118 years of trust
Chandigarh, Friday, August 28, 1998

A cerebral, sensitive filmmaker
By Nonika Singh
GOVIND NIHALANI the man who so often sets the silver screen ablaze with his stark naked representation of truth, searing visuals, dialogues which hit out like whiplashes is indeed a thinking man’s answer to cinema.

Independence graphics

By B.N. Goswamy
THERE was, just a few days back, this full-page advertisement taken out by the Government of India’s "Secretariat for Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of India’s Independence", offering a salute to "Prosperous, Self-reliant, Strong India" (punctuation signs mine). It appeared in many papers and millions must have seen it, with the same casualness perhaps with which most sarkari insertions are seen.

25 years of meaningful drama
By Aradhika Sekhon
WHAT happened when several like-minded people devoted to the arts, drama and creativity got together 25 years ago?

Cultural bonanza
By Jyoti Mahajan
ON the culmination of 50 years of India’s independence,Shimlaites were regaled with a week-long variety entertainment programme from artistes from all over the country at Gaiety Theatre.Top

A cerebral, sensitive filmmaker
By Nonika Singh

GOVIND NIHALANI the man who so often sets the silver screen ablaze with his stark naked representation of truth, searing visuals, dialogues which hit out like whiplashes is indeed a thinking man’s answer to cinema.

So what is the intelligent filmmaker like in person: Just the same. Cerebral and profound. So much so that throw a frivolous question at him and Govind is visibly piqued. Queries like whether he had cast Jaya Bachchan in "Hazar Chaurasi ki Maa" to encash upon her comeback value after a 17-year hiatus or has now opted for Ajay Devgun in "Takshak" (his forthcoming venture) because he happens to be hot property are met with derision. He fumes, "I fail to fathom this line of questioning, the uncalled for suspicions, the underlying aspersions."

But then filmmaking for Govind is not a flight of whim but an extension of life, a mirror to his sensibilities for, "If I didn’t believe in what I espouse, I would be a hypocrite, wouldn’t I be?"

As Gibran would say, "Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work...." Not surprising, for Govind’s creative growth process was stimulated by none other than Shyam Benegal, the realistic film-maker who ushered the advent of art cinema in Bollywood.

For over a decade Govind worked as Benegal’s cinematographer, before the maker in him lurking underneath surfaced. In fact, cinematography — he specialised in Indian cinema at a Bangalore institute — remains his "first love which never dies". For his own films he continues to capture breath-taking shots — the kohl-lined mesmerising eyes of Smita Patil in "Aakrosh" remain etched on viewers’ minds to date through the third eye.

Close association with Benegal was bound to rub off and Govind does admit that to a certain extent their work hovering around social issues does follow a common track. But beyond that they are two separate individuals with distinct styles. Perhaps Govind’s work is more direct (read comprehensible). However, Govind counters, "I don’t think Benegal’s work is esoteric or complex."

As for the much-touted divide between parallel and mainstream cinema, Govind claims, "The demarcation exists but between two schools of thought, at an intellectual level". However, he dismisses the contention that art film-makers are oblivious to the existence of the common man and care two hoots about communicating to him as an "unintelligent block".

He questions furiously, "Tell me which film has failed to tell its story? The audiences might accept or reject the film. But success or failure is a different ball game. See, film-making is an expensive affair. For instance, I spent over a crore on ‘Hazar....’ not to win awards or critical acclaim alone."

So far "Hazar..." has not reached the break-even point. As a rule Govind’s films cover their costs for "such films have their own economy and target audiences". Awards too have poured in of their own volition and some films like "Tamas" have generated an overwhelming response too.

While calling "Tamas" his most well-realised film, Govind insists that he made no special concessions. He explains, "The tremendous feedback of the telefilm was thanks to high viewership and the fact that this realistic saga on Partition and its aftermath actually encompassed and touched a wide sea of humanity. The only thing that weighed on my mind during its making was that television being a family medium I had to consciously keep a rein on doses of sex and violence".

Violence incidentally is the leitmotif of many of his films. Be it "Aakrosh" (remember the spine-chilling sequence in which Om Puri hacks his sister to death to protect her from sexual exploitation) or "Ardh Satya" in which he lays bare the psyche of the police force or "Drohkal" which deals with terrorism.

Govind admits that violence in his films is more intense, perhaps brutal, for violence exists per se not as a piece of entertainment to appease one’s baser instincts.

Besides this, the sensitive maker, whose first memory of blood and gore dates back to Partition, asserts that he is not propogating violence as a means to redress the ills afflicting society. He says, "What is important is that we all possess a right to protest against injustice." So in "Hazar..." he even explores the Gandhian method of fighting repression.

