"Theatre of Relevance"-The artistic roar of humanity! - Manjul Bhardwaj
25 years of philosophy“Theatre of Relevance”- (1992 -2017)
- Manjul Bhardwaj
(Initiator & practitioner of the philosophy “Theatre of Relevance)
90s is a decade of watershed transformation for the nation, the world as well as for entire humanity. Humanity, riding on the wheels of “industrial revolution”, nurtured a dream of breaking the shambles of feudalism.But, by the dawn of 90s, the fortress of communism collapsed and the “industrial revolution” instead of being the messiah of liberation for the masses turned out to be a dangerous, extremely exploitative, and inhumane enterprise of capitalism which not only strengthened the feudalistic mentality but by providing technological support to the scientific inventions turned the whole world into an exploited “village”through globalisation. In these trying times, India was not unaffected by the global processes.
Unipolar global events started ruining India's productive capabilities. Under the capitalist conspiracy, 66 thousand mill workers who were demanding their rights were laid off their jobs and the mills were locked down and the conspiracy of transforming Mumbai into Singapore and Shanghai was implemented which is still evident in the form of big ‘malls’ and ‘towers’ which were brought about on the site of mills .
At the time of such acute and humanitarian crisis the people needed a platform which could give them an opportunity of expression. This among them, could take own their views to the masses! It led to the beginning of an artistic contemplation and the commencement of a new artistic tenet. This artistic principle exposed the exploitative and subjugatory “art for art sake” aesthetic illusion conspiracy of capitalism and made new artistic elements available to the world:
The principles of Theatre of Relevance:
1. A Theatre that commits its creative excellence to make the world more “Better & Humane”.
2. That is relevant to the context of the society and owes its social responsibility, not to Art just for the Art sake.
3. Which caters to human needs and provide itself as a platform for expression.
4. Which explores itself as a medium of change/development.
5. That comes out from the ' limits of entertainment ' to a way of living.
'Theatre of Relevance” philosophy was initiated on August 12, 1992 and the challenge of implementation came to the fore. Capitalism has its own scheme of desecration. It covertly expands through religion, ignorance, nationalism, and orthodox traditions. The most pious principle of Indian constitution and the fundamental idea behind India’s existence, “secularism” was openly challenged and a frenzied mob of religious fundamentalists razed Babri Masjid (mosque) and the country, Mumbai was scorched in the fire of communal riots.
In such a tense atmosphere, the committed artists of ‘Theatre of Relevance’, risked their lives and performed the play ‘Door se kisi ne awaazdi’, in every nook and corner of Mumbai. I still remember that day when I gave my artists a white kurta and told them, “This is our shroud”! But, all the artists filled the hatred of riots and the wounds with their art, love, and human warmth. Every such artist who has fulfilled their artistic obligation breaths in my heart! Though it was a small victory over the long struggle with exploitation, violence, and religious fundamentalism, it not only gave a sense of confidence to us and to our artistic principle but also gave the ‘Theatre of Relevance’ philosophy a mass acceptance.
Capitalism changes colour like a chameleon and the exploitative elements of any system are its carrier and friends. In the Indian context, it is present in the form of a middle class equipped with racism, patriarchal society, orthodoxy, and religious fundamentalism. ‘Theatre of Relevance’ faced these challenges categorically. For instance, it fought a prolonged battle for child rights which continues to this day. ‘Theatre of Relevance’ is a laboratory for “a Theatre can bring constructive change”. You can touch, feel & measure those changes. "Mera Bachpan” play was enacted in more than 12000 variants and it transformed the lives of more than 50000 child labourers who are getting educated in schools today. Some of them are attending colleges today and some are professional theatre artists.
"Theatre of Relevance" by connecting life to drama has awakened theatrical consciousness and has connected it to ‘masses’. It has trained the participants in its theatrical workshops about stage, relation between drama and life, theatrical writing, acting, directing, reviews, behind the scenes, stagecraft, costume and other such aspects and turned the artistic capabilities from being a divine gift to a scientific viewpoint. Over a period of 25 years more than 16 thousand theatre artists have participated in more than 1000 workshops. Capitalist artist never owe their artistic social responsibility and therefore are stranded in the quagmire of “art for art’s sake” and are subsequently subsumed in the grinder of sensualist art. "Theatre of Relevance" has broken the colonial and capitalist thinking of “art for art’s sake” with its substance and its meaningful experiments. It has ‘planted’ and expressed thousands of ‘theatrical concepts’.It has staged 28 plays more than 16,000 times.
It has challenged the authority of patriarchy through its more than half a dozen plays, “Dwand”, a play based on domestic violence; ‘Main Aurat Hoon’ play reverberated the voice of ‘half the population’ searching for its existence; and “ Laadli” made ‘gender selection’ an issue of national discussion.
In fact, ‘Theatre of Relevance’ gradually transformed the colonial understanding deep-rooted in Indian psyche. According to ‘Theatre of the Relevance’, theatre is an experience. It could be and is created and re-created any time anywhere. In theatre, time and space are made alive with human experiences. Therefore, time and space are fundamental aspects in theatre. Theatre is an experience. In pure form it is that process which occurs in human’s humanitarian form & shape. This experience is unique, new in every person, every situation. It is not exactly 100 percent same, it keeps on varying. In this 'time' (duration) and Space (situational factors) are the dimensions and varying agents. In this agent is psyche (psychological). Therefore, theatre is not a stagnant art.
