Young boys and girls clad in black kurtas raising voice against various social issues through street theatre is a common sight these days. Schools, colleges and theatre groups regularly enact street plays at various venues of the city to express their views and most importantly influence other sections of the society.
Street theatre has a long historical tradition. The well known Indian playwright and director, Safdar Hashmi traces the lineage of street theatre no further than the years immediately after the Russian Revolution in 1917. In India, it emerged as a natural product of the Indian People’s Theatre Association’s campaign to draw the masses of people into the anti imperialist struggle. After independence it allied itself with the democratic forces which continued the fight against the economic and social oppression of the people.
It is worth remembering here that Safdar Hashmi died on 2 January 1989 after he was deliberately attacked while performing a street play in Delhi. Ironically, the play was trying to raise issues such as the right to speech and the right of the industrial worker to assert his/her own identity.
An incident that shook the whole country and united the youth all over by way of protests and marches was the Nirbhaya Gang Rape in Delhi in December 2012. This incident also invoked among the Jaipur based Rang Mastaaney Theatre Group the need to bring to the streets awareness about the various social evils faced by women. Be it eve teasing in the form of lewd comments and vulgar gazes, acid attack and rape or the not so apparent differential treatment within the domestic sphere, the women folk are subjected to various forms of mental, emotional and physical violence. To bring to light these struggles and try to change the mindset of people, the young ‘Rang Mastaaney’ theatre artistes under the leadership of Abhishek Mudgal came up with a powerful street play ‘Ab Bass’.
Till now, the play has been performed over 900 times at different venues of the city including not just schools, colleges and popular spots of the city but also lesser known areas and residential colonies, among others.
Throwing light on the challenges one faces in this field, Abhishek says: “To begin with it is extremely difficult to find people who will enact in street plays. Everyone usually wants to be associated with mainstream theatre. Secondly, there is no source of revenue for street plays as there is no ticketed entry. Sometimes we even face opposition from the police or other authorities when we are performing a play but we have been always favoured by luck in this regard and the audiences have themselves come forward for our support.”
Talking about the impact the play has had on the society, Abhishek says that those parents who were against their daughters staying out till late and performing on roads changed their opinion after watching the play. Many girls also got the courage to speak up against the molestations they were facing and wanted to join the street play team to spread the message.
During the last elections in the state, the group was also asked by the city collector to perform a play highlighting the importance of casting a vote in rural areas. The theatre enthusiasts performed this act over 200 times in different rural areas of Rajasthan.
Sharing his tips on how to grab the attention of the crowd to a street play, the seasoned director points out that the beginning needs to be full of energy – one can either choose to sing a song or shout out slogans or even use musical instruments. He also advises to perform the play at a stretch without any break and end on a positive note. It is necessary to not just cite the problem but also suggest a solution to it. And lastly, the message of the play should directly connect with the hearts of the audiences, says Abhishek.
The playwright and started his journey with theatre in 2006 at the Jawahar Kala Kendra’s summer camp theatre workshop. In 2009, he started taking classes as a theatre instructor and is a part of the Rang Mastaaney theatre group since 2011.