During these times when we are witnessing the inhuman treatment of migrant workers, Sujatha Balakrishnan, founder/director Theatre for Change, thought conducting an online event around the works of firebrand playwright Safdar Hashmi would be relevant.
Hashmi’s birth anniversary was on April 12, and a tribute was planned then, but due to the lockdown, the event will now be held on June 12 at 7 pm on the Facebook page and YouTube channel of Theatre for Change. The event is focused on children. “I always believed that children need to be raised in an egalitarian environment,” says Sujatha. “The underlying principle for Theatre for Change is social criticism. We haven’t done much political theatre. The event is not message-oriented but an audio-visual treat. Some of Hashmi’s poems are full of fun and frolic.”
The event will include a rendition of Hashmi’s Hindi adaptation of Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper called Bansuriwala from Hashmi’s collection of poems Duniya Sabki by Zafer Mohiuddin, founder of Kathputliyan theatre. Zafer says it is important to remember Hashmi’s legacy. “He was a journalist and theatre personality who was committed to workers’ rights. At the age of 34, he was beaten up and grievously injured, eventually succumbing to his injuries while performing his play Halla Bol ( Raise your voice). Sujatha requested me to perform Bansuriwala and I have recorded a video and sent it to her. I thought over an interesting storytelling format of presenting it to children.”
There will be two more sections. The first is a poetry reading from Duniya Sabki by actors and children aged between 10 and 15. “We have 16 of them on board. The poems are not preachy or like a moral science session. The illustrations by Bindia Thapar and some of them by Hashmi will relate and introduce children to various social issues in a fun and intriguing manner. However, we have also ensured that the children do their own reading on Hashmi and develop a critical analysis,” says Sujatha.
The second section includes a rehearsed reading of the street play Machine, written by Hashmi and Rakesh Saksena. “Machine, which is a metaphorical representation of a capitalistic economy, is about exploitation of human labour which we are witnessing today with India’s migrant crisis. Inspired by a worker struggle at a factory in Ghaziabad, called Herig India, where six workers were shot dead for asking for a small parking lot for their bicycles and a tiny bhatti (oven) to heat their food, the play is poetic, humorous, engaging and inspiring with a strong social message,” says Sujatha, adding: “Machine has been devised by theatre actor Shatarupa Bhattacharyya, and the cast includes Arijit Srivatsava, Ankita Jain, Neha Mohanty, Avantika Gautam, Maulik Pandey and Srinivas Beesetty.”