M.K. Raina talks to Diwan Singh Bajeli about adapting Shakespeare to the traditional Kashmiri Bhand Pather...
What motivated him to do a world classic with folk artists who have hardly any exposure to modern stage and what challenges he has faced while producing a play in a place which is witnessing social, political and economic turmoil? “Actually, I have been working with these traditional artists, who have formed Kashmir Bhagat Theatre at Akingaam village in the district of Anantnag, since the 1980s. I have been in touch with them regularly. Thirty-five families, including children, have formed a small module to express themselves and keep their rich folk tradition alive,” says Raina. “Some of the folk forms of the region are sinking into oblivion.”
An artistic director of the Delhi-based theatre group Prayog, Raina has been associated with leading theatre directors and actors besides working in rural areas, especially his homeland Kashmir. His repertoire thus has a unique combination of highly sophisticated artistry and earthy vitality of folk forms. “Badshah Pather” is a part of his ambitious rural project. The production has evolved in the most challenging and violence prone situations.
“My first challenge was how to explain to my traditional artists, as most of them are illiterate, one of the greatest literary and theatrical works of the world. The translation into Kashmiri by a professor was too literary and literal and beyond their comprehension. So in the process a new script was evolved through group discussions. A new language was created — the language of the local people rooted in their soil. The performers discovered in the tragedy of King Lear their own tragedy. They internalised the evolved text and the depth of the king's tragedy. The format of Bhand Pather and the text became an intrinsic part of the artistic whole with elements like folk music suffused in Sufism and Chabuk — whip, a folk prop to evoke humour as well as pathos — become important theatrical expressive means.”
In the original, King Lear divides his kingdom among his daughters and in the Kashmiri version he divides it among his sons. Is this not a distortion of the original? “No, in our tradition the land is divided among the sons who are socially, morally and legally duty-bound to look after their parents. The king in the Kashmiri version is close to our people and their ethos. What moves the performers and the audience is his tragic fate after partitioning his kingdom. It is not only the tragedy of the king but also of the people of Kashmir who are suffering untold miseries as the result of the Partition.”
Referring to the show's premiere at village Akingaam, he says excitedly, “We have no auditorium there, let alone equipment like lighting. The play was staged on the slope of a hill during daytime. About 5000 people coming from neighbouring villages witnessed it.” The play was staged at other villages also on public demand. “We have faced threats from separatists who were dead against any theatrical presentation. I wanted to avoid confrontation and violence, but our host villagers and team members were determined that the show must go on come what may. We did perform at several villages without any violent disturbances. Of course, there were security arrangements.”
Is it possible to pursue theatre in a situation under threat by forces of violence? “Yes, theatre workers are active in Jammu and Kashmir risking their lives. The very fact that two plays from Kashmir are being featured at BRM is a testimony of the daring and passion with which theatre is being pursued in that state. I believe through theatre, which is a community art, we can democratise the polity by debating critical and controversial issues, indicting forces that oppress people.”
RECAP A graduate from the National School of Drama, Raina has been working professionally for over three decades. Apart from theatre, he has produced television serials and acted in films. Some of his outstanding productions are “Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein”, “Three Sisters”, “Mother”, “Evam Indrajit” and “Banbhatt Ki Atmkatha”. He is the recipient of several awards, including from Sanskriti, the Sahitya Kala Parishad Award and the Sangeet Natak Akademi.
SNEAK PEEK Now, Raina is planning to revive his productions of Bhisham Sahni's “Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein”, “Muaze” and “Madhvi” to stage during the birth centenary of Bhisham Sahni
BEYOND A SHOWCASE Raina has been associated with the National School of Drama's Bharat Rang Mahotsav in different capacities since its inception. Now that BRM has entered its 14th year, Raina comments, “Initially it was the rallying point for theatre workers from different parts of the country. Gradually it is acquiring the syndrome of a routine type of festival. It has lost excitement. The participating groups are not given time to interact with one another and to exchange views regarding theatre activities in their respective areas. The plays from foreign countries hardly have any artistic standard. The participants are not benefited economically, either.” He adds, “The selection process is not democratic. The entire theatre community should be involved in the selection of plays through a mechanism that could reach even remote areas. We do not get contributions from areas which were once theatrically rich. It is the duty of the festival organisers to suggest ways to make them theatrically alive again.”
BHAND PATHER Bhand is a term for traditional entertainers in many parts of the subcontinent. Bhand Pather is a traditional theatre form performed primarily in the Kashmir Valley. A blend of song, dance and drama, its storyline is often humorous and satirical.
“Badshah Pather” is a Bhand Pather adaptation of “King Lear” in Kashmiri, evolved by M.K. Raina working with traditional artists.
Duration: 2 Hrs
Date: January 21,
Venue: Meghdoot 1, Rabindra Bhawan, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi,
Time: 5:30 p.m.
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