March 27 is marked as the World Theatre Day. But the Balraj Sahni open air theatre in the city, which was inaugurated on July 2, 1966 by the then president Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, continues to portray a picture of neglect and public apathy.
Located at Punjabi Bhawan and a part of Punjabi Sahit Akademi (PSA), it was once a stage for renowned plays where noted actors of Punjabi film industry including Nirmal Rishi, who was conferred with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2012, and Sardar Sohi began their acting careers.
But now, city’s theatre groups come here for staging plays only when they are left with no other option, for a clear reason that it looks less like a theatre and more like an abandoned place. Cats and pigeons hovering around the area are a common sight.
One side surrounding the theatre is completely inundated with weeds while old or broken furniture and other waste is seen on the other side. Green rooms are lying shut with spider webs. One or two rooms have also been rented out to migrant labourers.
One green room, which was open, contained waste material including glass bottles, broken glass, old wash basins, urine basins and rotten leaves. The ceiling of the stage has dampness all around and on its top, small plants have overgrown.
Artists and regular visitors from the audience feel the roof of the stage has weakened over the years due to neglect.
“During performances too, something from the roof keeps falling down. It is a complete risk to perform here and also for the audience,” points out Major Amarjit Singh Baath who recently watched two plays here.
Artistes from different theatre groups said despite several follow-ups with the concerned PSA officials for refurbishment and ensuring other needs such as theatre light and sound, all their efforts have fallen flat.
“Unlike other theatres, the PSA does not charge anything to perform at the Balraj Sahni theatre. However, we come here only when we do not get any other place to perform. The audience also hates coming here considering the poor state of affairs,” said a theatre artist from Rang Manch Rangnagri theatre group.
When contacted, actor Nirmal Rishi said it was embarrassing to look at the state of the theatre and blamed PSA for not being serious for it.
“This was the main theatre platform of the city but the PSA overlooked its maintenance. For the same reason, other Punjab cities, especially Amritsar and Chandigarh, have left Ludhiana far behind in theatre. Punjab government should also provide monetary support to the PSA in case they have insufficient funds but they should be used on the theatre,” said Rishi.
A Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) alumnus Anil Kumar Sharma - assistant director of TV and radio and a playwright - said, “It is not that the PSA does not have funds, but they do not want to use it for the repair work. Instead, they organise only those events through which they can promote themselves.”
Playwright and theatre director Tarlochan Singh added, “PSA officials are so sluggish that I had sent them a letter with a request to let me organise a seminar on theatre here on World Theatre Day several weeks ago. But I haven’t heard from them in spite of several reminders.”
HT tried contacting PSA president Sukhdev Singh but he could not be contacted.