Safdar Hashmi Memorial Lecture: Samik Bandyopadhyay
Duration: 01:09:28; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 23.887; Saturation: 0.223; Lightness: 0.191; Volume: 0.188; Cuts per Minute: 3.627; Words per Minute: 93.086
Summary: Can you remain so comfortable, so cushy about democracy, questions Samik Bandyopadhyay. He talks of how the activist theatres like the IPTA broke up into actorial theatres - or group theatre, as it was known in Bengal, where the theatre was subsumed by the vision of a single person. With the complacence let in by a government that has been in power for decades now (the Left), what does this mean for activist theatre?
Ye vyakhyan sahitya aur sanskriti ke shetr mein ek khaas sthaan rakhta hai. Hum aise bahut saare saathi isse pehle ke bhi vyakhyana mein aate rahe hain. Kala, sahitya aur sanskriti ke vihaar ko aur sahityakaron aur kalakaron ko is vakhyanan ke liye hum amantrit karte hain, bulate hain.
This lecture occupies a special place in the arena of literature and culture. Many of you have attended previous lectures in the series. We invite people from the the fields of art, literature and culture to deliver these lectures.
Pichle salon mein humne isme KN Panikkar, Narayan Surve, E M S Namboodiripad, Kaifi Azmi, Ashok Mitra, Malini Bhattacharya, Govind Pillai, Aijaz Ahmed, Habib Tanvir, Govind Purushottam Deshpande, Krishna Sobti, Irfan Habib, Prabhat Joshi, Lokendra Arambam, K P Singh aur Prabhat Patnaik ko suna hai.
Aaj ki vyakhyaan ka vishay hai - Activist Theatre: Recovering a Tradition. Humein bahu khushi hai ke aaj ke vakhyaan mein hum theatre aur film ke jaane maane alochak Samik Bandopadhyay ko sunege.
Aaj ke sabha ki sadharat Prabir Purkayashta kareinge. Main unhe aamantrit karta hun ke wo stage par aaye aur saath he Samik da se meri guzaarish hai, aur Jana Natya Manch ke secretary Moloyshree se bhi guzarish hai ke wo bhi stage par aaye.
Peshe se engineer Prabir Purkayastha ke pehchaan Marxist activist ke taur pe hai. Aap Delhi Science Forum ke Vice President hai. Delhi mein bhartiya gyaan vigyaan samiti mein aap nirantar sakriya hai.
He introduces Prabir Purkayastha, a Marxist intellectual and activist.
1990 ke dashak mein saksharta abhiyaan mein apki bhumika behat mehatvapurna rahi hai. News Click website se sanstaphon mein se aap ek hai.
He was deeply involved with the National Literacy Mission in the nineties. He is also one of the founders of the website News Click.
Hum jaante hai News Click aaj ke daur ka vikalpik madhyam hai. Copyright, Copyleft aur free software ke sawal par tatha creative commons movement mein aapka ek ahem role hai.
He also plays a key role in debates on copyright and the creative commons movement.
Vigyaan, sanskriti ke shetra ke saath saath sampradayikta aur samrajywad ke shetr mein aap lagatar vibhinn patrikaon mein likhte rahe hain. Palestine par aapka kaam behat mehatvapurna hai.
Aap ache vicharak hain. Enron Blowout aur Uncle Sam's Nuclear Cabin naam ke aapki mehatvapurna pustakein hai. Janam ke kisee bhi karyakram mein Prabir humesha aate rahe hain. Aapke vichar nisandeh humein disha ek pradan karte hain.
1940 mein janme Samik Bandopadhyay ne 1961 mein Calcutta University se angrezi sahitya mein M.A. kiya. 1962 se 64 ke doran apne Anthropological Survey of India mein junior research fellowship liya.
Born in 1940, Samik Bandyopadhyay completed an MA in English Literature at Calcutta University in 1961. Between 1962 and 1964, he worked with the ANSI as a junior research fellow.
1966 se lekar 1973 tak Rabindra Bharati University mein aap angrezi sahitya evum grammer padhate rahe. 1973 se lekar 1982 tak Oxford University Press mein Regional Director aur 1982 se 1988 tak Seagull Books mein editor rahe.
Between 1966 and 1973, he read English literature and grammar at Rabindra Bharati University. From 1973 to 1982, he was a regional director at Oxford University Press, then working with Seagull Books as an editor until 1988.