About his fascination with contemporary history he claims, "Though there are no rigid likes or dislikes — for one can be excited by both reality and fiction — fact is more effective."

An avid reader, his favourites are Girish Karnad’s plays and Bhisham Sahni and Mhashweta Devi’s novels. He views the process of translating literary works into celluloid reality thus: "A director has a right to interpret written work. His interpretation will have no bearing on the piece of literature which exists as an independent entity as it is. Film being a narrative medium is bound to be a separate work of art."

Ask him whether film-making, a specialised technique, can be acquired, and he answers, "Just as science can be taught but scientists can’t be created, so no institute can metamorphose you into a film-maker unless you have what it takes."

He admits that with the possible exception of "Drishti", in which this bachelor by choice delves into a stiffling web of martial intimacy, his films do revolve around socio-political issues. He agrees that by repeating similar themes, there is a risk of being caught in a stereo type of his own making.

So to break free he is now making a film in a commercial mould. "Takshak", a romantic thriller, has all the ingredients of a potboiler — star cast (Ajay Devgun and Tabu) and lilting music by A.R. Rehman.

But Govind is not about to take an about-turn. True to his convictions, with "Takshak" hopefully the parallel and commercial cinema might finally coalsce. Just as in Govind, an astute cinematographer, a brilliant director and a master story-teller fuse together to evolve a "continuous creative high".Top


Independence graphics

By B.N. Goswamy

THERE was, just a few days back, this full-page advertisement taken out by the Government of India’s "Secretariat for Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of India’s Independence", offering a salute to "Prosperous, Self-reliant, Strong India" (punctuation signs mine). It appeared in many papers and millions must have seen it, with the same casualness perhaps with which most sarkari insertions are seen.

I wonder, however, how many among those millions registered the visual and verbal message conveyed. I did, and that with a degree of puzzlement which I wish to share with others. Let me add that I have very little patience with confused messages, and the lackadaisical ways in which we render or treat our national symbols get under my skin.

I speak here not simply of the national flag fluttering upside down as it sometimes does, or its colours being played around with — the saffron turning into a post-box red, for instance; not even about the way hired sign-board painters smear the outside of public buses with obligatory renderings of national signs or symbols.

I speak of the ineptness with which these signs or symbols appear at the highest, most formal, level sometimes: the miserable looking lions on the Ashokan capital which adorn official stationery, for instance, or the public relations inaccuracies in the simple matter of getting the number of spokes in the ‘Wheel of dharma’ right. I may come back to some of these later. But this latest insertion first.

At the very top is the logo of the golden jubilee celebrations with the wheel at the top, the number 50 below it, and the wavy fluttering lines in the three national colours spreading out like wings on either side. These lines then extend to form a border to the page.

There are then, in bold letters, the words of salutation which I have cited above; below these are the three obligatory photographs of the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Human Resources and Development, the last presumably because he also heads the Department of Culture where the Secretariat for these celebrations is located.

Then follow, down the page, in subdued monochrome, three drawings of historical monuments: from the left, the Char-Minar of Hyderabad, a wheel from the Sun Temple at Konarak, and the stupa at Sanchi. Close to the bottom, within rectangular boxes, are other nondescript drawings in full colour, of a tank on the field of battle, a farmer driving a tractor, and two large electronic signal receivers/tracking devices with the following slogans written beneath them, respectively: "Jai Jawan", "Jai Kisan", and, a new addition, "Jai Vigyan".

Rising nearly to the full height of the page, and flanking it, are two tall pillars, perfectly circular and rather slender, topped by an Ashokan lion-capital each. On the face of it thing look in place.

There is nothing striking about the design, but then one has learnt not to expect anything much more from "davp", the Directortae of Audio-Visual Publicity. However, it is of interest to look at the page with some care. The crudeness of the drawing of the animals on the abacus of the lion-capital apart, why, one wonders, are there two lion-capitals, the established symbol of our republic, and why have the lions been placed atop disproportionately drawn pillars? Are we meant to see them as pillars of the state, a play upon the theme of strength running through the ad.? Surely, the designer knew that the so-called Ashokan pillars were not pillars supporting some structure, but free-standing columns upon which the ancient emperor’s edicts were engraved?

This may be placing too fine a point upon the detail, and one may pay no more than a passing thought to the awkward, if well-rhymed, addition of "Jai Vigyan" to Lal Bahadur Shastri’s old slogan honouring different ‘persons’, the soldier and the farmer. But one is puzzled by the choice of the three monuments that have been picked out of the vast range available. Why these?

