World Theatre Day: Rime Of Kalidash’s Cloud Messenger Beginning On First Day Of Ashad 1600 Years Ago, Lingers To Ring In MP Stage

World Theatre Day: Rime Of Kalidash’s Cloud Messenger Beginning On First Day Of Ashad 1600 Years Ago, Lingers To Ring In MP Stage

Bhavbhuti adds a new cadence to it in 7th century CE, Rajshekhar bejewels it with a fresh lilt; yet more commitment is necessary for its onward journey; ‘Grant culture’, looking for shortcuts to success hurting theatre movement and Raja Vishwanath Singh lifts it with modern melody

SmitaUpdated: Wednesday, March 27, 2024, 12:43 PM IST
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Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): The journey of theatre in Madhya Pradesh began in the form of a cloud messenger from the banks of the Shipra River in Ujjain around 400CE. The curse of the master of Yaksha (in Meghadutam) for neglecting his duty became a boon for the history of theatre in the country – particularly in Madhya Pradesh.

It was the Yaksha of Kalidas who conveyed the message of theatrical art to Bhavbhuti in the 700 CE, and then to Rajshekhar in the 10th century CE. Ergo, the child that was born from the soul of Kalidas on the first day of the month of Ashadh or July, tromping on its wrists across the banks of the Shipra, took a giant leap to reach Bhavbhuti in Gwalior in the 7th century CE. Then the cloud messenger fell into the warm lap of Rajshekhar who was living somewhere near modern Jabalpur. It then arrived at the court of King Bhoj.

The Bhojshala in Dhar, built by the king, was also an auditorium where plays were staged under the patronage of Raja Bhoj (10th century). Blessed by Kalidas, Bhavbhuti and Rajshekhar, the cloud messenger became stronger after each step – though it was centuries old.

Passing through the circuitous path of mountains and winding through the forested terrains across the state and the crude passage of time, it reached the modern era when Raja Vishwanath Singh was the ruler of Rewa State.

He wrote a play titled ‘Anand Raghunandan’ in the Bagheli dialect in the 19th century. Baba Dike and others founded the ‘Natya Bharati Sansthan’ in 1944 in Indore, which used to stage ticketed plays on a regular basis. A Shrivastava family of Jabalpur staged plays on the terrace of their house in the 1880s and it is said that Bhartendu Harishchandra visited Jabalpur to watch one of their shows. In the 1970s, many theatre groups were formed in Jabalpur, including Mitrasangh, Kachnar and Milak. In 1973-74, Vivechana was founded in Jabalpur under the patronage of Hari Shankar Parsai and Gyananjan.

Raipur, which was a part of undivided Madhya Pradesh, also has a rich history in theatre. It was the Bengalis of the city who led the theatre movement there. In Ujjain, Prabhat Bhattacharya established the MP Lok Kala Academy, which awarded a one-year diploma in the theatrical arts. Then, Rangmandal, the repertory of Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, was established in 1980.

Theatre Doyen Habib Tanvir (left) and Deepak Tiwari in Charandas Chor at Bharat Bhavan
in November 1991

Theatre Doyen Habib Tanvir (left) and Deepak Tiwari in Charandas Chor at Bharat Bhavan in November 1991 |

About the changes that have come about in the field of theatre over the past few decades, former director of the MP School of Drama, Alok Chatterjee says that commitment has gone missing and ‘grant culture’ has taken over. “Moreover, everyone wants to be on-stage. The same persons have been handling makeup and lighting in Bhopal for the past 30 years and there is no set or costume designer in the city,” he says.

According to Chatterjee, at least 10,000 persons in the state are associated with theatre and there are more than 100 theatre groups. “Quantity is there, but there is no quality. Most of the people joining the field are very mediocre” says Chatterjee who is a recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi and has been associated with theatre for more than 40 years.

Similarly, actor and director Saroj Sharma, who has been working in theatre for around 40 years, says lack of quality is very visible. The new generation wants instant success and is always looking for shortcuts, she says, adding that “quality theatre is a must.”

According to art critic Girija Shankar, theatre in the state is still largely amateur and professionalism is missing. “People are yet to acquire the habit of buying tickets to watch plays,” he says, adding that “theatre is still not the bread and butter for aristes and others.” The state government needs to make a comprehensive theatre policy. Also, auditoriums with low rentals are needed, Shankar added.

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