Bhand Theatre Wathora observes World Theatre Day

‘To revive Bhand Pather, make it thematically relevant to contemporary times’
• ‘Folk theatre has the potential to become most popular art form in future’

Irfan Rashid
Budgam, Mar 27: National Bhand Theatre Wathora observed World Theatre Day yesterday in Budgam highlighting the importance of theatre and urging government to pay attention to this declining folk art.
A veteran Bhand and President National Bhand Theatre Wathora, Gh Mohi-ud-din Aajiz on the occasion while speaking to theatre artists said, “If you really have to revive it, help it to become an independent institution. Make it thematically relevant to contemporary times.” “The government should equally pay attention to resurrect the theatre.” Aajiz who is 64 and seventh generation Bhand said.
Before the 1950s, Bhand Pather was a celebrated tradition in villages.
The Bhands were the only credible and critical source of information about local and political happenings. They would enter a village in the dark, holding torches mounted on long bamboo sticks, and within a minute or so the village would come alive with the sounds of jesters.
The village of Wathora in the Budgam district of Kashmir, 12 kilometers from Srinagar is the home of a community of Bhands, the traditional performers of the valley.
Spread over a number of mohallas on the banks of a stream, these people move from place to place with their extensive repertoire. In one of the localities called Balapora, there is a local shrine whose yard is used for performing rehearsals.
This village is one of the few dozen villages of Kashmir who know the art of Bhand Pather.
“More than 100 groups have abandoned Pather. Without any governmental assistance, they had no choice. Conditions were so desperate that some Bhands sold their instruments. Others took on menial labor. And if this continuous, Kashmir may lose this cultural identity soon,” said Aajiz.
Some Bhand groups that still exit are sustained by Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (AACL) and are beholden to the authorities, lauding ministers and bureaucrats in their plays; and some others have taken to commercial media such as television.
Lately, however, some local theatre veterans have shown an interest in reviving this art form.
“Kashmiri folk theatre, in spite of its present impasse, is to be recognized as an energetic and energizing medium of expression which is intimately and organically related to the local culture. Today all arts are drifting away from theoretical generalizations which propose naive dogmatic and reductionist formulation of the economic, social and cultural reality of man. They celebrate foregrounding the all-inclusive, miscellaneous and heterogeneous condition of man in particular space and time,” said Dr John Babu, who has specialization in folk theatre and teaches at Central University of Kashmir, Department of Convergent journalism.
Since folk-theatre is inherently equipped with means of representing the here and now, it has a tremendous scope of becoming the most popular form of art in future, he said, adding, “ It derives its strength not from any classical models set by any pre-existing texts, as does the elitist drama, but from miming and parodying the living people around.”


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