This city based theatre group is reviving classic Hindi literature
The year was 1958. Prolific Hindi writer Mohan Rakesh had penned down a fictitious story on the mythological character of Kalidas. Ashadh Ka Ek Din was a three-part Hindi drama, where, contrary to the existing norms, Kalidas was not a mystic. He was a common man, living in Kashmir with his lover Mallika, leading an average family life. The play was a realist drama coupled with human emotions including rage, mirth and jealousy.
This refreshing approach to mythology made Kalidas a relatable character for the first time in the history of Hindi literature. The play went on to spur the beginning of a new movement in Hindi literature called the Nai Kahani (New Story) movement. The idea was to challenge the idealistic nature of Hindi writing and emphasise on real time social issues such as social inequality, disparity and injustice. Moreover, the stories belonging to this period had no sense of catharsis and provided no false hope of a better tomorrow.
“Rakesh’s stories and the works of his contemporaries such as Premchand and Manto have alarming relevance even in the 21st century. Despite that, Hindi literature is fast disappearing from bookstores. So, we took up the challenge to revive these stories,” says actor KC Shankar. Along with his troupe Jashn-e-Qalam, Shankar has been staging dramatic readings of works by authors like Manto and Harishankar Parsai since November 2014. The troupe will perform Mohan Rakesh’s Parmatma Ka Kutta, Chhoti Si Cheez and Uski Roti on November 28.
Along with the revival of Hindi literature, Shankar also hopes to bring back the art of storytelling. “Today, people are attracted to fancy visual effects. The stories no longer matter as much. As long as something looks exciting, people are attracted to it. We have lost the ability to listen and appreciate stories for what they are,” he adds.
As part of this project, Shankar and his group dedicate a month each to an author and study his works. These are then translated into performances that are engaging. Over the last year, Shankar has staged close to 150 stories. “People have held a prejudice against Hindi literature. They find it to be too intellectual and heavy. We have been able to break that stereotype through these reading sessions. Hopefully, the emphasis on stories will make a comeback,” he says.