The biggest compliment for the Indian People’s Theatre Association’s (IPTA) Delhi chapter came in the mid-80s at Kolkata, the group’s birthplace, says Aziz Quraishi, its general secretary for close to three decades.
So impressed was filmmaker Basu Chatterjee with the IPTA-Delhi actors in Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, the story of 12 jury members huddled in a room to discuss the case of a boy accused of killing his father, that he sought playwright Ranjit Kapoor’s nod to adapt it as a film.
“Six of the 12 jury — including actors of the calibre of Pankaj Kapoor, Shailendra Goyal, KK Raina and Hemant Mishra — were veterans of Delhi theatre and associated with IPTA,” says Quraishi, who played the 12th juror.
Chaterjee hosted the crew in a Calcutta bungalow. The set was downstairs and the shoot done in a month. “Each of the ‘judges’ was paid R 5,000,” recalls Quraishi,“Unfortunately, movies have seduced many of our actors since.”
Theatre lovers associate IPTA with Leftist thought and assume its actors are card-holding members of the Communist Party of India. Since he took over in 1981, Quraishi, 60, former
professor of philosophy at Delhi University’s Zakir Hussain College, has worked towards changing this perception. “I feel offended if anybody calls us political.
IPTA is an apolitical cultural group dedicated to socially relevant theatre.” But in the early 80s, he recalls, many top IPTA functionaries worked with the Russian Information Centre. After 1981, he began to emphasise the group’s independence. Why? “Being a party
member demeans an artiste. Within a party, dissent isn’t tolerated.”
In IPTA’s 50th anniversary year, admirers of the group have come together to pay a tribute to socially relevant theatre. Last week, academician Mushirul Hasan and journalists Vinod Dua and Dilip Padgaonkar discussed communalism after the screening of the award-winning film Road to Sangam featuring Pavan Malhotra.
Before he became a household name with Aziz Mirza’s soap Nukkad, Malhotra cut his teeth at IPTA with Raj Babbar and Pankaj Kapoor.
“You don’t have to be a socialist to realise that the people of our country lack the basics. It is this sensitivity that drew Kaifi Azmi and Balraj Sahni towards it,” says the actor. Among those who gravitated towards IPTA and went on to become TV stars were a “spindly thin” Neena Gupta and the “immensely focused” Pankaj Kapoor.
“In 1970, Neena played Laila in Maare Gaye Gulfam and five years later, as they rehearsed for Anarkali Akbar Salim, the romance between Pankaj Kapoor and Neelima Azim blossomed right here,” says Quraishi, pointing to a cramped room in his Shanker Market office.
What keeps IPTA going despite not charging any performance ticket? Its people-centric approach, says Quraishi. “From the times of Anil Biswas and SM Mehndi, we’ve promoted theatre for theatre’s sake without any government grants.”
The best way to take the IPTA legacy forward, he avers, is to keep performing. “Our plays Belibaas and Aur Ek Sacch were received well. If there is a show every month, IPTA will be alive and kicking,” declares the former footballer.