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'Polls are a commodity'

As election frenzy reaches a crescendo, an eminent stage personality whose mission has been to promote socially relevant issues through folk theatre laments that the poll process has been converted into a commodity.
PTI | By Indo-Asian News Service
UPDATED ON APR 15, 2004 10:48 AM IST

As election frenzy reaches a crescendo, an eminent stage personality whose mission has been to promote socially relevant issues through folk theatre laments that the poll process has been converted into a commodity.

"Advertising gurus are turning elections into a product," contended Habib Tanvir, the director of Naya Theatre, which has been staging plays for 46 years.

The Indian government's "India Shinning" advertising blitz also came in for sharp criticism from the 82-year-old celebrated artiste.

"India is definitely shinning but only for 16 percent of its people. The remaining 84 percent are still in dark," Tanvir mockingly remarked.

Tanvir maintains the problems people face far overshadows the vastness and giant strides the country made.

To this end, Tanvir and his theatre company highlight the problems faced by the rural populace - and speak out against communalism, globalisation and consumerism.

"Communalism is the biggest issue facing the country today," said Tanvir.

In opposing this, Tanvir and his company have been subject to repeated physical assaults from right wing groups.

Last year, the group was attacked while it was staging "Ponga Pandit" in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. The attackers claimed the play propagated anti-Hindu sentiments.

"A man does not become a true Hindu by boasting about his religion but only by karma," said Uday Ram Srivas, one of the actors injured in the attack.

Srivas, who has been associated with Tanvir's company since 1975, says his acting communicates what he learns from his life's experiences.

"All the hue and cry about 'Ponga Pandit' is ridiculous. We are only presenting what was written even before India's independence," Srivas said.

Tanvir, who has not lost any vigour since he founded the company in 1958, feels communal elements are strangulating Indian democracy.

"In a democracy you need to accommodate all kinds of views," he contended, tightly clenching his pipe.

"We saw the worst in Gujarat. What transpired there was almost equivalent of the holocaust of the 1940s," Tanvir, said referring to the sectarian violence that rocked Gujarat in 2002.

Tanvir admits the communal forces he has been battling are far superior in influencing people by the virtue of the power and resources they wield.

At the same time, he maintains theatre and street plays are potent mediums to countering such forces.

"Meaningful theatre stimulates thinking. You cannot sleep over the issues talked about in a play," said Tanvir.

"Meaningful theatre keeps you disturbed and paves the way for influencing people's opinion," he asserted.

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