Dramatics nudged the pages of Ramayana and Mahabharata to break their slumber between revered hardbacks tied in red clothes long before Ramanand Sagar showed us two arrows facing each other in the sky and making the other disappear, or BR Chopra showed Lord Krishna adding extra yards to Draupadi’s saree. Plays gave dance a new meaning, which was far-fetched from the gymnastics and tear-shedding emotional attyachar we go through while watching dance shows on TV.
The street plays sensitized people on social issues way before the ‘Aaj Ki Sansani’ khabars, and ‘Let’s kill politicians’ kind of movies and ‘This country is going to the dogs’ status messages on Facebook or Gtalk of this ‘Let’s light a candle and change the world’ generation. The mime shows have been muted by the cacophony of talk shows, the haasya kavi sammelans have been replaced by comedy shows and movies replete with potty jokes, the sher-o-shaayris of poetry-based plays have found pride of place behind trucks, autorickshaws and ‘send to all’ SMSes. (Often forwarded without even reading them).
In a nation where every Pappu can dance and every Sheela gyrates to the rhythm of her jawaani, expression has found a whole new meaning. Even the parents encourage or often force their kids to win the battle of applause on dance shows, singing competitions or such talent shows.
And even the youngsters aspire to earn quick fame through non-talent shows where one is caged inside with a bunch of equally intelligently-challenged people inside a glasshouse, while the big brother camera watches on. Talk about making short films and you are sure to find that almost everyone has a concept ready in the pocket. A feat as trivial as ‘I ate paani pooris today,’ ‘I got drunk at my friend’s birthday party’ ‘I am bored’ is shared with all and sundry.
So where did we leave behind the performing art? The plays, puppet shows, mushaayras, or ghazal programs? I can already see you yawning. But the sad part is, the dramatics died a silent death and we didn’t even realize it.
Atul Kulkarni, a prolific actor, who has given awe-inspiring performances in films like Chandni Bar, Hey Ram, Satta, Rang De Basanti, and Natarang (This Marathi film on rural plays is a masterpiece for which this guy deserves the highest honour in acting. But how many of us have seen it? Rent a DVD to check it out. The expressions are so profound you don’t even need to read subtitles).
The actor was in Vadodara to attend an Amateurs’ Dramatics Competition held at Gandhinagar Gruh on 23rd December 2010. Despite being a 75 year-old organization, their team was unable to manage enough funds to publicize the event – this speaks volumes on declining interest of people in plays.
Atul Kulkarni took everyone by surprise when he began his speech saying, “Why do we light this Diya before beginning every event in dramatics? Why do we give long speeches about the founder of organization? Who is actually interested in it? Well, I will speak everything that might not be considered suitable on the dais I am standing on, but they might nevertheless make sense to everyone present here. Dramatics have to change with the changing times. After all it is already dead in our society.
Who killed Dramatics? Did television and films kill it? Or is Internet the real culprit? Can it be our mobile phone? Or are all these to be blamed? In fact, the platform of expression has become manifold and people are experimenting with new ways to communicate. Let me give you an example. Backstage, there was a guy trying to take my photograph. The guy took a step backward, and then front and so on, until he found the right frame and finally clicked my picture. What was he doing? Isn’t that filmmaking? Isn’t that what the cinematographers do, day in day out.”
He asserted that every mobile phone has a camera and almost every commoner knows a thing or two about filmmaking. Words like ‘close up’, ‘wide shot,’ ‘long shot’, which were used by film technicians are part of common parlance these days. He reiterated this fact saying, “Once my mother was watching television. She chanced upon a foreign language film which caught her attention and she said: their films are so different isn’t it? She must have watched that film for mere 20 odd seconds.
But those 20 odd seconds made me realize that a common person today has a vast exposure of movies made across the globe. Hence, be it Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam or Telugu movies, our competition is with films made worldwide. The mediums of expression are changing at a lightening speed and Dramatics must keep pace with them or will soon become obsolete.”
As an afterthought, he said, “Even if dramatics die and wither away, what’s wrong? We have short films as medium of expression, which can easily be uploaded on youtube and shared with everyone. You don’t need a theatrical release for everything you wish to say. So why limit our thoughts to just plays?” His speech left people on the dais dumbfounded. They easily gave in to the fact: Dramatics is dead. The silence of the almost empty hall was eloquent of this bitter truth. Ironically, the Dramatics festival began with an obituary and the performances took place on invisible corpses lying on the stage. May the performing art rest in peace. Amen.