Punjabi Antenna
Highlight culture, not petty politics
Randeep Wadehra Randeep Wadehra

DD Punjabi’s morning show Gallaan atey Geet took a look at the current state of Punjabi theatre. The invited guest, Ajmer Singh Kainth, gave an overview of the development of theatre in Punjab — observing that it had experienced a meteoric rise and fall during the period spanning early 1970s to late 1980s. He also recalled the contributions of such stalwarts as Gursharan Singh, IC Nanda etc towards the development of this genre of performing arts.

Kainth observed that people have been put off by repeats and adaptations, indicating popular desire for new plots and innovative/imaginative presentations. It was quite an interesting talk. However, certain points were overlooked. For example, theatre in India in general and Punjab in particular has been tied to ideological apron-strings of Leftist political parties. This, in turn, has resulted in dogmatic/propagandist content having a limited appeal.

Although plots from the folklore, too, have been adapted, Heer-Ranjha and Mirza-Sahiba for example, there has been very little relevance to the present socio-cultural and economic realities. Political didacticism has almost killed the genre in the region. Elsewhere (in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai) more contemporary content has been generated but its presentation has been too esoteric and borrowed to enthuse the average theatre buff. Here we are not talking of exceptions like Ghasiram Kotwal and Adrak Ke Panje because these have established benchmarks that Punjabi theatre cannot possibly reach – given its present condition.

As Kainth pointed out, theatre in Punjab is experiencing disconnect with its traditional audiences that comprise largely of rural folks and students. However, one was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of viewers, even from Haryana, who had cared to phone in and assure Kainth of their support.

The Hurriyat seminar at Chandigarh triggered off high drama on November 25. The same evening Ritesh Lakhi’s Masle took up the issue with panellists comprising an ex-serviceman, a human rights activist, a BJP politician and two from the hitherto unknown Internationalist Democratic Party. Predictably, the BJP stuck to its Rightist-nationalist stance, while the IDP seemed to be on the defensive, unable to refute the innuendo that they were mere pawns in a chess game being played elsewhere. Theatrics has become sine qua non of news-based talk shows, especially when politicians are debating such issues as mis/non-governance, corruption, political perfidy and such others that impact their political prospects directly or indirectly.

If the Akali-BJP combine raises the issue of 2G, CWG and Adarsh scams, the Congress side rebuts with Yeddyurappa’s land scam in Bangalore. Whether it is Masle or Khabarsaar, or any other forum, huge quantities of gas and heat get generated but no light is shed, alas! Consequently genuine, hardcore problems specific to Punjab get sidetracked. The Congress and Akali-BJP politicians trade charges and indulge in blatant theatrics just to impress their respective bosses/constituencies (though why should anyone be impressed with such crassness is beyond one’s ken). It is time various Punjabi television talk shows had a second look at the format, content and invitees. What irritates one is the personalising of issues and needless exercise of vocal chords by the invited panellists.

Perhaps, the debates need to shift the focus away from personalities and take a structural/systemic approach while discussing issues. Too much prominence is being given to petty politics on the small screen when the need of the hour is relentless media focus on development, culture, education and sports. Moreover, knowledgeable, apolitical persons from academia, administration, media and various performing and fine arts fields ought to be invited for discussions. The anchor should do his/her homework and ensure that discussions proceed in a manner that would enable viewers to form an informed opinion and not bamboozle them with mindless decibel-generated chaos. Any takers?