Several theatre aficionados consider street theatre as one of the most interactive, intimate, and impactful forms of the performing arts. In fact, it has often been used as a medium to draw attention to social and political issues. Known as the oldest left-wing street theatre groups, city-based theatre group Jana Natya Manch (popularly known as Janam) has helped advance the expansion of this form of theatrical production. Co-founded in 1973 by late theatre artist Safdar Hashmi, the group—this year marks 50 years since the inception of Janam—has put together a number of successful street productions for over 40 years.
Expressions of the common man
Safdar Hashmi’s birth anniversary—April 12—is also celebrated as National Street Theatre Day. To mark the occasion this year, Janam has been performing their play Andher Nagri all throughout the week in various neighbourhoods in the city. Inspired by writer Bharatendu Harishchandra’s eponymous play (1881), Andher Nagri is about a king who isn’t comfortable with any form of cultural expression and hence directs his nobles to punish the locals.
On the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti today, Janam will perform this at the Ambedkar Mela on Sansad Marg. Copies of a booklet of poems titled Karwat—comprising works by Dalit poets—published by the group, will also be sold at the venue. To celebrate turning 50 this year, Janam has planned several collaborative plays—with theatre artists including Sunil Shanbag, Shaili Sathyu, Mallika Taneja. Addressing the same Moloyashree Hashmi, president, Janam, shares, “I think one of the major reasons why Jana Natya Manch hasn't just survived but flourished for 50 years is that the central idea of our work has been taking theatre to the working-class people. It has been about aligning ourselves with their struggle, the dreams, the fears, and the failures, which has found resonance with every kind of audience.”
Delving into important issues
Since its inception, Janam has focused on creating plays that resonate with the issues of the working class. “Through our plays, we try to educate the working class about their rights. We often look at these issues from the lens of gender or caste but mostly, it is about how class works in the society and the condition of labour in India,” explains Komita Dhanda, a member of Janam’s Executive Committee.
By embracing the art of subversion over the years, the group has been able to bring issues of the public to light without finger-pointing. “If you see Andher Nagri, it doesn’t take any names. But once you watch the play, you will realise what it talks about and whom,” shares Dhanda. Their focus continues to be on taking theatre to the masses. “More and more groups should take the process of taking their art to the people more consciously. If that is done, theatre as a whole will flourish,” concludes Hashmi.
CHECK IT OUT
WHAT: ‘Andher Nagri’
WHEN: Today; 11:00am
WHERE: Sansad Marg
WHEN: April 14; 4:00pm
WHERE: Kallupura, Ghaziabad
WHEN: April 15; 4:30pm
WHERE: Kikar Wala Chowk, Uday Vihar
WHEN: April 17; 4:00pm
WHERE: Karkar Model, Sahibabad