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Delhi celebrates its street play culture

National Street Theatre Day is celebrated on April 12 on the occasion of the birthday of activist, playwright, poet Safdar Hashmi.

art and culture Updated: Apr 11, 2017 17:03 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
MK Raina,Asmita Theatre Group,Arvind Gaur
Students practice street theatre on the final day of the annual fest of Kirori Mal College, Delhi University. Professionals say that street theatre has reached new heights since colleges have started taking to street theatre in a big way. (Manoj Verma/HT Photo)

When people in Delhi crowd on the streets in a circle and you hear loud voices from the centre of that crowd, it’s no more a fight but a street play performance. Not just in the hub of theatre, Mandi House, but in almost every part of the Capital, street plays are performed quite often but few of us are aware of the history of street theatre in the city and the story of some of the stalwarts of street theatre, from the city.

However, the National Street Theatre Day which is celebrated on April 12, ensures that Delhiites celebrate the art form with much fanfare every year. The day is the birthday of political-activist, playwright, actor and poet Safdar Hashmi. In 1989, Hashmi was murdered in Jhandapur, while performing a street play, Halla Bol. Though the street play movement began in India with Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), it was after Hashmi’s death that the actual power of street theatre in India was realised by the masses.

On the National Street Theatre Day, some street theatre artists share their journey with HT City:

Actor-director MK Raina says theatre had to move from street to other venues because of acceptance issues.

MK Raina, film and theatre actor-director

I started street theatre when I graduated from National School of Drama. Street theatre is theatre of the protest, and tells you that a spade is a spade. But somewhere it started getting difficult to perform in parks so one had to go to places where street plays would be accepted. That’s when colleges and corporate offices became the new venues.

Over the years it has become simpler for students to take up street theatre and they do it very well. The energy of the youngsters is amazing. But any country or state, when it starts gagging the voices it becomes a sad state for that organisation, state or city. We are going through that phase now but it will crack.

Arvind Gaur addresses the students as the members of Asmita Theatre Group perform a street play to support the students from different universities in Delhi protest against campus violence against LGBTQ. (Sushil Kumar/ HT Photo)

Arvind Gaur, founder, Asmita Theatre Group

It was immediately after school that I started participating in street theatre with different groups. The role models that I had at that point were Safdar Hashmi, Samshul Islam and Habib Tanvir to name a few. Mujhe apne aas paas jo kuch bhi ho raha hai, discrimination in education and financial conditions of people, usse gussa aata tha. That’s why I took to street theatre, because it’s a powerful medium to talk about socio-political issues and sends the message directly to the people.

In the last 35 years, street theatre groups have grown in the city. Today almost every college has a street play team, which was not the case earlier. Initially, we were stopped by the police to perform at public places such as parks but now they know us and say ‘Ye kaale kurte wale hain inko karne do… society ke liye achcha hi kar rahe hain.”

Sohaila Kapur says street theatre in present times should take up more social issues than political. (Amit Hasija/HT Photo)

Sohaila Kapur, actor-director

When we were young, street theatre was done by few college societies.Today, street theatre is part of the drama department and almost every college has a street theatre team. Also, students are much more politically aware and serious about acting than just the issues they present. Street theatre has evolved in the sense that a lot many students are participating now.

Socially relevant theatre is important. Political theatre is also important but you run the risk of have skirmishes on the site because people are very polarised politically. Open debate is practically a taboo today. It invites a lot of aggression so I think street theatre groups can definitely pick up social issues and India has enough of them.

Catch It Live
  • What: 29th National Street Theatre Day
  • Where: 29 Ferozshah Road
  • When: April 12
  • Timings: 5pm onwards
  • Nearest Metro Station: Mandi House on Blue Line

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First Published: Apr 11, 2017 13:39 IST