1989 se 1992 tak All India Radio aur Doordarshan mein Producer ke taur par apne kaam kia. Lagatar do satron ke liye aap Sangeet Natak Academy ke general council ke member bhi rahe hain. 1966 mein New Delhi mein International Theatre Institute dwara ayojit East West Seminar mein 14 sadsiye bharti mandal mein aap sharif hue.
Until 1992, he was a producer at AIR.
Aur 1987 mein 1992 mein USSR aur Germany mein hue Festival of India mein ayojit Indian Theatre pe huye seminar ke panel mein aap rahe. USA, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh aadi deshon mein aap lectures dete rahe hain.
He was a panelist at the panel on Indian Theatre at the Festivals of India in the USSR and Germany between 1987 and 1992. He was invited to lecture in countries like the USA, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Apne 1988 mein Pittsburgh University mein bharti cinema pe lectures diye hai. Aur 1990 mein Brown University, Providence mein ayojit smeinar mein indian culture par bhashan diya.
2005 mein Jawaharlal Nehru University ke School of Arts and Aesthetics vibhaag mein aap visiting professor rahe hain. Apne Badal Sarkar evum Mahasweta Devi ke kaam ka anuvad kiya hai. Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Elkunchwar, G P Deshpande aur Satish Alekar ke natakon ke ulekhniye prastavna likhee hai.
Since 2005, he has been a visiting professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He translated the works of Badal Sircar and Mahasweta Devi.
Shyam Benegal aur Mrinal Sen ke films script chapne mein aapka khas yogdaan hai. Aaj kal aap Thema Publishers, Calcutta ke editor hain. FTII, Pune ke varshik appreciation course mein apka mehatvapurn yogdaan hai. He has helped have the film scripts of Shyam Benegal and Mrinal Sen published. Now, he is the editor of Thema Publishers, Calcutta. He plays an important role in the annual film appreciation course organised by the FTII in Pune.
Rabindra Bharti University, Calcutta ke grammar vibhaag aur Allahabad University ke School of Drama and Film ke Board of Studies ke member hain. Aap Pune ke Film and Television Institute of India tatha Satyajit Rai Film and Television Institute, Calcutta ke academic council ke sadasya hain.
Is sabke saath saath aap National School of Drama, New Delhi ke Vice Chairman hain. sabah ke aage ke karwayee ke liye main Prabir Purkayastha se guzarish karunga ke wo aaye. Prabir.
Prabir: I must say that, I am little overwhelmed by the introduction that Ashok has given. It almost appeared that it was, what would have been appropriate for a visionary. I must confess that I also feel quite comfortable now that I have reached that position and now I am chairing meetings. Of course, friends like Jana Natya Manch I can't say no to. But it is a recognition of my really growing grayness that I am exhibiting.
Safdar Hashmi Memorial Lectures are of course something that touches all of us, because of the personality of Safdar which we cannot forget even though it has been a very large time that has elapsed from when he died.
All of us who have known Safdar remember the inspiration that he provided all of us not only with his creativity but also his passion for life, his enthusiasm for changing society, using culture as an instrument in this struggle.
And to us, Jana Natya Manch is a continuation of the project - how we can use our various capacities that we have to bring change in the society which slowly seems to be turning into more and more fragmented, more and more based on greed and profit.
I think our challenges today are much bigger that they perhaps were earlier. I am not going to give you any further barrier between myself and speaker so I will ask Samik Da to start and tell us how he looks at culture and theatre.
Samik: I have very fond memories of drawing Safdar into an unfinished project back in the early 1980s and working with him on it. That was the time when some of us were trying to propagate the virtues and values of what we considered the New Indian Cinema, a cinema which tried to capture the spirit of the local, the intensity of the local experience and projected through cinema for the rest of India.
A time when languages within India were not barriers; we came to love films made in Malayalam, Kannada, Bangla, Hindi and several other languages. In 1982 we first discovered the Manipuri cinema. Those were the days. We had no doubt that cinema at last was taking a role as a sort of activist culture.
One of the initiatives that we joined in was to publish a series of film scripts. These were pre-DVD days, so there was no way we could access whenever we liked, any of these films. The films were marginalized by the industry and it was only a militant film society movement that projected the films. With limited means, film societies could not bring these films back again and again.
