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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

‘I have given all, will continue to give all to nautanki’

The tag that Thapiyal flaunts is ‘Sabse bada nautankibaaz’, he feels it’s more his love for this art form that got him this tag.

lucknow Updated: May 14, 2019 14:24 IST
S Farah Rizvi
S Farah Rizvi
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Urmil Thapaliyal
Urmil Thapaliyal (Dheeraj Dhawan/HT Photo)

If it is your very first meeting with Urmil Kumar Thapliyal, 78, you will never get to know how multi-faceted, multi-talented the man really is. What you do get to know is that the man sitting in front of you is a celebrated one. The trophies and certificates adorning the shelves stand testimony to that deduction.

Slowly, very slowly, as the layers unravel, you meet the playwright, teacher, author, poet, performer and much more.

But the tag that he flaunts is ‘Sabse bada nautankibaaz’. Thapiyal feels it’s more his love for this art form that got him this tag. “Nautanki is one of the treasures of our culture. And I have given all and will continue to give my all to saving this art form. If only a few artistes from this generation stand for this art form, a lot more can be done to save Nautanki,” he said.


A native of Dehradun, Thapliyal believes that his grandfather’s genes manifesting themselves in him made him the performer that he is. “My grandfather, BDS Thapliyal, was among the first of Garhwali playwrights. He wrote two plays in 1930 which obviously did not go down well with the British government. As a result, they were banned.

“I never really knew that I was so inclined towards the performing arts. I was 9 or 10 years old and got an opportunity to be a part of the local Ram-Leela and that was the beginning of my journey. Earlier, I was given small roles like a part in Vanar Sena or an insignificant character but once, just by sheer luck, when I was 11 or maybe 12 years old, I was given the role of Sita and that’s where I actually got to perform,” he reminisced with a smile.

Thapliyal remembers how his character as Sita was a hit and he gained popularity. “It was unbelievable, the kind of admiration and respect I began to garner. People used to invite me home, give me small presents. But my most enduring memory was when I played Sita in three Ram-Leelas all happening in my city at different times. What a memorable day that was,” he said.


After Thapliyal completed his graduation from Dehradun, he relocated to Lucknow. He said, “It was in 1965 that I got a job in AIR (All India Radio) as a newsreader with a posting in Lucknow, so I shifted and the city of Nawabs accepted me with open arms. I completed my Ph D in dialectical theatre from Lucknow University which brought me closer to the city as well as to theatre.”

Thapliyal believes that his grandfather’s genes manifesting themselves in him made him the performer that he is.
Thapliyal believes that his grandfather’s genes manifesting themselves in him made him the performer that he is. ( Dheeraj Dhawan/HT Photo )


“When I reached Lucknow, I had nothing much to do till I made a few friends who asked me to accompany them for nautankis being staged in the Saadatganj area of the city. Soon, I became a regular at those nautankis. With each passing day, the art form seeped into me some more. I so much wanted to be a part of it and do something. Watching nautanki, I felt I was in my own world, though the canvas was vastly different from what I was doing in Dehradun.

“It was the turning point in my life; I came in touch with the artistes and makers and began to understand the real grammar of nautanki. In the process, I also learnt Urdu and met the legends of nautanki like Gulab Baiji, Giriraj Kishore and more. This made me understand all the theory related to traditional art of nautanki. Then the question arose that what is the contemporary relevance of the art form, as it was more than 500 years old with mythological tales being told and retold.

“I thought of giving it a modern touch and making the content contemporary, all the while maintaining its grammar,” said Thapliyal.


Thapliyal believed that reworking and revamping nautankis for the urban audience will attract city folks to this form of art too. “After the idea of giving an urban touch to nautankis struck, I thought of utilising those minutes that were left blank after news was aired on the radio. I decided to use that time to push Nagari Nautanki (Nautanki with urban twist). And then I did numerous shows on radio. I remember our station director attended World Radio Convention in Singapore in the 70s and he took a recording of one of my one-minute episode that was highly appreciated there and also won me a certificate at the event,” he narrated.


Along with radio, Thapiyal also started to write a column for a Hindi daily, “I thought that after radio, it was the newspaper that could help keep the art alive, and my weekly column ‘Aaj ki Nautanki’, meaning news of the day, began and went on for 40 years in various newspapers.

“It was during that time that along with my column, my friends and I decided to take our efforts to a higher level by taking the dying art to theatres and as a result, theatre group Darpan was formed. We thought of bringing a committed group of artistes into our group and strive to keep nautanki alive as one of the strongest mediums, especially in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. We worked relentlessly to showcase the full potential of this form. I enjoyed entertaining audiences all over the country. ‘Harish Chander Ki Ladai’, which I wrote and directed, not only created history as the musical drama ran for over a decade. This was followed by over a hundred dramas including, ‘Yahudi ki beti’, ‘Suraj kahan se ugta hai’ and more. My aim to make people sit up and take notice and realise the importance of nautanki, did happen. And I hope it continues too. If we are able to make the new generation of artistes carry forward the torch, I’ll surely be content.”

Thapliyal has also penned five plays published as books and won Central Sangeet Natak Academy Award, UP SNA Fellowship, Yash Bharti and many more awards.

First Published: May 14, 2019 14:24 IST