People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 15

April 20, 2008


20th National Street Theatre Day

Safdar Hashmi Remembered

THE streets from Safdar Hashmi Marg (Mandi House) in the heart of the capital city of New Delhi to Rafi Marg where Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) office is situated became a mobile street gallery of photographs on the afternoon of April 12, when the 20th National Street Theatre day was being observed by Sahmat and Jan Natya Manch (Janam). Several hundred cultural practioners and activists who had collected to watch street plays performed by Janam and Jan Sanskriti on the hot afternoon marched with a photograph in hand --- the photographs that collectively expressed the concerns that Safdar Hashmi had in his political and creative work. There were photographs that had captured the vandalism of the communal forces indulged in in the history department of Delhi University, the unofficial expulsion of M F Husain and his being hounded by the moral brigade of the rightist forces, the plight of children, working men and women. There was a photograph taken by Safdar Hashmi himself of anti-sati march of the mid eighties.

Some of those whose works were carried in the march, by the artists themselves or by others, included Abhimanue V G Ayodh Kamath, Chandni Arora, Gigi Scaria, Gopal Krishna Nair, Inder Saleem, Jenson Anto, Kanishka Prasad, Mathew Kurien, Parthiv Shah, Priyanka Sachar, Rajinder Arora, Ram Rahman, Safdar Hashmi, Sanjay Sharma, Sanjay Shrivastava, Sarita, Shruti Singhi, Sudhanva Deshpande, Vatsal Kant, Veer Munshi, Vibha Galhotra and Vivan Sundaram, the department of History, Delhi University and members of Janam and Act One also contributed to the Street Gallery of Photographs.

The Jana Natya Manch play ‘Ye Hum Kyon Sahen? (Why should we tolerate this state of affairs?) performed on the occasion has been prepared for a CITU campaign for upward revision of minumum wages of industrial workers that were last revised 19 years ago. The Janam performance was preceded by a short play in Malyalam, around the theme of the central role of the labour in all human creation, by Jan Sanskriti. Sitaram Yechury, member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI(M), who had studied in St Stephen’s College with Safdar talked about Safdar as a friend, as an activist of the SFI (Students Federation of India) and of his work in diverse fields including his role in mobilising theatre persons, artists, writers, filmmakers and others in anti-communal campaigns and in support of workers rights.

The second part of the programme commenced at the lawn of the Vithal Bhai Patel House when the photographs were displayed in an exhibition, poems and play excerpts were read.

A compilation of Hindi poetry “Phootegi phir Bhor” compiled and selected by Dr Brijesh of Janam and Bali Singh of Janwadi Lekhak Sangh was released followed by poetry recitation.

This was followed by readings from the play 'Halla Bol'. Those who read out the script included many of those Jan Natya Manch actors who were performing the play along with Safdar Hashmi when it was attacked and had gone back three days later to the same site to perform the play.

The reading from 'Halla Bol' was followed by the release of the reprint of Mote Ram Ka Satyagrah, the play based on a short story written by Munshi Prem Chand which was jointly adapted by Habib Tanveer and Safdar and both had acted in the first performance of the play. The play was staged again in September 1991 and some of the members of the cast who took part in the two performances were at hand to read out excerpts from the play. The cover for the reprint has been designed by the eminent artist Shamshad.

Participants included those who have grown up hearing and reading about him and those involved in areas that engaged Safdar. There were eminent artists - Vivan Sundaram, Shamshad, Veer Munshi, Parthiv Shah, Arpana Caur, V G Abhimanyue, Sanjay Sharma; academicians - Prabhat Patnaik, Javed Alam, C P Chandrasekhar, Shakti Kak, Jayati Ghosh, Utsa Patnaik, Malini Bhattacharya and Zoya Hasan; writers - Manglesh Dabral, Asad Zaidi, M M P Singh, Sudeep Banerjee; Theatre personalities – M K Raina, N K Sharma; musicians - Madangopal Singh and Vidya Shah. Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) Brinda Karat was also present.

The programme concluded with the screening of the film Safdar which was made 20 years ago soon after Safdar Hashmi’s murder. The film was made by Sashi Kumar. The 35-minute film has captured the emotional moments following Safdar’s tragic death, the anger among artists, political activists and his friends as also the determination writ large on the faces of the cultural community to carry forward the struggle for Safdar’s concerns. It is quite ironical that the struggles that Safdar should have been in the forefront of are being carried in his memory. The representation of the unfinished play 'Halla Bol', three days after it was attacked, in the same spot, a hugely courageous act in itself, retains its poignancy even today. The film appropriately ends on a positive and hopeful note “Hum Sab Is Jahan Me Zindagi Ke Geet Gayen” (All of us sing the song of life in this wretched world”. As was done 20 years ago, this time too, Parcham, the progressive song squad led by Kajol Ghosh, picked up the strain as the film ended and rendered the song live followed by another IPTA song.