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Small town, big theatre

For the last four years, Bareilly has been putting on its party best to line up for a unique theatre bonanza — one of its kind outside the four big metros, writes Preeti Singh.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2010 23:32 IST
Preeti Singh

Mention the name Bareilly and the first thing that comes to mind is a lost jhumka. Or, if you’re not a Bollywood fan, then you’re likely to confuse it with its namesake, the Gandhi family bastion of Rae Bareli. But this little western UP town — also known for smoky surma (kohl), cane furniture and Priyanka Chopra — might just have found a winning formula.

For the last four years, the town has been putting on its party best to line up for a unique theatre bonanza — one of its kind outside the four big metros. Some of India’s best theatre companies have discovered an enthusiastic audience here. All thanks to an orthopaedic surgeon who would have been on stage himself had he not been equally passionate about fixing bones.

Ask Dr Brijeshwar Singh how he got the idea of bringing this annual theatre festival — in its fourth year now — to a town with barely any half-decent movie hall, and he has a simple answer: “I want to share my infatuation with as many people as I can; I want them to feel the magic of theatre like I do.”

Born of one man’s passion, the 10-day Rang Vinayak Rang Utsav Theatre Festival is organised annually by the Daya Drishti Foundation to introduce the magic of live entertainment and to raise awareness about thalassemia, a disease affecting the lives of countless Indian children.

Watching a play in a crammed community hall in Bareilly, with its modest facilities, may be a whole different ballgame from Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium or Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre, but what the shabby hall lacks in infrastructure, it makes up for with the audience’s unbridled enthusiasm. Eminent theatre groups from across India, including the National School of Drama and Shri Ram Centre repertories from Delhi, Rangkarmee (Kolkata), Ansh, Arpana, Yayavar and Akvarious (all from Mumbai) and the Naya Theatre Group (Bhopal) have visited the town.

It’s been a win-win situation. While Bareilly’s wide-eyed audience is lapping up celebrated plays such as Charandas Chor, Asghar Wajahat’s Jis Lahore Nai Vekhya O Janmaya Nai and Vijay Tendulkar’s Khamosh Adalat Jaari Hai, brought to life by well-known artists such as Makrand Deshpande, Yashpal Sharma, Sudhir Pande, Manav Kaul and Kumud Mishra; the performers continue to swear by the overwhelming response year after year.

Mumbai-based actor Gopal Tiwari has this to share about a performance: “We got calls for an encore during some of the edgy moments in one of the plays, Park; it’s obviously impossible to oblige, but it sure was a strange and amusing experience. Definitely a first!”

What started as an under-funded inspiration, before local corporates stepped in to cash in on its mass appeal, is well on its way to becoming a notable entry, not just in the town’s cultural calendar, but also as a footnote to a much larger vision: the arrival of big theatre in small towns.