Today when the Punjabi theatre has completed over 100 years, the stalwarts are seen struggling to keep the movement alive.
Though the Punjabi cinema is going through a total reform phase and huge investments are being made in this field, however the art form which inspired it, is dying a slow death.
Theatre which is one of the oldest forms of entertainment that was never confined to close doors.It was showcased on streets, in remote areas in front of large gatherings. It was the medium of art that changed mindsets and brought awareness. It gave birth to the greatest legends and was an art form, free for all to enjoy.
But where does this movement stand today? Is it able to motivate the youth? What is the reason behind its fading glory?
In an interview with Hindustan Times, theatre stalwart, Pran Sabharwal and director of national theatre artists society (NTAS), that was formed in 1952 talks about the movement and its present status.
Why has the frequency of plays being showcased decreased?
Over the last two decades, the government has almost stopped sponsoring theatre groups. Two decades ago, around `25 lakhs budget used to be allotted for theatre groups. Now the same amount is used to lay foundation stones. The authorities at the helm have turned their backs on theatre artists. There is no promotion of the art from their side, hence many people have stopped staging plays. From a regular source of entertainment, the theatre has become once in a blue moon art form.
Are educational institutes putting in efforts to save the art form?
Theatre has become confined only to competition levels, in front of limited audiences including only students and teachers in educational institutes. None of the institutes is making any effort to take it out of their premises for the common audiences. Theatre is art form which is used to bring awareness among masses. However, now it has become limited to only few audiences.
Is the available infrastructure adequate?
Ans. Theatre does not need infrastructure. A good actor can perform in open as well. However over the years, the audiences have got used to multiplex culture. They prefer sitting in comfortable seats and watching. But for theatre groups affording auditoriums is like burning big hole in the pocket for they are too expensive.
Earlier, library halls and many government buildings were available for staging plays for free. However, now even they ask for huge rents.
Are theatre actors being provided with enough exposure?
Theatre has almost become an extinct phenomenon from regional fairs organised by the government. Now only singers and dancers are invited to showcase their talent in festivals and fairs. Theatre artists are the most neglected of the entire lot and that is the reason actors have started running towards mainstream cinema as now it is impossible to earn bread and butter by staging street plays.
Is there a need to charge audiences with tickets to watch street plays?
Theatre was never a commercial form of entertainment; audiences from the very beginning were allowed to watch it for free. Even now, I feel that nobody should be charged for watching it rather the government and affluent people should sponsor it and let audience watch it for free.
Do you feel that audiences still have an appetite for theatre?
People have always enjoyed watching street theatre and they still do. However, due to decline in the number of artists very few plays are staged now. The hunger and appeal to watch theatre has decreased but if they become a regular feature people will be pulled back to streets to watch them.
Aren't artistes using theatre as their ticket to mainstream cinema?
An actor will always remain an actor be it on silver screen or in a street play. Yes many actors have used theatre has a podium to get their entry ticket into mainstream cinema but that is justified also. The young prodigy is attracted to the glamorous profession, but I feel the real stage is not in front of the camera but in open without any retakes.
What is the way to save the art form?
A cultural policy should be implemented so that the theatre movement can be empowered and stand at a par with other states and countries as well.
When it comes to the theatre artistes, they are working very hard and are nowhere lagging behind to keep up the spirit of the movement. They should be given more opportunity to showcase their talent.