The prestigious annual Brajanath Sarma Memorial Drama Festival commenced on 9 September. The weeklong festival was held at Rabindra Bhawan in Guwahati. The Festival, since 2007, has been commemorating the father of modern Assamese theater and firebrand freedom fighter Brajanath Sarma. The latter is hailed in the annals of the regional theater for indigenizing modern theater and bringing women on the stage as co-actors in the Assamese theater in 1933. The festival once again successfully occasioned a glimpse of theater of the periphery in contemporary India. In contrast with the dominance of metropolitan theater in India this festival attracts young theater groups from all over India to come to Guwahati. It seems, as if, the noted theater groups of the mega cities were least interested in sharing the performative space with their country cousins.
Most of the participating groups this year were from north- east, such as Jagiroad Natya Gosthee, Abinaswar, Natyam, except oneJumbish Art from Delhi. Does it mean a divide between metropolitian theater of India and regional theater of Bharat, so to say? Does it also mean that within regional theater there is another hierarchy? In the middle of the hierarchy of theater in India, it is not surprising that young theater workers are interested in working only in the metropolitan spaces such as Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, Calcutta and so on. It is in this situation that a festival of this kind attempts to break the stereotypes and celebrate posterity of the Assamese theater. Despite only one group from Delhi, which possesses a radical tenor not only in its production but also in its character, this festival exuded cultural energy in the periphery.
It is significant to note the constitutive conviction of the Delhi based Jumbish Art which shot to fame with its production of “Eklavya Uvach (Thus Spake Eklavya)” in 2012. The distinction of the group and the play lies in its unconventional appeals. Jumbish Arts came into existence in 2012 as a platform for theatrical innovation beyond urban centers. Satish Mukhtalif, the founder of Jumbish Art, is a young doctoral student in Theatre & Performance Studies, at the School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawahahrlal Nehru University. Versed in folk theater and music he was a young champion of the theatre movement in Haryana for more than twelve years. His group is committed to the concerns of the marginalized and underprivileged social groups and create a harmonious atmosphere by dissolving differences of caste, class, gender, race, ethnicity and religion. The name Jumbish, an Urdu equivalent of movement, pronounces the aims and dreams of the group—an energetic intervention that leads to a sustainable revolution, practice and promise. In the age of merchandise of theater, when every new group is vying to do business, it is commendable to find a group with socio-political commitment. One of the most performed plays of the group is Eklavya Uvach (Thus Spake Eklavya) which has received kudos from all quarters of theater in India. It has been performed several times in Delhi and other parts of India stunning the audiences, critics, and theater persons.
Ekalavya Uvach, scripted by Kuldeep Kunal, and directed by Satish Mukhtalif, is not a simple tale from one of the episodes of the epic Mahabharata. It forges an uncanny relation between contemporary, mythological, and historical with devices of witty humor and wry sarcasm. Eklavya detests any attempt towards glorifying him as emblematic of the act of sacrifice. He insists on being looked at as a human possibility to challenge a social order of hierarchy in any time and space. Thus the play not only unsettles the social order but also the prevalent prejudices in the domain of theatrical practices. Eklavyas are sacrificed even within the circle of artistic performances.
The group and play are apt part of the Asamese theater festival. For, theater in the periphery of India is neglected and sacrificed like Eklavya for the benefit of the metropolitan theater of the groups of fame.