History of Delhi Theatre in New Documentation Project

Unlike Kolkata or Mumbai, Delhi did not have any significant presence on the theatre map of the country until the 1960s, but post that period the city has sported a vibrant drama scene.
Four iconic theatre groups from Delhi have now been picked up by Natrang Pratishtan, a city-based archive and resource centre for Indian theatre for an ambitious project that aims to bring alive the memories and contribution of the golden period of theatre in the national capital.
“We want to give the youngsters of today a glimpse into that period of Delhi theatre. The reminiscence ofPHOTO 2 (1) the theatre people of that time is being recorded through an archival project by Natrang Pratishtan and Raza Foundation is helping them,” says Ashok Vajpeyi, Executive Trustee, Raza Foundation.
The Foundation set by the late artist S H Raza aims to provide for spaces for various art and culture programs, publications and fellowships to the younger talent.
The Sahitya Akademi here hosted ‘Rang Smaran’, a two-day programme (March 28-29) where members of four iconic theatre groups from Delhi — Abhiyan, Yatrik, Dishantar and Delhi Art Theatre — took a trip down the memory lane.
Among the many topics that came up during the discussions was an absence of good original writing and translations that could be turned into plays.
Veteran theatre personality Rajinder Nath, who set up the Abhiyan theatre group in 1967 to produce original scripts never done in Hindi, said there is “a drought of plays.”
“Earlier, whenever there was a drama in Bengali and Marathi it used to come to me immediately. I have adapted into Hindi a lot of plays by Vijay Tendulkar and Vasant Dev; but now the sources have dried up and so Abhiyan is silent now. We are unable to come up with any new production. Our last play was in 2008,” said Rajinder Nath.
Ghasiram Kotwal, Jat Hi Puchho Sadhu Ki or (Ask a Sadhu His Caste), were Abhiyan’s productions. In addition, Rajinder Nath directed Tendulkar’s Anji and Sakharam Binder for Shri Ram Centre in 1981 and 1984 respectively.
Members of Dishantar, another premier drama group founded in the 1960s by Om Shivpuri, which has staged a total of 30 shows all across the country, also shared their experiences of being part of the heady days of Delhi theatre.
“My most cherished memory was of being Om Shivpuri’s student,” said Anuradha Kapoor, who was the previous director of National School of Drama. “It was like a school for us and we had a great learning experience. We had the feeling of being part of a larger modern Indian theatre movement.”
Kapoor recollected the struggles of theatre people then to find spaces for rehearsals and how certain school principals had lent them their auditoriums for the same.
Previously, members of the Delhi Art Theatre, launched by the late Shiela Bhatia and well-known for introducing the Punjabi opera form to city audiences through Heer Ranjha, Ghalib Kaun Tha and Dard Ayega Date Paon, among other productions, also talked about their experiences.
Actors Sunit Tandon, Sushma Seth, Bhaskar Ghosh and Avijit Dutt took turns to relive their experiences with the 1964 founded repertory Yatrik, which stages bilingual performances of theatre, music and dance in Delhi. Stalwarts of Indian theatre ranging from Ebrahim Alkazi and Alyque Padamsee to Roshan Seth, Barry John and Kulbhushan Kharbanda have been associated with Yatrik.
Some of its famed productions include Azar-ka-Khwab, I Am Not Sheikh Chilli, 9 Jakhoo Hill, Pushkin’s Last Poem, and Comedy at the End of the World.
“Post Independence, several groups and individuals emerged who contributed significantly to the development of theatre in this region; unfortunately the work and contribution of most of these groups are not remembered or known to the present generation of theatre workers and through this programme we hope to relive those memories and record an oral history,” said Kirti Jain of Natrang Pratishtan.
Jain is the daughter of the late Nemichand Jain, a poet and theatre person who founded Natrang, the oldest surviving theatre journal in the country. Previous editions of the journal, along with brochures, posters, books and media clippings from the personal collection of Nemichand, have been digitally archived.
The organisation has been, for some time now, archi
ving the works of theatre groups and personalities of the country through its ‘Rang Samvad series’ that organises dialogues with them.

Share More