There is something very egalitarian about the ‘street’. Somehow the thin lines distinguishing status, caste, race, gender seem to get erased once everyone is on the street. It almost has a levelling tendency, such that each voice that emerges from the street will be heard in the same way as any other. It is this very equalizing nature of the ‘street’ which gave rise to the concept of ‘street theatre’ or what in India we call ‘Nukkad natak’.
It is interesting how the concept of street theatre is set apart from other kinds of theatre. There are no music halls or lavish auditoriums, no expensive tickets sold to the audience, no celebrity endorsements, no heavy expensive instruments or props used. Street theatre is by everyone and for everyone. Through the use of voice techniques, catchy songs and dialogues, exaggerated expressions and a lot of music, street plays have a very effective educational role to play. When Teamwork collaborated with Yuva Ekta Foundation to organise an inter-collegiate street play competition, the idea was to reach out to the common man. The central theme of the competition was ‘human rights’ focussing on ‘freedom of expression’. The winner of the competition would be given an opportunity to perform in the “Concert for Freedom” to be held in February 2014 and would also be given grants to perform in public spaces throughout the city.
“If I had to talk about power, I would talk about you, the common man”. This dialogue of one of the actors of the street theatre society of Shri Ram College of Commerce struck me as one of the best ways to define ‘freedom of expression’. The inertia of the common man, his reluctance to speak out, was what these young boys and girls addressed very effectively. What clearly marked them out from the rest of the colleges was the extensive use of humour. “If we say something seriously, then it appears preachy. However, if we can say something with a pinch of humour and give out a message too, then people remember it and think about it”, said the director of the play. While marking out their position as clear winners, the theatre group managed to win the hearts of many passersby and the judges.
When expression is curbed, democracy fails, but most importantly, humanity fails. It is the right of every human being to speak out against any social evil if they believe it to be an evil. This was the message given out by Keshav Mahavidyalaya as they energetically demonstrated the brutalities of the caste system and honour killing episodes through their play ‘Haq Hain’. While securing the second position they were highly praised by Judge Adil Hussain for the way they connected with the audience.
The right to life is the primary unit on which a society rests. When that right is taken away, belief in any social institution dies. Shri Venkateshwara College’s theatre society raised issues of capital punishment and juvenile delinquency through their play and managed to get the third position. Their message was clear, “ everyone must have the right to choose, one cannot blindly follow another’s dictats; free will”.
The theatre society of Satyawati College, gave us a window into the gross inequality between the sexes, with a focus on gender discrimination and gender violence. Their play ended with the resurrection of Goddess Durga, a primeval feminine power that overpowers and crushes all forces of evil and greed.
When the youth comes out onto the streets to make a difference, their voices can be heard the loudest and the echoes can reach the furthest.
- Adrija Roychowdhury is a Masters student studying History from Delhi University. With a keen interest in theatre, adventure and human stories; she aspires to become a journalist in the future. She is currently, also volunteering at the Foundation to write about different narratives of human motivation, social justice and human rights.
Sounds of Freedom, a Teamworks initiative, is a platform to gather Indian and International musicians, human rights activists and thousands of people to join hands in their efforts to raise consciousness and encourage freedom of expression, dialogue and discussion towards inclusive social change; to take place next year in February.
This year as a build up to the concert, The Tehelka Foundation, partnering with Teamworks, has organised theatre and music workshops with college societies from Delhi University, Ambedkar University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, to highlight issues of freedom, human rights struggles and social causes. While we got the opportunity to bring in some young energy into the build up to the concert, the college societies got the opportunity to workshop with some well known personalities in theatre and music circuits, as well as share their work with audiences cutting across the aam janta to millions online as well as the Concert for Freedom audiences.
The culmination of the Youth Outreach in colleges through theatre, for the Concert For Freedom, organised by The Tehelka Foundation, took place on the 30th of October. Colleges competed at our nukkad naatak competition in Greater Kailash 2 in front of an audience of fellow performers and curious residents.