Grant Period: Over six months
M K Raina is a veteran theatre actor, director and filmmaker. With a career spanning several decades, he has developed over 150 theatrical performances in different Indian languages and folk forms. He has also made documentary films and acted in several renowned television serials and feature films. He has been a visiting director at the National School of Drama, Delhi, FTII, Pune, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal and the University of Hawaii among others. He has worked closely with urban and rural communities, conducting theatre workshops and performing street plays. Kashmir is of particular interest to him and he has been working with local performers for a long time. Relying on his extensive experience in theatre and his understanding of the artistic community in the region, he now proposes to bring together younger Bhand Pather artists and the Ustads of the form for a theatre workshop.
Bhand Pather, Kashmir’s indigenous theatre form, is said to have evolved through amalgamating various other performance forms––dance, drama, mime, puppetry and music. A kind of ‘total theatre’, Bhand (performer) Pather (drama) does not have a pre-determined script, relying instead on the performer’s improvisatory ingenuity. Fields, courtyards or the shade of the chinar tree offer ideal locations for a Bhand Pather performance. Bhand Pather uses satire and rustic humour to communicate the ironies and hypocrisies of a decadent social system. The Bhands are scattered all across the Kashmir Valley and the tradition is passed down from father to son. Today, however, this once dynamic theatre form faces extinction. M.K. Raina observes that in the wake of the violent turmoil in Kashmir over the last two decades, the space for culture has shrunk, and the freedom to express and perform has been questioned. There has been no Bhand Pather performance in the last 18 years and vital aspects of its performing culture are on the brink of disappearing. Many of the senior performers have passed away during this time. The younger generation of Bhands, unable to survive by pursuing their traditional vocation, are opting for alternative professions. However, there are still some pockets in the valley of Kashmir where Bhand families are striving to keep their performing art alive.
This grant supports an intensive 35-day workshop, which will be held in Akingam, a village about 45 kilometres from Srinagar and the home of Bhand Pather artists. The workshop will provide 35 to 40 Bhand youth with the opportunity to train under some of the best Ustads and veterans of this art form and interact with the finest Kashmiri scholars and contemporary theatre experts. The workshop is expected to help the young artists to rediscover the strength and richness of their cultural legacy on the one hand, and to appreciate and explore more contemporary directions and possibilities in their idiom and form on the other. Based on their work in the Bhand Pather form, the participants will also prepare a few short production modules, which will be performed at the conclusion of the workshop.
This grant was made possible with support from R V Kanoria and the AMM Foundation.