STAGING THE REVIVAL
By Sundar Iyer
Emotion surges up in the heart, takes shape and becomes imagination. Imagination bodes forth the forms of things unknown. When there is an upsurge of emotion, and is translated into words, music, painting, dance, theatre, etc, and when this emotion along with the beauty of sentiment and thought is welded together, ART is born.
Art is not an incorporation of just one form. It encloses many assorted forms. When weldes collectively in a language that’s emotive, touching and stirring, we have a poem. And when this innocent spirit takes a rhythmic form, we have music. When music is transformed into tuneful words and voice, we have a song. If you plunge into the spell of music and sway into its rhythm, a new art is born, the art of dance. When one uses the above, and depicts a composition, in verse or prose, intended to portray life or character or to tell a story through action and dialogue using a wide variety of historionics, we know it as the art of drama, Theatre. Theatre is defined as involving the art of acting a part on stage, which is the dramatic impersonation of another character than yourself. For many centuries the stage has served as a platform to express and illustrate thoughts and sentiments. From the days of Roman theatre to the present days, theatre has encompassed many a different styles and methods and evolved into one of the strongest mediums. Art comes to us through the grace of the artist. And it is through art that a nations culture, civilization and traditions are marked.
India is known to be among the most inspiring nation when it come to culture. And when one thinks of the significance of India and its culture, the prominence of Sindh is paramount. Sindh is one of the foremost civilizations, and on the banks of the river Sindhu evolved many of the prevalent cultures and traditions.
The Sindhi community is currently on the threshold of cultural oblivion. The need of the hour at such a time of crisis is to use the stage more effectively, which would serve as an ideal and most accomplishing medium in succeeding in the endeavour of spreading the culture. Over the years, India too has evolved its own distinctive style of theatre, which has been existent in various forms over the ages.
The stage has always been an enterprising and successful medium for passing on culture through generations. Sindhi theatre too emerges as a potent force. It enjoyed immense popularity in India, although among the limited sphere of Sindhi speaking people.
Sindhi drama had its early beginning towards the end of the 19th century. That was a period when lots of professional drama troupes from Bombay and other parts of India visited Karachi, Hyderabad, Shikarpur and Sukkur to stage plays in Gujrati and Urdu. These groups achieved tremendous public acceptance drawing packed housed night after night with their highly romantic or religiously appealing shows. The thematic content of the plays then staged, were woven around plots that were either make-believe or mythological. Soon, Sindhi plays, which were either adaptations or original, began to be staged in Sindh drawing receptive audiences.
During the early years after partition, Sindhi drama witnessed a decline. Among the pioneers of Sindhi drama after post-partition period, Shri Madan Jumani recalls the day when he was inspired to take onto Sindhi stage. On an eventful evening in 1958, after having just performed a play, Shri Balraj Sahni (the then film star) enquired Shri Madan Jumani (who was then an established stage actor) about the prevalent scenario in Sindhi drama. To his complete embarrassment, Shri Jumani knew nothing about it and didn’t have an answer for the query. Shri Sahani to him, “Being such a good actor of Sindhi origin you must involve yourself in Sindhi theatre too. If Sindhi theatre is your mother, you must always answer to your mother’s call first and then respond to your aunts.” That was the moment when Sindhi drama in India was reborn.
It was then that Shri Madan Jumani along with stalwarts such a Kum. Bhagwanti Nawani, Late Shri Gobind Malhi and Shri J Ishu took it upon themselves to spread the sparkle of Sindhi theatre. They started performing in all Sindhi pockets across the country. Their first production was an adaptation of the Mushi Premchand play, titled “Kafan.” They started presenting full-length shows from the year 1961. During this period they performed a host of successful plays from the likes of Othello to Dis Paise Ja Rang and many others. They used to do an average of 60-70 shows in a year. It was a period when theatre acted as a channel for social gathering and a meeting place for members of the community. The various plays were staged at venues such as Tejpal auditorium, Opera House, Bandra open-air theatre, etc. Shri Madan Jumani says, “It was a far easier task to stage plays in those days. The scenario in theatre back then was very encouraging. For instance, Bandra open-air theatre had a capacity of 900 seats at a very affordable price of Rs. 200.” He recalls with a lot of pride that most of the shows use to attract packed house. During those days, despite only window sales and no other medium of publicity, all the plays were successful.
It was only in the following period that the theatre arena faced / received many jolts. He cites the advent of television as one of the prime factors for this sudden decline. He justifies by stating, “Once entertainment is brought into your drawing rooms, very few people venture out.” To add to their woes, the open-air theatre in Bandra too shut down. It was here that theatre acticities came to a grinding halt.
Subsequently, the ratio of staged plays started reducing dramatically. A few members of the community came ahead to sponsor, but only on the condition of being felicitated by incorporating a special session between the play. On being further quipped, he retorts, “We made a blunder then to succumb to those demands, for the love of theatre. It caused great trouble to include a felicitation ceremony in between a smoothly flowing play. Such despicable attitude by the members caused the downfall of their own theatre.” He very emphatically points out that the lack of quality funds has resulted in a further decline of theatre. Presently, to stage any decent show one must incur expenses to the count of atleast Rs.80,000/- and incorporating latest technological devices would only further catapult the cost. To accumulate such funds has been acusing further regression. For attracting large crowds, huge amounts need to be spent on publicity.
More youngsters venturing into theatres with thematic plays would not only help the revival of culture but also increase the usage of the Sindhi language. But in the same breath, Shri Jumani also mentions the need to change and adapt with the changing times. He accepts the electronic media would be a apt medium to attract and reach out to the younger masses. He is currently working on one of the prime efforts for reviving culture through the electronic media. A proposed 13 episode television serial is currently under production and is awaiting official clearance.
Theatre as a medium need to be revived for spreading culture across the generations. It would help language get the necessary boost. The theatre staging plays on the vast riches of a culturally rich community and attracting the younger generation, would not only help the revival of culture but also increase the usage of the Sindhi language.