Once a cynosure of theatre lovers across North India, the Open Air Theatre at Punjabi Bhawan today lies in a shambles.
The Open Air Theatre, which belongs to the Punjabi Sahit Academy’s (PSA), was inaugurated by India’s second President Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan on July 2, 1966, and dedicated to noted film actor, director and theatre connoisseur Balraj Sahni.
Once a host to several renowned plays and artistes such as Om Puri, Divya Dutta, Raj Babbar, Girija Shankar and reputed Punjabi theatre and film director Harpal Tiwan, the venue has largely been ignored since the mid-eighties.
Inadequate lighting on the stage, non-functional sound system and inadequate number of green rooms for artistes has reduced it to one of the least popular venues today. Theatre artistes attribute the current condition to PSA’s reluctance to keep up with changing times.
“It reflects poorly on the treatment meted out to theatre, a very important form of art. This venue, which once saw over 5,000 spectators on an average for a show, rarely sees more than 500 today.
In fact, we have to struggle to get even a small gathering to watch shows here. Who can blame them? Why would anybody come to a place which is crumbling?” said noted theatre director Tarlochan Singh.
Staging one play here costs Rs 20,000 on an average: not only do artistes have to arrange for their own lighting and sound system but have to also spend time and money on cleaning up the place before they can stage plays.
“We have to the entire theatre on our own. Toilets in the place are always a complete mess. Lack of green rooms forces us to come dressed from home,” said some artistes.
In fact, until three months ago, three of the theatre’s six green rooms were leased out for storing Punjab language department’s books. Repeated entreaties to PSA to restore the theatre to its former glory have so far fallen on deaf ears.
“I have even shown the PSA management dangerous wires hanging in various corners of the theatre and broken switchboards. But even that does not seem to have moved the officials. They have failed to justify why they have failed to heed our requests. They simply seem to lack the will to maintain the place,” said Singh.
Meanwhile, PSA president Sukhdev Singh Sirsa remained unavailable for comments.