“Presently, the Academy is doing some work but a lot is to be done,” Hassan said. “I remember when I started a dramatic club in 1998. I faced a lot of issues. This is my only bread and butter. But I must say that I am able to survive with my family as I am exploring a lot of options doing nukad, street plays, theatre plays and theatre workshops,” he said.

Hassan, who has been actively working in the field, said theatre is an impactful storytelling medium even in current times when digital screens have dominated the minds. Theatre performances are more personal in nature as they are performed live.

Theatre actor, Shafia Maqbool, said that artists not only face bias from the government but from society at large. “Artists are creative beings. They are the cream of society. However, in Kashmir, artists are socially rejected, bullied and pushed to the wall and the outcome is disastrous.”

“Art and culture can only be promoted and preserved when you have societal support at large. Then comes the role of the government institutions and these institutions have an immense role to change the scene,” she said.

“I have been working in the theatre scene for the last over 20 years. However, it has become a pain for me and many more artists like me. Personally, I feel this is the best medium to convey your message. However, when you act and work, society has a different approach toward you as a female and male artist,” she said, urging the government to act as an aggregator and work for the benevolence of the artists in Jammu and Kashmir.

Prominent artist and theatre activist, Mushtaaque Ali Ahmad Khan, lashed out at the government for ignoring the arts and artists in Kashmir. He said, he along with his fellow artists was astonished to learn that not a single department of the Jammu and Kashmir government held any programme on World Theatre Day, especially the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

In connection with World Theatre Day, Ali, who is also chairman of Actors' Creative Theatre (ACT) addressed a press conference at Tagore Hall, Srinagar. He urged the government for the immediate need for a revival of the theatre in Jammu and Kashmir. Ali emphasised the need for policies and support from the government for the arts and culture sector. “Government-run departments and semi-government organizations must come forward and give all kinds of support to the Theatre movement in Kashmir.”

Ali also highlighted the importance of celebrating this day, where they can reflect on their progress and plan for the future. He further said that he believes that theatre requires complete dedication and a strong passion.

“There are a lot of Babugiri in the government-run departments. A single file or proposal takes months to get cleared. This must end if arts have to be promoted at all the levels,” Ali emphasised.

He reiterated his commitment to work harder to promote and expand the theatre activities in and outside Kashmir with more enthusiasm. He also said that now he has got a bigger and stronger team of educated youth with him who is ready to take this mission forward to the next generation of the valley.

Since 1962, World Theatre Day has been celebrated by theatre professionals, theatre organizations, universities and theatre lovers worldwide on the 27th of March. It may be recalled that this day is a celebration for those who can see the value and importance of the art form and acts as a wake-up-call for governments, politicians and institutions which have not yet recognised its value to the people and to the individual and have not yet realised its potential for economic growth.

“Theatre is a great reflection of our society. We have a rich legacy of our art and culture and we must work for it,” prominent theatre personality and noted screen-playwright, Pran Kishore, told Greater Kashmir. “On this day, we must gather to introspect, weep, remember, laugh, contemplate and to learn and to affirm and imagine in the world of theatre. There is a lot to be done and we must gather to learn and unlearn and appeal to our society to be compassionate for the arts and crafts,” he said.

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