Preserving the heritage of the seeing place

Preserving the heritage of the seeing place

The word theatre comes from Greek. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation, American actress Stella Adler said.

To preserve the legacy of theatre is hence no way less than preserving the legacy of human society. Theatre in Gujarat is no different. It is a journey of Gujarati culture and way of life. To preserve its legacy is to preserve the ethos of being a Gujarati, the ethos of rich, intangible cultural heritage that shaped the present and influences the future.

So when a decade ago, a family member of the theatre stalwart Bapulal Nayak came calling Hasmukh Baradi, 79, an artiste in his own right, with bags full of theatre-related properties of Nayak, Baradi says he was brought to tears on seeing the treasure before him.

“Children and grandchildren of many Gujarati theatre doyens met and requested me to look after their ancestral possessions as they were finding it difficult to protect them in daily rigmarole. They all seemed to have a problem of space in their homes. But we have plenty of space in our institution as well as in our hearts and minds. It was indeed an honour to be able to see and then protect our culture, our history and so I thought of creating a resource of theatre archives,” Baradi, Founder-Director of Theatre and Media Centre (TMC) in Ahmedabad, where training in theatrical arts is imparted, says.

Even institutions as Natmandal of Gujarat Vidya Sabha of H K Commerce College threw open their entire repository of costumes and manuscripts stored in the basement of their college to Baradi as some of the college trustees felt that the space could be put to different use with their treasure in safer hands.

Baradi, who got his doctorate in theatre from the Lunacharsky Theatre Institute, Moscow, said that he got into habit of collecting theatre memorablia since then. He always dreamt of building an institution that would combine treasures of Moscow Theatre Museum and National Theatre Museum of London.

But that dream is still a little distance away from realisation. Baradi began with archiving material that he received from descendents of theatre stalwarts. “They told me that it was getting difficult for them to properly preserve various costumes, manuscripts and books. They felt that as a theatre lover, I would do a better job in preserving such precious material. For 30 years, we literally ran the show from a garage. The manuscripts of the plays used to lie around. We also used to get costumes that we used to get them washed, dried and ironed before putting them in our archives,” he says.

In 2007, the TMC received about 3,000 sq feet area from the Ahmedabad collector and with the financial assistance from the Central government, Baradi and his team were able to build the facility. “Today, we have a full-fledged studio that we used to hold theatre till a couple of years ago. These plays were more of interactive in nature and it was also aimed at protecting the dying art of Bhavai – the folk theatre of Gujarat. We have shifted our direction more towards research and building a repository of books and original manuscripts,” he says.

Today, the gramophone records of English and Russian plays and symphonies that he collected during his stay in Russia too are part of his archive. “We  have their handwritten scripts, medals, audio tapes and costumes, all in original form, many over century old. We have publications about local body polls held over a century ago in the city of Ahmedabad, books on poetry, 125-year-old Natya Shastra and even opera books,” Baradi boasts.

The TMC also possesses original hand-written diaries of famous Gujarati theatre personalities such as Jayshankar Sundari, Pransukh Nayak, Kanti Madia, Kailash Pandya. The TMC also archieves unique production scripts prepared by leading directors of the past. These production script captured on paper lighting cues, musical cues, movement of the actors on the stage in minutest details.

Hasmukhbhai’s daughter Manvita Baradi, an architect and urban planner, says that the archive is dedicated to the glory of Gujarati theatre in the 1950s when theatre groups started to emerge in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Baroda, including Nat Mandal and Rang Mandal .

However, it is not just the stalwarts’ work that the TMC has been able to source and protect, it also has work of writers who may be relatively less-known but have left an indelible mark on Gujarat and country’s theatre history. “We have collection of writers whose contribution has been shadowed by the work of doyens of the past. Everyone remembers Jaswant Thaker’s work but we have original script of the work of his elder brother Kamlesh Thaker, whose work was exemplary too. His play ‘Aaram Rajya’ was staged before former PM late Jawaharlal Nehru, who loved it. There was more than 2,500 shows of this play, which was later translated and staged in 17 different languages,” Baradi says.

“Gujarati theatre has had a great influence on the way Indian theatre has evolved. Indian theatre would be somewhat incomplete without the contribution of Gujarati theatre being studied. Our archives provides a rich repository of work that showcases the twists and turns Gujarati theatre has taken over years, its journey of development, the thought process of its writers. It is basically the history of society of Gujarat and India in a nut shell,”

Other than the TMC, institutions as Natrang Pratishthan of New Delhi, Natya Shodh Sansthaan in Kolkata, Natya Sangrahalaya of Morbi are few initiatives that are striving to preserve the rare and dying memorabilia of Indian theatre’s history.

On his part, Baradi is still geared up to add one more act to his life’s stage. “I have plans to build a museum for the students in the future and pass on this intangible heritage treasure for them to keep,” he adds with a smile.

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