It will be bittersweet when the curtain goes up on the ambitiously named Grand Sindhi Drama Festival this Friday.
With little funding and no sponsorships, it’s becoming a passion project kept alive despite empty seats in the audience.
The festival has been moved from Rang Sharda Auditorium to Karnataka Sangha to, this year, National College, in part to cut costs. Where it used to be biannual, it now sometimes has only one edition a year.
“Numbers improved a bit last year thanks to online bookings and advertising on Sindhi cable channels,” says the optimistic Niranjan ‘Niroo’ Asrani. “But funding is hard to come by.”
Asrani is the driving force behind the Nu Sindhu Art Academy, which stages the festival and is the only theatre troupe in Mumbai that performs exclusively in Sindhi.
He’s been part of the Hindi TV industry for 13 years, “but TV shows and ads are just my bread and butter,” he says. “They’re how I pay for the theatre.”
Now in its 24th edition, his passion project, the three-day theatre festival, is a much-needed reminder of a rich linguistic and cultural heritage that has been in danger of being lost ever since the community first fled Sindh (in present-day Pakistan) and scattered across India and beyond in the wake of Partition.
“Growing up, we were familiar with plays by Mirza Kalich Beg, Moti Prakash, MU Malkani, and Dayal Asha. Now there’s a general disinclination to learn the script or even speak Sindhi,” says Anju Nichlani, 54, a Chembur homemaker who has attended the festival every year for the past three years. “It’s sad to see that reflected in the festival. Despite the troupe’s great work, there are usually empty seats in the audience.”
In addition, actors, including Deepika Hasrajani, Rakhee Rohira, Dipesh Narwani, and Manoj Chimnami, lend a hand with lighting and props.
And the Nu Sindhu Art Academy has had to axe the last two May editions of the festival.
“The November edition, however, will stay put,” Asrani says, pointing to a shrine to Padmashri Ram Panjwani in the centre of a Santacruz community hall that serves as rehearsal space, “because Panjwanisaab, who contributed immensely to Sindhi drama, was born in November. What better time to fight the good fight?”
* Aayo Nao Zamaano (A New Age Has Dawned): A classical play by Ram Panjwani on how relationships between multiple generations evolve in times of social and financial flux.
Friday, 7 pm
* Naatak Ta Theendo Ie (The Show Will Go On): A biographical and comedic account of the life of Sindhi playwright Thakur Chawla.
Saturday, 7 pm
* Peeu Hairaan Putu Pareshaan (Distraught Dad, Stressed Son): An adaptation of a Gujarati play about an old widower who runs into obstacles when he decides to remarry.
Sunday, 7 pm
(All plays will be staged at National College, Bandra. Ticket prices start at Rs 100 and are available on bookmyshow.com)