Preparing people to perform on life’s stage

Ivninderpal Singh
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, June 10

When Shakespeare 500 years ago said that the world is a stage and we are all actors, he might have said so symbolically. But theatre actor and director Manjul Bhardwaj is translating the Bard of Avon’s thought into reality.
For Manjul, theatre is not a medium of entertainment but an expression of human thought, feeling, experience, and, it has a purpose. “I see theatre as being relevant to the context of society and it owes a social responsibility. It’s not just art for art’s sake but caters to human needs and provides itself as a platform for expression,” says Manjul, who has learnt something from every experience on his “fulfilling” journey from Rohtak to Mumbai.
Theatre of Relevance
Commits creative excellence to make the world more better and humane
Is relevant to the context of society and owes its social responsibility
Caters to human needs and provides itself as a platform for expression
Explores itself as a medium of change and development
Comes out from the limits of entertainment to a way of living
He has written and directed more than 25 plays and conducted more than 100 theatre workshops in and outside the country. Manjul, who has also conducted more than 150 street theatre workshops in 25 states of the country, does not see theatre confined to auditorium and actors and feels theatre can be created anywhere, anytime.
To give wings to his dream of taking theatre from the auditorium to the stage of life, Manjul founded the Experimental Theatre Foundation (ETF) in 1992 and asked like-minded people to practice the philosophy of ‘Theatre of Relevance’ (see box). “The ETF, which according to me is a laboratory of social change through theatre, is a people’s organisation that helps them take on the challenges of day-to-day life through theatrical performances,” he says.
Elaborating on Theatre of Relevance, Manjul says: “This genre is about issues related with the people, by the people and for the well-being of people. And, I visualise it as a medium of making people more humane and, thereby, becoming an instrument of change and development.”
Communal riots, child labour, female foeticide, domestic violence, natural calamities and unemployment are some of the many issues Manjul has brought to the centrestage in the country and abroad. Some of the plays staged by the Experimental Theatre Foundation are ‘Door Se Kisine Awaaz Di’ written after the 1992-93 Bombay riots, ‘Dekha-Dekhi’, a satire on consumerism, ‘Mera Bachpan’ which explores the issue of child labour, ‘Napunsak’, a socio-political satire through the eyes of a eunuch, ‘Redlight’ unfolding the sufferings, pain and exploitation of victims of human trafficking and ‘Laadli’, the voice of countless unborn girl children highlighting the issue of female foeticide.
And the change is coming. “‘Mera Bachpan’ motivated thousands of children to give up work and get back to schools and through ‘Laadli’ I have been successful in inculcating a sense of gender equality among the masses,” Manjul says proudly.
Not only this, Manjul is taking theatre to the corporate sector, too. He conducted a series of workshops for Indian Oil Corporation on ‘Attitudinal change and personality development through theatre’. At ONGC, he talked of gender sensitivity and motivation for social action. And here, too, the list is long.
Manjul, who is at present conducting a summer workshop for children at Sarang Lok, Mohali, wraps up saying: “Theatre is a movement, ever-widening, stirring the soul of every participant, creating more and more quality actors, who not only perform the time-bound drama on the makeshift stage of theatre, but also on the real stage of life for all times to come.”

 Manjul Bhardwaj - Initiator & practitioner of " Theatre of Relevance " philosophy

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