Once we missed one of these films, we wouldn't have a chance to see it again in the near future. So we thought the best way to circulate these films, the culture of these films, was to publish film scripts. Not film scripts in the accepted mode in which they were being published at the time abroad. We felt that for these films to circulate, we needed to translate the viewed film into a language, which worked between the fields of the visual and the literary. Create a different language; create a different manner of sending these films out beyond the circuit. It could even help create or develop the cinematic imagination of the readers.
Where words turned into pictures once again through the book. As part of this venture we were trying to create the film script of Shyam Benegal's Mandi. There were these wonderful songs in it that had to be translated. We had reconstructed the script using the steenbeck for a close viewing which is now quite primitive given DVDs and many other editing gadgets available now. When we came to the language, we needed the sensitivity of a Safdar Hashmi. The first time, we met in the tea shop outside the Shri Ram Centre and then worked on it for three or four days.
He started with translating the text, the songs word by word; then filled in the other cultural details and associations that went into making the translation. For a project of translation at so many levels and layers nobody but Safdar could have really added to it at that level. Those were the days.
Early 80s, mid 80s - things looked fairly rosy in those days with the thought that the Left in India was making steady progress towards political power; may be the whole of it couldn't be available to the Left that easily or that soon but there were prospects of steady advances, greater progress, greater achievements.
It would be the role of culture and the role of people like us to contribute to the development of a broader culture, a culture of awareness, a culture of sensitivity, a culture that opened up areas of experience and create(d) a whole body of knowledge that would not be made available to us by the media, by the institutions of power, even by the institutions of learning.
There had to be an alternative activist agenda to create a different body of knowledge to which we students of the Indian cinema made contributions and brought different languages and experiences of the local to the view of people in other cultures within India. Things moved in that direction.
When we talk of the early 80s, the horror of the emergency was over. For the the first time in India, an alternative political force had emerged to replace the Congress at the centre. In some states at least, the Left was coming to power in a more stable manner. It would not be easy any longer to throw out an elected communist government, the way the first such government was thrown out in Kerala in 1959.
These were the hopes, these were the promises around. In 1977, the Left Front in West Bengal had come to power and till now has been holding to that power. But slowly things started changing. And even as things started changing, it was necessary to take a longer historical view of the tradition of activism in culture and theatre. A fresh view!
And a fresh view was important because at that given point of time, there was this feeling of complacency; that the democratic process will take its course comfortably slowly, smoothly and gradually things will change. So meanwhile we could go on doing things the way we liked.
There was a general feeling of freedom that you could do what you liked . In West Bengal for example the Left front in power allowed opportunities. There was a whole new art cinema complex, new theatre houses were opened; theatre houses that allowed people to perform at extremely moderate rates. There were all kinds of facilities - awards, grants, opportunities galore. Things were settling down. Things were extremely comfortable.
Somehow the acticist agenda was dissolving and evaporating in the bastions of the Left. The Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) was nowhere in view. It was a lost, old, bleary tradition. Occasionally there would be survivors of the IPTA of the 1940s or the 1950s who would be felicitated and would go on trips of nostalgia which the newcomers in the field may be empathizing with, but nothing more than that.
Even the whole image of the IPTA, the history of the IPTA was being reconstituted, recast. Certain experiences were being allowed to be obliterated. There was a thing that happened initially in West Bengal, and then it became the pattern for the Indian theatre activity as a rule as a fallout of the IPTA.
The Communist Party and the IPTA were banned in 1948. At this time several members or people involved in the IPTA moved out; some slightly before, more immediately after the declaration of the ban. A new construction of organization came into being.
In Bengal, there was this term which emerged 'Group Theatre' which for me doesn't make sense really, because theatre is a group anyway. So what do you mean when you call it group theatre? Can you have a single-man theatre? You can have a single man performance.
But even for a single man performance you need a theatre group, the technicians; you need people around you. So even the term 'Group Theatre' became something that did not have any meaning, any ideological substance, any cultural meaning other than 'away' from the IPTA. And how was the 'Group Theatre' really defined? The 'Group Theatre' would have a single director.
In most cases it would be an actor-director and there would be a group of loyal members, loyal actors, 'workers' who are not good enough to act and therefore would have to carry out the more uncomfortable 'responsibilities' of the group. Go to the newspaper, hand in the advertisements, raise funds and sit at the ticket counter because they are not good enough actors.
And the actors constituted a class by themselves. In this new institutionalization, where one of the starting points, one of the principles, that some of these directors started pronouncing was that the artist should have his total freedom, a freedom that the IPTA did not allow.
