Kashmir theatre struggles for existence

‘Youth not fond of this medium’

Ufaq Fatima
Theatre, which once would be the sole source of entertainment in Kashmir, is now battling for survival, courtesy changing habits of audience. Even as theatre is struggling hard to make a comeback in the Valley, it has failed to reconnect with people, especially youth.
Curtains were drawn over theatre in Kashmir following the outbreak of militancy in early 1990s. “We usually portray the contemporary reality of the society.

However, after militancy erupted here, the practice involved risk of life, both for artists and public,” recalls Muhammad Amin Bhat, president, Kashmir Theatre Federation.

“Being a conflict region, theatre here became a soft target, while performances suffered a great deal,” he reveals. Bhat, a noted playwright, who has directed popular plays like ‘Tchal’, ‘White Paper’ and ‘Identity Card’, has been closely associated with Kashmir’s theatre. “What I have experienced over the years is that this art not only develops one intellectually but artistically too,” he observes.

Till 1970s, theatre would influence hearts and minds of Kashmiris, and formed an intrinsic part of Kashmiri culture. It would highlight contemporary issues of the society that were performed creatively in many art forms like ‘Band Pather’. However, later this institution of expression witnessed a gradual decline.

Dearth of artists too badly affected the theatre after most of the performers made their way to electronic media for better income, security and sustenance. This made theatre less interesting and more vulnerable.

As per artists, since youngsters are not fond of theatre, it is unlikely to regain its sheen. “The young generation of Kashmir is not inclined towards this form of art, for they lack the sense of pride towards their own culture and tradition, and feel apologetic towards it,” says Bhat, who has bagged National Academy award for his play ‘Tchal’. He adds that an intellectual mindset of performing and appreciating this art is yet to prevail in Kashmir.

Closure of Tagore Hall, which once was the sole platform for artists in Kashmir, was the final blow to theatre. After Tagore Hall was reopened over a decade later, it was assumed that this medium was reborn in the Valley, which, however, did not prove to be more than a myth.

Artists believe that attempts made to revive the theatre are failing owing to “low participation of people”. They say serious efforts need to be made on part of the government as well as private agencies to preserve this medium.

Prominent artist, Ayash Arif, says, Cultural Academy, non-governmental organisations and government ought to work together to revive the theatre in Kashmir with the help of new technology and better equipments.

“Theatre is the only platform, where we can promote our dying Kashmiri culture and language that can be achieved by the collective efforts of representatives of theatre. We also need to provide better opportunity to new talent coming forward from different regions of Kashmir,” says Arif.

Muhammad Ashraf Tak, Chief Editor, Cultural Academy Kashmir, stresses on proper implementation of schemes for the “promotion of folk and ancient theatre” that were launched by the academy recently during a three-day workshop on ‘Skill Development and Play Script’ in Srinagar in November, 2015. “Theatre is a rich part of our culture and we are making efforts to promote it,” Tak adds.

It is believed that art makes a nation vibrant and wise, and dying art symbolises death of minds. Similarly, theatre reflects the intellectual class of society, hence it needs to be preserved with priority.

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