By C Adhikesavan
Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) will reach another milestone in the history of people’s art and culture between March 17 and 19, 2023 at Medininagar, Daltonganj by conducting its three-day 15th National Conference. Founded more than 80 years ago it is still marching ahead with its revolutionary zeal and spirits carrying on the torch of art and culture of working class to create awareness among the downtrodden masses and instil revolutionary spirits, displaying their own issues through various forms of arts and the ways and means to come out of their problems. IPTA is the movement for the people, by the people and of the people —comprising workers, peasants and artisans.
The IPTA conference is taking place at a time when the country is passing through difficult times with the secular values and principles of our Constitution under attack from the Hindutva fascist elements. The individual’s liberty is at stake and the politics of hatred is being spread to divide the masses.
IPTA state secretary Upendra Mishra informed that in the evening of March 16 Indore IPTA will stage Dhirendra Mazumdar’s ‘Maa’ and on 17, the drum beats 15 nagaras will be echoing in Jharkhand. Cultural troupes from different states will be taking outmarch that will culminate at Shivaji Maidan. The mega event will be attended by more than 600 delegates, who are artists — poets, musicians, scriptwriters, dramatists, dancers, film personalities and intellectuals from 22 states, according to IPTA national vice president Tanwir Akhtar.
The decision for the plenary session was taken at a meeting on October 9, 2022. The Jharkhand state tourism, arts, culture, sports and youth affairs department is lending all support and cooperation in the cultural programme bonanza of the IPTA. The themes of IPTA are equality, liberty, justice, fraternity and national integration through culture and language and strengthening of the ‘unity in diversity’.
May 22-25, 1943, in Bombay is a remarkable date in the history of IPTA. The fourth all India conference of the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) that took place in the Marwari Vidyalaya, an association came into being — the Indian People’s Theatre Association – with its motto of ‘People’s Theatre Stars the People’. IPTA was one of the products of the political ferment of the 1940s. India’s struggle for freedom was no waged for merely economic or political gains, it was also to reassert India’s cultural identity.
IPTA initiated people’s theatre movement comprising intellectuals, scientists and artists, that was christened by Homi Jahangir Bhabha. The founding stalwarts were KA Abbas, Dr Bhabha, Anil de Silva, Ali Sardar Jafri and Dada Sharmalkar.
The theatre group was a movement which gave expression to the agony of the Bengal famine in the heart-rending song ‘Bhukha Hain Bengal’ led by Harindranath Chattopadhyay. Uday Shankar’s troupe of dancers and musicians, including the sisters Zohra and Uzra collected donations for famine relief. Very shortly, 500 units of IPTA sprang up all over the country combining the dynamism of Punjab, the lyricism of Bengal, and the pain of rural Assam and Andhra Pradesh, and welded all these onto a common platform.
Dr Sarojini Naidu, known as the nightingale of India also played her role in IPTA. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was greatly impressed by IPTA’s approach, had this to say: ”I am greatly interested in the development of a people’s theatre in India. I think there is a great room for it provided it is based on the people and on their traditions. Otherwise it is likely to function in the air.”
In the Golden Jubilee year it has organised a unique march, ‘Yatra’ from Varanasi to Meghar. The Union government on this occasion came out with a commemorative postal stamp to mark IPTA’s Golden Jubilee in1993. The history of IPTA runs parallel to the people’s cultural movement in the country and relates to the independence and the anti-fascist movements.
Anil De Silva of Sri Lanka established Youth Cultural Institute at Calcutta in 1940 and setup the People’s Theatre at Bangalore in 1941. He has also assisted in the formation of IPTA and became the first general secretary and N M Joshi, the trade union leader was its first president. Various progressive cultural troupes, theatre groups and other progressive cultural activists came together spontaneously to form IPTA. The renowned scientist Homi Jahagir Bhabha coined the name ‘People’s Theatre’, who was inspired by Romain Rolland’s book on the concepts of People’s Theatre.
Gender justice was IPTA’s main attention portraying the plight of women. Kaifi Azmi’s poem Aurat, a play based on the life of Soviet heroine Tanya, the Kathakali dance of Kerala, the songs of Nuzrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore combine traditional and modern styles and formats.
Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s film Dharti Ke Lal (‘Children of the Earth’), written exclusively for IPTA by the progressive writer Krishan Chandar and Bijon Bhattacharya with lyrics by Sardar Jafri, Nemi Chandra Jain, Wamiq Jaunpuri and Prem Dhawan, was widely distributed in the USSR.
As the movement grew, IPTA spawned a host of cultural squads (separate ones for dance, drama, songs). Even routine PWA meetings became lively with songs and dances interspersed with academic discussions and poetry readings. The progressives wrote plays and songs that were shown to peasant and working class as well as middle-class audiences in different parts of the country. For example, Dhaani Bankein (‘Green Bangles’), a play on communal riots written by the Urdu fiction writer Ismat Chughtai and Yeh Kiska Khoon Hai (‘Whose Blood is This?’), a play by Ali Sardar Jafri set in Chittagong during the first Japanese bombing, were staged alongside films and documentaries from the Soviet Union.
While the plays, skits, ballets, shadow-plays dance dramas, and local forms such as the tamasha and pawada inspired by Marathi theatre, the jhumur from Assam and the Bengali jatra were indeed popular, it was the songs that gained the troupes instant popularity.
Salil Chowdhury joined the ‘Bharotiya Ganonatya Sangha’ (as the IPTA was known in Bengal) and penned many a rousing song including Uru taka taka taghina taghina (based on a folk song sung by Bengali peasants during sowing and harvesting), Aalordesh theke yaand haar paar hoyee (about sacrifice and hard work for the nation), Dheuuth chhey kar aa tut chhey (in support of the Naval uprising), and later, Hindi songs such as Aagey chalo, aagey chalo.
Some Hindustani songs such as Suno Hind ke rehne walon suno suno, sung by Reba Roychoudhary, Shailendra’s Tu zinda hai to zindagi ke jeet mein yaqeen kar, or Jaane wale siphai se pucho written by Urdu poet Makdoom Mohiuddin, became extremely popular with the masses.
The tenure of PC Joshi as general secretary of the CPI from 1935 to 1947 saw the fullest possible utilisation of culture, literature and the performing arts. Joshi had already started the practice of gathering the country’s prominent writers, journalists, artists, economists, historians, film and stage actors to rally around the party organ, the National Front, and later, People’s War and People’s Age. Joshi understood and capitalised on the need to use culture as a living tool and believed that the revival of folk traditions was vital if people of one language group were to know the folk tradition of other language groups.
Songs on Lenin, ballads on the defence of Stalingrad, heroism of the Red Army, translations into Urdu of the revolutionary Kazakh poet Jambul Jabir, who wrote ’Stalin Calls’, the centuries-old ballads from Punjab called the Heer, were refashioned to weave in motifs of communal harmony.
The IPTA, the PWA and the Bombay film industry were like three interlinked circles, with overlapping memberships and a host of common concerns. Foremost among these common concerns was a socially transformative agenda that would fulfil the needs of a fledgling nation. For this, they sought inspiration not only from Marxist tomes and ideologues but also from a Congress-inspired version of socialism, and, in post Independence India, an increasingly Nehruvian ‘idea of India’ that hailed schools, colleges, dams and factories as the ‘temples of modern India’.
Members of the IPTA and the PWA – some of whom worked in the film industry as actors, directors, scriptwriters, lyricists, technicians, etc, such as Prem Dhawan, Prithviraj Kapoor, Salil Chowdhury, Shailendra, AK Hangal, Balraj and Damyanti Sahni, Chetanand Uma Anand, Shaukat Azmi, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Ismat Chughtai and others. Their most visible and immediate effect was the introduction of a nonsectarian ethos, one that rose above the narrow confines of caste, creed and religion and worked like a balm on a national psyche that had been traumatised by the communal outrages before, after and during the partition.
The glorious days of the IPTA also spanned the most tumultuous period of modern Indian history – Gandhi’s call to satyagraha, India’s response to the rise of fascism, Nehru’s Muslim mass contact programme, Gandhi’s second civil disobedience movement, the second World War and its impact on India, chronic food shortages, the rise of trade union movements and kisan sabhas, strikes, lockouts, communal disturbances that scarred the nation in the years leading up to independence and then partition.. The 15th national conference is expected to chart out the roadmap for the cultural resurgence of the country with its composite cultural in the third decade of the 21st century. (IPA Service)