Obviously it was a choice away from activism in theatre to theatre for the heck of it . So there was this cult of freedom, the cult of independence. I have handled quite a lot of the available archives of the IPTA and interviewed several participants in the IPTA project in depth.
And I really have not found a single instance where an director or an actor or a singer had actually been restrained or stopped from doing something and therefore had gone out of the IPTA. Every time these dissidents (I call them dissidents for convenience sake) would talk about their experiences about why they left the IPTA, they would speak of interferences but not a single instance was cited as a particular case of interference.
But the message goes across that the IPTA never allowed you to work freely. Therefore these independent artists had to come out to assert their independence and create a free open theatre. Freedom almost immediately took this strange identity of the dominance, the supreme dominance and control of the director; when in most cases, the director was primarily an actor and only secondarily a director, that is the transition through which he comes to take his position and play his role in the group.
The whole question of the actorial ego comes into play. This actorial ego is reconstituted in terms of a certain notion of freedom, absolute freedom and artistic freedom. It became evident so soon even in the choice of the plays, in the choice of the image of the organization that is projected, in the mechanics of the daily operaion of the organization.
At every level it was really projecting the supreme actor; the actor unfettered by responsibilities, ideological or otherwise. When the groups broke and they broke quite soon, the first group which became a kind of a model, the post-IPTA model of the so called 'Group Theatre', the independent theatre, was the group Bahurupee started by Sombhu Mitra.
It began in 1948, the very year when the IPTA was banned and it was not safe to go on working in the IPTA any longer. The first split in the group came in 1952. About six important actors left and formed another group. There was no ideological split, no split on issues, over the kind of theatre, of the kind of theatre practice or ethics or the ideologies of theatre.
It was a split absolutely on the personal plane. And one of the considerations, not the sole consideration was that there was in the group an actor who was a wonderful, powerful singer-actor with a solid grounding in the tradition of mass singing, community singing, songs of the nationalist period, songs of the popular uprising, militant singing, let's call it and he was quite keen to break off into another kind of place, not really theatre.
He wanted his place in the theatre and he could score best if he could sing and act so powerfully in his wonderful voice. Sombhu Mitra was extremely weak, musically. That was one of his weakness - music in theatre. He wouldn't accept it. So the break really came at that point; not so much from a conscious understanding or need of the different kinds of theatre.
And again it was the actor at the centre, an actor who would like to use music. There were several other actors in the group who had great mastery over regional dialects and they would like to bring the dialect into play in the theatre. So these actors formed a group.
Dialect and music amounted ultimately to a different layer of theatrical expression; where rather than the institutionalized word, the literary text, the poetry of the standard idiom, you break into a different kind of voice, the voice in the dialect, the voice in popular singing of songs that have grown out of movements, out of the freedom movement particularly, in different regions. This was the point of the first break.
Most of the groups which came into being broke away on such considerations later on also. Somehow the Bahurupee model became the model where the supreme director-actor would choose the plays by the values of his own histrionic prowess, the way he could act best.
Other actors developing other styles, who are stronger or more expressive in other modes would like to break off and form another group. So the groups get their identities from actorial styles, actorial modes, not ideologies, not visions of theatre, not social political activist roles. This becomes the pattern more and more.
Even in the reconstruction and rewriting of the history of the IPTA, there was very little attention given to the making of the plays and the sensibilities that went into making of the plays, the texts that were created and the way the texts came into being, the histories of text. These became marginalized. What became prominent was the role of the individual - the actor, the singer, the composer- who are now felicitated, recognized, adored, institutionalized as 'Artists'. But the entire activist fabric is disinterred, dismantled to project them in a different manner.
I have had the joy and privilege of interacting closely with Bijon Bhattacharya, the playwright of the first IPTA classic Nabanno, who co-directed it with Sombhu Mitra. I also had the opportunity of interviewing Tripti Mitra who did one of the leading roles in Nabanno. The stories of the making of these plays have never been really inscribed in history. They've been left out of history. They become anecdotes, they become tales, they become stories.
But if we really critically examine the making, why they were made, how they were made. I'll share with you some of these anecdotes that I gathered from Bijon Bhattacharya and Tripti Mitra.
In 1943, the famine was raging in Bengal which left at the end of it, according to official British records, 300,000 people dead. The unofficial record cites a higher figure. The famine had multiple causes - hoarding of food stuffs, food grains for the war, for the British army, a cyclone in Medinipur, terrorist acts in 1942 which had cut off parts of the state from the administrative hub and the policy of the government to teach these rebels a lesson by not providing them with food.
