As over one lakh Mumbaikars converged to peacefully protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act as well as the National Register of Citizens at the August Kranti Maidan on 19 December, a group of young theatre practitioners unfolded the history of Kashmir to a packed house, 24 kilometres away. Aksariyat Akliyat, a gripping platform theatrical from the Delhi-based Alternative Space Project, traces the mythological and contemporary narratives around the formation of Jammu and Kashmir which continue to shape perspectives on the Valley and its people.
We are introduced to the legend of Jalodbhava, the demon who would terrorise the neighbouring mountain folk of ancient Kashmir until Lord Vishnu intervened and put an end to his life. Civilisation flourishes and soon, Kashmir is shown navigating the 1940s, marked by fear and violence. Certain exchanges between Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and the events leading up to the execution of the Instrument of Accession, signed 1947, are revisited. Before culminating in present-day Kashmir, Aksariyat Akliyat charts the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989. After a rousing 40-minutes, the writer, director and team of actors take a curtain call.
After making his way of out of the black-box theatre minutes after the performance has ended, director Vivek Tyagi mulls over the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A of the Indian constitution, which fortuitously was announced a fortnight after the first draft of the play had been finalised. It was then that Tyagi and his writer, Karan Chaudhary, decided to make a few changes to their script to factor in the geopolitical implications of the repeal. "We were in talks with certain artists from Kashmir whom we were consulting to understand Article 370 better. However, on 5 August, we were suddenly cut off from them due to the communication blockade. Therefore, we had to do our own research and tweak the play given the political environment of the nation," recounts Tyagi.
Being performed by an independent theatre collective with young actors lends Aksariyat Akliyat an unusual fervour, almost identical to the unbothered air of a student-led nukkad natak, which remains wildly popular in Indian varsity campuses. However, Tyagi and Chaudhary bring a certain gravity to their treatment of Kashmir's past. Perhaps it is their brush with censorship — two in the post-Article 370 India — that has brought on this sobriety to their craft. But what threat could a year-old performing arts collective pose? The question may have baffled those associated with the play, including the six actors. However, certain organisers of two theatre festivals in Gujarat and Lucknow were convinced the play's rhetoric was incendiary. "They asked us for the poster and script of our play. When we sent them the documents, they told us our play was too 'heated', and could be stopped if the script contained anything too contentious. The talks fizzled out soon even though they had imitated contact with us," says Tyagi.
Despite the hiccups, the Alternative Space Project has been able to bring the play to three Indian cities — Mumbai, Jaipur and Udaipur. However, they acknowledge the clampdown on creative expression, which became prominent earlier this week as organisers of Pune's prestigious Firodiya Karandak competition, set in motion a new rule barring plays on 'sensitive' political issues for this year's edition. "This 'wave' is restraining the writers and directors of our country. Many are now afraid of speaking against the government; we were too. When we created Aksariyat Akliyat, we were almost apprehensive about showing it publicly, which is why we have not held any outdoor performances," points out Chaudhary.
What brings members of the collective some solace is taking a second look at their purpose as young theatre artists: to speak up. "Dissent is the backbone of theatre. We cannot muzzle artistic voices," warns Tyagi. For Chaudhary, nothing whets an artist's appetite like the present times. "It's a breeding ground for ideas and that serves the purpose of my theatre well," he says.
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Updated Date: Dec 26, 2019 10:19:56 IST