Street theatre and the culture of protest

Remembering Hashmi

2015 marks the 26th death anniversary of theatre artiste, Safdar Hashmi, who was killed during a street performance in Jhandapur district of Uttar Pradesh. Among many other things, Hashmi was also known for critiquing the commercialisation of art. More than two decades after it was setup, Sangwari, a theatre group, claims to be carrying forward the legacy of Hashmi – the man who fought to bring the ‘culture of protest’ and street theatre to the masses.

“Sangwari is a word used to address female comrades in Chhattisgarh,” says Shahnawaz Alam (24), who has a graduated from the Jamia Milia Islamia University. While Sangwari was established in the year 1994, by students like Alam, the group has seen many new faces who were intrigued by the core ideology of the group.
“We raise basic questions that are present in the minds of the people. This is theatre at grassroots level and what we talk about in our performances are the issues faced by millions of people of India,” Alam told Metrolife.

Among the main issues that Sangwari addresses include food and education rights, women rights and the patriarchal set up present in most of the institutions of India. “A lot of plays are performed after being funded by various agencies. So the content they raise or talk about is limited and selective. We on the other hand take no money. No one dictates terms to us and this is our main strength,” Alam said. While he has been in theatre for almost five years, he is of the belief that the principle ideology and political stands coupled with the approach of Sangwari attracts many, who later join the troupe. No auditions are held for the new entrants.

Deepti, who works as a counsellor will complete one year with Sangwari this Feburary. Hailing from Varanasi, Deepti said that she approached the group after seeing one of their performances. “When I came to Delhi one of the first things I did was to join the troupe. The gender issues which the troupe talks about found a deep resonance within me,” Deepti said.

According to Kapil, the co-founder of Sangwari, the group was established soon after the masses in India began to feel the ‘brunt of economic liberalisation’. Now a filmmaker, Kapil, is the force behind the mentorship of the young recruits that intend to join group. “Safdar Hashmi started a movement and brought art to the streets. He saved it (art) from being grabbed by state and the elitist sections of the society.

What these young people are doing is reclaiming the same art which Hashmi laid his life for. Faiz and Manto are no longer names taken in the elite powerhouses of
Delhi,” Kapil said.

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