All these factors combined to create this terrible famine, the man-made famine of 1943-44 which drew hundreds and thousands of people from the villages coming to Calcutta, literally dying in the streets of Calcutta.
Bijon Bhattacharya recalled in a long converstion with me his memories. At that time he lived in a house from where every morning- he used to work as a journalist in a newspaper at that time- when he came out from his house, he had to walk up to the tramway station to the end of the road.
He had to pass by a small plot of land, a sort of park where some of these famine-stricken migrants from the villages had taken shelter. They lived under the open sky with no shelter, nothing at all. Bijonda tells me - Every day I passed by that park, I felt so ashamed of our incapacity to feed these people, to save these people who`d come for shelter. We can't cope with it.
My helplessness made me feel so utterly ashamed that every day when I passed by that park, I wouldn't lift my head. I couldn't. I wouldn't look at them. But I could hear them talking. One day I heard a couple talking. I didn't know who they were. But they were not talking about hunger. They were not talking about death that loomed in the future.
They were talking of the happy time of the harvest ceremony and fun and games that they had the year before. They were talking about these and they were laughing. Three days later, Bijonda was passing by and he saw a dead body lying covered in piece of rag.
I remember him telling me- I didn't know but I noticed that when a man dies, especially after starvation, the body becomes somewhat smaller. And these were small bodies of adult people. This is something that I learned for the first time.
As he passed by that dead body, he suddenly had this feeling that maybe he was the man who was talking to his wife three days ago about the fun and games in the new harvest ceremony of the year before. Who knows, I didn't look at his face? I felt this urge, this thought, this passion - somebody should write about it. But I can't. I don't have the right to write about it. They have to speak for themselves. And yet how can they?
Bijon Bhattacharya, a man who had never written a play in his life, a committed communist journalist, story writer, composer of songs, but never written plays, had never seen the big historical, mythological Bengali plays in the big theatres, never cared for that, felt no special love or concern for theatre. He suddenly felt that if they have to speak for themselves, it has to be a play where they speak.
So a man becomes a playwright not from an aesthetic choice but more from the compulsion of an experience, an experience which he felt on his skin, underneath his skin. And for the first time he tries writing a play. Nabanno was his third play. He'd written two shorter ones before. And then came Nabanno
For his second play, Jabanbandi, which was in a way also on the theme of famine, he decided right in the beginning that he wouldn't choose actors. He needed people with different kinds of experiences. He chose a close relation - Tripti Bhaduri (later Mitra).
When I spoke to Tripti Mitra, she said she'd never thought of theatre as a career, as a profession. She told me- I'd always thought I'd love to be a doctor. And if I was not good enough, if I didn't have the proper academic results, then maybe I'll be a nurse. And I'll be happy with that.
She was studying in Calcutta, dependent on an uncle. Bijonda drew her into the theatre. She had no acting experience, no great passion for theatre or acting. Triptidi recalls, that when she was a member of the Students Federation at Ashutosh College they had organized a langarkhana.
The starving people would come once a day and be served a sort of gruel. One afternoon, Triptidi was serving the gruel from a sort of a bucket to the women in a circle who had small tin bowls. She suddenly noticed that one of them had a strange look in her eyes.
She dropped the bucket, walked up, and held out her arm. The woman just fell on her arm and died in front of her. She hadn't obviously had anything to eat for some days, had come for her first food and couldn't take it.
There was yet another incident that Tripti Mitra would recall. She lived on the second floor of a house where many people lived together. Rice for all was cooked in the same kitchen. Around one o' clock in the afternoon, after cooking was over, the remnants of the cooked rice - the water, would be poured down a pipe which went to the road and fell in the drain.
And there was a small settlement of these famine-stricken migrants on the pavement across the house. They noticed that everyday the women would come up and before the rice water could fall into the drain, they'd hold their bowls at the end of the pipe and take that water. That was their only food.
One afternoon, she saw a woman with three little children rush with the bowl to gather the rice water. She collected it, went over to the pavement, lifted it to her lips and drank it up. She pushed away the children with all her might and went on drinking. The children didn't scream. They were shocked into silence and sat there bewildered, looking at the mother.
