Enthusiasm is brewing as the elections are nearing and what better medium is there than street theatre to reach out to people. But the art form, which came up as agit-prop and made it big in the 1970s, now often takes on causes of various political parties or candidates.
Shiva Prasad Kagawade, founder of theatre troupe The Face, and a few of his fellow actors were approached by BJP to come out with a play promoting Narendra Modi. Though the actor, speaking for the entire group which has completed over 200 shows, said that this is the party that most members would extend support to, also admits that they would not refuse offers from elsewhere.
“Street theatre is our vocation. So we wouldn’t really mix up personal ideologies with shows. It just serves as a medium to get a message across,” he added. They do not perform it under their banner. But the parties just help them distance themselves further. “Since they have to bear the expenses, and it’s for their cause, the play is presented as BJP’s play,” he said.
Six-year-old Green Stage too was approached by the same party, but had to give it a go-by this year owing to lack of a sufficient budget. “It was going to be sub-contracted, so our cut would have been really low,” Vijay A told City Express. “However, we had done some shows for the Election Commission and JD(S) last year,” he added.
Yet stage artistes who write shows promoting different parties often also have causes of their own.
“Our intention is to promote public awareness,” said Vijay.
“So currently, there are three themes: children used by mafia for begging, traffic awareness and exploitation of women. This and the degradation of native culture, along with preserving street theatre are causes that we back,” the artiste, who has been on the street play scene for nearly a decade now, said.
Shiva too is part of another play, commissioned by the Election Commission, urging people to cast their vote. “Shows are yet to begin,” he said.
There are still others, often those who saw the rise of street theatre as a medium of arousing people into action, who prefer to stay away from shows promoting parties and candidates.
C Basavalingaiah, who has held senior positions in theatre organisations like Samudaya and Rangayana, is one such. Some student artistes trained by him are performing a play against corruption just ahead of the elections on the streets of Kolar.
“Personally, I would rather not be associated with any articular party,” he said. He observed that voters’ best option today is to look out for new faces or ‘relatively good candidates’ even as he fears a dictatorship-like regime if Modi comes to power. “I’m not saying that it’s sure to happen, but the circumstances just before Hitler came to power in Germany too were similar -- he too had backing from the youth,” he cautioned. His hopes: those who come to power should be secular and reinstate the democracy’s nature in the system.
Parties use theatre for canvassing
So is this a cause that street theatre should support? “And all this is not going to happen overnight as it does in movies all because theatre artistes strive for it,” he retorted.
At Ravindra Kalakshetra, a day-long campaign with the theme ‘Namma Matha Maaratakkalla’ (Our Vote isn’t for Sale) was organised by The Concern For Working Children. It hoped to encourage people to cast their vote with discretion. “We’re telling people on not to be fooled into voting for unworthy candidates,” Anand Parakott, whose troupe Shooonya presented a street play during the event, said.
“Many well-known faces, including actor Shivarajkumar and actor-singer Vasundhara Das, are supporting the campaign,” he claimed. This apart, his troupe which specialises in street theatre performances, will do shows in support of Bangalore North Congress candidate C Narayanaswamy.
When asked about the reasons for accepting the offer, Anand said, “On the whole, he’s an honest man, and we aren’t asking people to vote for the party.”