Let me guess. The Char Minar comes in as a ‘Muslim’ monument, preferred however over far finer and better-known monuments like the Qutab Minar and the Taj Mahal. Is it because the Qutab is perceived as a symbol of Islamic conquest, and the Taj as a funerary monument inappropriate for celebrations?

The Konarak wheel is brought in possibly as a symbol of continuity, or as a solar symbol. But then there is the Sanchi stupa. Noble monument that it is, is it introduced here as a ‘neutral’ symbol, not overtly Hindu? Does something bind the three for the purposes of this insertion? Or is the selection random? Surely they are not related to prosperity, self-reliance and strength, the three features of the new India emphasised above, or to the jawan, the kisan, and vigyan.

More confusion

While one is on the subject of these celebrations, what is one to make of the recent telephonic ‘gift’ by which the department decided suddenly to greet every telephone user with a recorded ‘Vande Mataram’ superimposed upon the dial tone? As if the confusion caused initially by this unannounced bonanza were not enough, the sound of that anaemic, tuneless voice uttering those two words — I speak here of a female voice that I was privileged to hear on our line — sent one into a temporary depression each time.

Then there was the large advertisement inserted by the Government of Punjab announcing a cultural programme at a number of places. In it we were told which minister or other dignitary would preside over which function on what date. But there was not a word about what the ‘cultural programme’ would consist of: not a single artist’s name, not one single event was listed.

This tells us something about our sense of priorities. Or perhaps I am wrong, and have not judged well how anxiously, breathlessly, the public was waiting at each place to know which worthy would be presiding over their function.Top


25 years of meaningful drama

By Aradhika Sekhon

WHAT happened when several like-minded people devoted to the arts, drama and creativity got together 25 years ago? Their coming together resulted in the genesis of a theatre group called Abhinet which has sustained and grown over the years, while at the same time educated and directed the audience towards the appreciation of good, meaningful drama — pure theatre without any add-ons or frills.

In the 25 years of its existence, the company has produced an average of two plays a year which makes a total of about 47 to 50 plays in all which, when one considers the fact that all persons involved are professionally employed otherwise, makes an awesome figure. The group, they claim, is an amateur one, but with a professional attitude.

The seeds of the theatre group were sown in 1953 when Dr N.C. Thakur (then Professor at Government Boys College), who was experienced in direction and reproduction of plays, and Prof V. Mehendiratta (retired as Head of the Hindi Department), both seeking a medium of creative expression, were drawn towards a common aim. They began theatre activity in the Government College for Boys with one-act plays, thus generating an annual tradition. In 1957, they did their first full-length play, "Konark," by Jagdish Chandra Mathur, with an all-male cast.

In 1974, these drama lovers decided to concentrate the hitherto diffused theatre activity and thus. Abhinet was born. Among its members were city intelligensia, besides Thakur and Mehendiratta, like Atulvir Arora, Surendrapal Kaur, Champa Mangatrai, Sheela Rai, S.C. Dawra, Aditya Prakash, Harish Bhatia, B.P. Sinha and Usha R. Sharma — many of whom are still active members.

The first play that the group performed was "Ashad Ka Ek Din" by Mohan Rakesh, which they followed up the very next year (1975) with "Suno Jaimejai". To an audience used to a diet of light-weight comedies, the concise direction, powerful performances and thought provocation of the plays, unsupported by excessive stage craft, were a different experience altogether.Rapidly the thinking section of play-watchers became regulars at any play performed by Abhinet.

The aim of the theatre group, which the members still uncompromisingly adhere to, says Mehendiratta "is not mere entertainment but to provide a serious interpretation of the next and an aesthetic exprience which stays with the viewer for a much longer time. Our aim is to understand drama, theatre and, through it, life". So the selection of the play is no easy matter.

After a director proposes a play, a regular workshop is conducted with all members participating to read it, explore its nuances, discuss the treatment of its dialogue and plot etc. An innovation that Abhinet started was to interact with the audience after the performance of the play, wherein the play was discussed, ruthlessly analysed and the various aspects of the play unravelled and examined.

Although uncompromising in its stance on the quality of the plays and serious theatre, Abhinet is flexible enough to encourage its members to experiment, be creative and find their own metiers. Thus, people like Harish Bhatia and Atulvir Arora, who began as actors, have now metamorphosised into full-fladged directors. National accolades and appreciation have been received specially for Atulvir’s presentation of "Kanch Ghar" (an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Glass House), co-directed by Ernest Albert, and also for Harish who has been invited to participate several times in drama festivals organised by prestigious academies.So he directed "Ala Afsar" in Bhopal, "Hayvadan" (a play by Girish Karnad) in Chandigarh and "Mritchakatika", which he says, "Iconsider (it) a complete theatre combining in itself various dramatic forms — mime, pantomime, music, dance..." in Allahabad.