Only when she had finished it, did she realize what she had done and looked at the children, hugged them together and wept. So Triptidi would tell me that everyday when she acted in Nabanno those experiences and memories taught her how to act.
She felt that if the people watching were moved to contribute some money, she and her friends would get the resources to cook the gruel for the next day. That was the motivation. Now this making of theatre we so easily erase and turn it into an act of performance, the act of acting ultimately.
Most if the reviews of Nabanno in 1944 said that it was a moving experience but it was not theatre. It didn't have a proper plot. It was too amorphous, it was too loose, these were the complaints. Sensitive people, several of them seasoned Marxists, could still be controlled, led, ruled by an aesthetics which had nothing to do with immediate reality, the experience, the making of this theatre.
More and more, once this whole story was erased, IPTA was regarded as just something that led on to the so called 'Group Theatre', the independent free theatre groups. This whole history of the making of an activist theatre out of lived experience was something that did not exist.
There is another part of the IPTA story which has not been chronicled properly. While the IPTA remained banned form 1948-51, the IPTA functioned. There were IPTA groups which performed fairly regularly. During a ban or a legal prohibition, if you are dealing with print material, you can clandestinely print and circulate and still be safe.
But when you are performing in a public space with an audience around you, the risk factor is tremendous. Yet you take the risk, though not from any adventurism. The IPTA had an organization between 1948-51 in the cities, in the small towns, even in villages, where in spite of the ban, there was a support system, and organizational support where a section of the audience would take care of the security of the performance and be on watch.
There were occasions when the police would come to know of the performance but even before thay could arrive at the spot, the news would go around and the actors would be shifted.
A lot of these experiences remain in the memories, barely recorded. It is strange, because the Communist Party later came to criticize and in a way condemn the party politics of 1948-51, so that part of the history of the party also seemed to go out which looked at this wonderful history of a secret clandestine IPTA functioning with an audience that provides the performance and the actors with support; the risk shared by the performers and the audience alike. A community grows out of the risk and within the risk.
Now more and more, these histories get erased as the Left comes to power in West Bengal in 1977 and holds on to power so securely over the years. Activist theatre virtually vanished. There was this general feeling of complacence, that things are fine.
See Fly on the Wall in E-Rang Issue, September 15, 2012 - http://theatreforum.in/m/e-rang/?tab=issues&object_id=60
The parliamentary process would take its course and we'd reach the goal somehow, someday. Until then, we can just go on functioning along the line. The culture and the politics of the group theatre become more and more safe, secure, extremely comfortable and comfort-seeking.
There was no cultural policy; a policy that at least took the initiative to tell people, to ask people within, around the party, around the left forces to create an activist agenda, identify issues. It is not a question of just paying lip service and supporting the ruling party. Even the party became enormous, a large mass party which has at the moment 300,000 members officially.
But what are these members doing? What are other theatre workers doing? They are following the general route. Of course people who don't care have the freedom. Who are we to deny them their freedom? They have the freedom to enjoy, have fun, and live and be comfortable.
The Left government spends much more money on theatre than any other non-Left government in the country. The West Bengal government maintains about 62 theatres spread all over the state, owned by the government directly or through municipalities. The rentals are reasonable.
There is a State Natya Akademi and a State Literature Akademi with resources and funds. In the city of Calcutta itself, the government has 5 theatres of its own. It has an Art Cinema Complex with 4 cinema halls. But there has never been a conscious activist cultural agenda in any of these fields, whether theatre, whether cinema, whether the arts, whether literature.
What has happened in the meantime in this blind unquestioning faith in a supposed democracy, you go on pursuing it and you seem to forget that the fascists came to power in Italy in the 1920s through democratic means. There was a massive demonstration - the march to Rome led by Benito Mussolini. In 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany through the democratic process. Of course.
So can you really remain so comfortable, so cushy about democracy? There should have been an initiative. There should have been an activist agenda for theatre which should have drawn from the IPTA, building theatre, building the issues - educate, act the local, not always addressing the larger global issues, the national issues.
It is easy to make a play on a national issue and there is always the expectation that this play will travel. Travelling theatre is one of the means of security for theatre. That`s how theatre survives in India, by travelling. The more shows you have outside your state, beyond your own audience, the better you survive.
So these are the political desires that insidiously make their way into the theatre project. Activism is risky. Plays are shrewdly made by persons with a leftist orientation where the theme is so delicately and shrewdly handled that the viewers can take away a Hindutva message if so inclined or you can take an anti-multinational message if so inclined. The same play can serve both ends that served both programmes.
