Life’s Screaming Out...
A new genre of young, radical and non-conformist theatre and music has broken into a popular, anti-establishment symphony
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
Amidst the clashes between the police and people in Turkey, a ‘standing man’ became a symbol of defiance. Erdem Gunduz, a performance artiste and choreographer, became an icon of resistance when he stood still for hours in Taksim Square, Istanbul, staring at the giant portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founding father. There was a hullabaloo about his presence – standing, alone, with hands in his pockets. Police was called to check his backpack and frisk his body. When nothing was found, he was left alone, standing solitarily in silence, in protest.
Gunduz set a new trend; many Turkish people joined him in this unique form of non-violent protest. Clearly, sloganeering, candle march es and raised placards are not the only ways to protest. Performing arts continue to be a pulsating method of resistance, and it is seeing original forms of revival across the world. Also, in India.
In the recent past, India witnessed two major protest movements — one in August 2011 when Anna Hazare launched his campaign against corruption; the other against the gang-rape in Delhi in December 2012. Both protests set the ball rolling for new waves of protest, where performing arts, particularly theatre and music, emerged as powerful instruments.
While these protests reverberated in different corners of the country, Delhi was the epicentre; be it people at Jantar Mantar donning white caps during the anti-corruption campaign (which split and degenerated) or thousands thronging India Gate with deafening slogans against the rape. Among this deluge of protesters, a small group of young people never went unnoticed. Donning black dresses, they were actors from Asmita Theatre, a local group. Soon, they would be surrounded by a circle of people; some clapped, some just looked on, while some had moist eyes.
‘What unites artistes and revolutionaries is that they both question things. But they also understand that life is not simple, and it won’t give you simple answers. You can say we are both’
Others picked up a guitar and sang a song. Even others joined in chorus, singing old, progressive, secular and feminist songs. Yet others painted luminescent graffiti on walls and on makeshift canvases seeking ‘azadi’, equality and justice for women, defying orthodox, entrenched, repressive codes of patriarchy.
Street theatre did a double take here. It not only questioned the State and its cold-blooded apathy for the aam aadmi but also made people search their own conscience. Their talent acted as their weapon. Their powerful dialogues and songs mirrored the abject social realities of the human condition, the struggle against communal fascists and xenophobia, and the myriad contradictions and inequalities of social life. Art was no longer an isolated self-expression; it broke out of the stagnant comfort zones of art for art’s sake.
“It was during those days that we realized the immense power of street theatre,” says Rahul Khanna, an actor with Asmita. “Our plays narrated the angst of the people. What they wanted to say with their slogans and placards, we said it with our narratives. Each one of us present there was tied with the same thread of dissent and when they saw it with their bare eyes it made a connection.”
December 2012 was different. That winter, the capital simmered over the sheer brutality inflicted on a young female medical student in a Delhi bus by a group of men. Most outraged protesters were also young. The ‘uprising’ brought protest theatre to Raisina Hill, the VIP zone and power citadel of Delhi. Shilpi Marwaha, 24, of Asmita, was also in the vanguard. “Art ties people. They quickly became part of our protest method. Our peaceful but piercing protest baffled the policemen,” she says.
People from different walks of life are embracing street theatre to bring about social change. ‘Raging Streets’ — a street theatre group of IIT, Delhi — is one of this league. The anti-corruption campaign was the catalyst for their first stint in activism. “It was not common for students of a technical institute like IIT to take to the roads, definitely not through street theatre. But we understood its strength which is rooted in its non-violent nature,” says Surabhi Yadav, a member of the group. “It does not use any props or sets. It is like serving a slice of the common man’s life.”