To perform theatre there is no requirement of great colonial resources or auditoriumsin the garb of professionalism. The basic requirement is that of a performer and a spectator and this is our fundamental and elemental need. According to ‘Theatre of Relevance’ artistic principle, a theatrical performance is audience and writer centric instead of being director and actor centric. This is because audience is the biggest and the strongest theatre artist. It made the issues and the concerns of the ‘audience’ its mission.
Globalization has destroyed the biological and geographical diversity of the world and it continues to do so. Its face is squid. Against this obscenity, "Theatre of Relevance" made its global roar by performing the play"B-7" on invitation from Kinder Kulture Karawane in Germany in the year 2000. Against the privatization of humanity and natural resources performed the play, “Drop by drop: water” in Europe in the year 2013. This play criticises the privatisation of water not only in India but in any part of the world. Water is “our natural and birth right”. A governance system blinded by privatization has to understand that a government which could not make drinking water available to its citizens should stop chanting the hollow phrases of rites, culture, and development.
Right-wing political parties use various emotional issues such as public faith, religion, nationality, culture, values, and cultural heritage for pure political motives and they have hatched a successful conspiracy of misleading the youth, have tarnished the hearts of the youth. By igniting their feelings these parties have mocked the intellectual capacity of logical reasoning and thinking of the youth.They have poisoned the hearts of the youth against the sacred principles of Indian constitution and it is evident in a recent debate against “reservation” which was conceived as a principle to inculcate social justice and equity in Indian disparities. The general category youth who consider “reservation” a hurdle in their progress are not ready to rise above the coincidence of birth and think that in a country like India where the fate of the children is decided through the coincidence of birth, reservation is a fair constitutional provision.
In these challenging times, “Theatre of Relevance” is ensuring direct participation of youth in theatre. We celebrate the impact of theatre on society. But, still audiences direct involvement in theatre is negligible. Being viewers, we are deeply affected by the staging or presentation of drama. But,a direct participation in drama (theatre) transforms our personality, thoughts and values.
That is why theatre is ever changing. Connects with “self, with others, with everyone that is, in spite of being personal, it is collective”.Being personal in spite of being extremely collective and universal inspite of being collective is the unique aspect of theatre. Personal experience takes the shape of collective and universality and again becomes personal. And this process is an amazing process which changes ethics, thoughts, attitudes, value psychology and create newness, new ideas, expressions, thoughts, values, the process of personifying the subtlest and again becoming subtle. It is an artistic science of construction through destruction and destruction through construction.
‘Theatre of Relevance’breaks concepts, stereotypes, inferior glands, inertia, and human complexes. ‘It creates transparency’. At the emotional level it breaks all barriers and become one expression. This expression generates new vision (inner vision) by inspiring thoughts to rethink.
To ensure that human remains humans performed the play "Garbh". This play gives a vivid description of the struggle of mankind and humanity; It is concerned with the challenges of leading a humanitarian life. It poses a question on human psychology and that invisible cocoon which is being woven around each and every one of us by nationalism, racism, religion, and caste system.
Religion, Art, and literature were the cultural traditions for mutual dialogue, get together, and connectivity of humans but, after the second world war the capitalist and imperialist countries considered ‘trade’ to be the primary source of contact with the world and established it through WTO whose ultimategoal is ‘profit’.At the root of this perception, human, humanity, or culture is not primary rather profit is primary which has turned human into an entity of sale and purchase. Being governed by the principle of ‘might is right’, this new economic policy is based on bidding, market, consumption, and profit. Due to this system our farmers are forced to commit suicide today. Performed the play on the destruction of farm produce, “Kisano ka sangharsh”.
To liberate artists from the economic mechanism which makes them puppets, performed the play “AnhadNaad- Unheard sounds of Universe”. Drama is an artistic contemplation which is a process of understanding and examining art, the artistic needs of artists and fundamental artistic processes. Since art is not a commodity and artist is not a merchantand artist is not a balancesheet of profit and loss that is why this drama by liberating art and artist from commodity and commodification, inspires and ensures a better world through their positive, creative, and artistic energies.This globalisation which robs away humanity from humans and resources from the nature breeds inequality and injustice.Its progress is based on the destruction of air, water, forests, and humanity due to which the fever of earth is rising.
In such a scenario where the voice of democracy, ‘media’, is also earning profit, sitting in the lap of capitalists, ‘Theatre of relevance’-artistic principle not only accepts the national challenges but also set the national agenda.
Power is always afraid of artists be it the power of a dictator or of a democratic system. Power can face swords, canons or atom bomb but cannot face artists, composers, playwrights, painter or a personality filled with creative skills because an artist is basically rebellious, revolutionary and most importantly their art has immense effect on the masses.
"Theatre of Relevance" by connecting life with drama has led to the emergence of artistic consciousness and has connected it to the masses. The presentations of “Theatre of Relevance” are not limited to any particular iconic auditorium or are not dependent on theses auditoriums, neither are being funded by any government, non- government, domestic or foreign institution. Its real 'wealth' is its cause and the real resource, the ‘audience’ on the basis of which, against all odds, it is committed to create a better, beautiful, and humanitarian world by becoming the voice of humanity through its substance and positive experiments. By awakening cultural consciousness, it is committed to Cultural Revolution!