That's how the play circulates. There have been plays like this. In the process some of the larger issues are avoided - the question of the danger to democracy, the role of the media where the media can twist information so that a consumerist culture can take over, the least concern about poverty, about disenfranchisement, about deprivation at so many levels. Because these levels are mainly local and therefore not that glaringly visible, it becomes easier to skirt these local issues, these local experiences and go in for a national or a global issue which circulates and travels, which can make the festival trail.
The issue of democracy, the role of the media in virtually desensitizing a large constituency, even the question of justice, the blind faith in the legal system, in judicial system, so that when there are deviations, when we see glaring instances of the letter of the law at the twists and turns, of not allowing the people their rights- it has to be the job of an activist theatre to raise the question of justice, legality, the rightness of things, the wrongness of things, the misappropriations of power, and the contentious applications of power.
These issues become negated and erased. So we start getting scared at the recent result in the elections and get a fright, an honest fright as to the immediate future and prospects of the Left.
I think it is time to take a look back at culture, at theatre and the need for a fresh activism; almost the kind of activism out of which the IPTA emerged in 1943-44. At that time, the Left or rather the communist party, was isolated by choice from the national movement, from the then national current by its choice of a position, the anti-fascist position in World War II.
It was isolated from mainstream politics. It chose a course of activist culture where it felt that it may not be time right now to get into the national mainstream because that would involve compromises on our ideology. Let us choose an activist culture as a decisive component of our politics so that a different sensibility, a different conscience can be created.
Bijon Bhattacharya late in his life would say - "All that we were supposed to do was to prepare the ground, to smoothen and water the ground and then time will come to plant the seeds. But we were happy with our job. We were dedicated to that - just prepare the ground."
I think we stand at a point of time, at a juncture where perhaps independent of the choices of the Communist Party or the Left, theatre workers, cultural workers are concerned about these issues, are concerned about social justice, the amelioration of poverty, the creation of a real genuine authentic democratic space.
I think it is imperative for them to choose a line, an agenda of cultural activism; an activism which need not be global, travelling, circulating. It is more important to work at the local, at the level of the local, the small communities.
Unless something happens at those levels, the globalizing and totalizing tendency of the media and the political machinery and the way it is operating and becoming more and more sophisticated will not leave us much of space anyway unless we create and carve out the space of theatre activism for ourselves. Thank you.
After what Samikda said, it has made a lot of us think about what our challenges are. Fundamentally, we have to rethink not only cultural activism but we also need to rethink on activism per se. I think the issue is though not only an issue of Left and West Bengal but though I may deviate from his theme, a much larger issue- what is happening to cultural activism and different types of activisms in the world.
And I think we need to really re-think lot of these issues not just as cultural activists but as activists looking at what our current challenges are. I am not going to give any prescriptions, that's not my task. But I'd also like to end by one observation that if you look at it today, the problem is that we have not only the fact that you have a cultural sphere which is in some sense overwhelmed by technology, permeates different parts of our lives in different ways.
But also that we need to fight within that space too. We cannot consider that culture is now only to be fought by local and theatre activism. I think we need to address the issue that just as technology allows us a much larger control of culture in this way technology also opens out certain spaces for us, certain spaces which are in the interests of society which allow us, for instance, what Samikda was talking about earlier, that DVDs didn't exist.
Well, we have the possibility today of accessing culture and producing culture, participating in the cultural movements, many different ways which could not have been done earlier. So, earlier theatre was perhaps the only activist culture you could think of. Today it is possible to go other forms of culture too.
I think all of us need to think of how to create this cultural resistance. I'll end by saying, I've always felt that Science and Technology activists tend to think that they are different from cultural activists and I believe that today this distinction is artificial.
Because culture is closely related to technology as well and if technology activists do not understand that one way of spreading scientific concepts, all has been cultural. Other side is that if unless they can contribute back to culture using purely culture as an instrument of raising scientific consciousness, it is not going to be good enough.
I think I would end with this, which I've always said to Janam and other people that they really need to bring science and culture together to create an activist consciousness. Thank you.
We need a fresh activism. Thank you very much Samikda, and also Prabir da who added his thoughts to Samikda's. We thank Tarakda for being able to hold our programmes here occasionally. We thank Samik da for this stimulating speech and we thank you for taking time out to attend this lecture. Thank you.