"The flexibility of our group is one of the reasons it has sustained for these many years where others have not," says NC Thakur adding, "that and the fact that the group has always had a democratic policy of never letting it become a one-man show. Also, though the group has never resorted to any gimmickry, it has experimented with various types of plays which never lets it get stereotyped."

So if the group has performed all of Mohan Rakesh’s plays (each of the four being directed by four different directors), it has also done translations of Greek plays ("Antigone)", Shakespearean plays ("Macbeth"), contemporary plays ("Waiting for Godot") and Sanskrit plays ("Mritchakatika" and "Shakuntalam"). The directors, with a rigid adherence to the text have the freedom to direct as they see fit. E.G. Harish Bhatia loves to use music in his plays and feels that it completes the aesthetic experience.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the group has organised a seminar, where it has invited leading writers, directors and critics in the national circuit to speak on "How I write, direct and review plays". The second section shall be followed by three small plays by Samuel Backett directed by Harish Bhatia. Then, in November, they propose to hold a week-long drama festival, wherein two plays shall be directed by Abhinet directors Atulvir Arora ("Andha Yug") and Harish Bhatia (toying between "Maritchakatika" or "Ashad Ka Ek Din").


Cultural bonanza

By Jyoti Mahajan

ON the culmination of 50 years of India’s independence,Shimlaites were regaled with a week-long variety entertainment programme from artistes from all over the country at Gaiety Theatre.

The programme commenced with the opening of a photo exhibition on Kranti Divas by the Chief Minister,Prof Prem Kumar Dhumal. Jointly organised by the HP Public Relations and the HP Arts Language and Culture Department, the exhibition displayed rare photographs of freedom fighters who devoted their lives for India’s freedom struggle. Amongst the impressive photographs were those of Subhash Chandra Bose unfurling the flag at INA headquarters in Singapore. Sardar Patel going for Simla Conference, Gobind Ballabh Pant at Simla, Mahatma Gandhi addressing a gathering at The Ridge and Jawaharlal Nehru at Simla’s Wildflower Hall. Later, a play "Mandir ki Jot" based on the freedom struggle was staged at Gaiety Theatre.Sanjay Sood as the aged freedom fighter impressed the audience with his acting prowess.

A cultural programme organised by the department in collaboration with the NZCC, Patiala, at the theatre, gained significance as folk artistes from Punjab, Haryana,Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh impressed the spectators with their deft footwork, bhava and abhinaya.

The first item was Kinnauri Nati, Kyang, by artistes from the tribal area of Kinnaur in HP. Attired in their traditional black dress with colourful pashmina shawls draped on their shoulders and adorned with heavy silver jewellery, the dancers coordination was laudable. Tippni, a folk dance from Gujarat, had Gujarati belles depict tales from Kathiawar.

The Tamil Nadu artistes left the audiences spellbound with their Thappatam and Kaddagam dances which depicted vigour, vitality and acrobatic skills. Vinayakam, the dance leader, impressed the audicence with his swift movements and acrobatic skills.

Purulia Chau, a unique combination of rhythm and dance from West Bengal, had the dancers wearing masks doing brisk movements. The dancers from Royal Cho Academy, Purulia, beautifully depicted the Mahishasur killing the demon. The dance was directed by SB Biswas of the Purulia Orphan Society, who has been honoured with the Indira Gandhi Tribal Culture Award.

Dr Roop Singh Shekhawat from Rajasthan is a name to reckon with in Kathak and Bhawai-folk dance of Rajasthan. Attired in a green and magenta outfit, Roop Singh mesmerised the audicence by balancing seven pitchers atop a glass of his head. He was accompanied on the dholak by Krishan Kumar Sharma, while Surinder Singh Rajawat sang the melodious renderings.Roop Singh is a multifaceted personality who has made new innovations in Bhawai and added a classical base to it.A son of any Army officer, Roop Singh has been honoured with the Lok Samrat Award, John Clarke Award and Rajasthan Rangmanch Award.

The finale was on the Independence Day in which artistes from Delhi’s Nritya Madhuri Troupe enthralled the audience with a diverse range of folk dances. Among the impressive dances were Kalbelia dance from Rajasthan, a tribal dance from Madhya Pradesh, Lavni from Maharashtra, Jhoomar from Haryana, Dandia from Gujarat and Ras Lila from Uttar Pradesh. The ever-smiling dancer Vimla Thakur, Uma Shankar Khilnani and Padam Gurung were the favourite of the audience.

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