Bold and (b)right
Nonika Singh

HIS pen is bold and his vision clear. In the world of Punjabi rangmanch, where few tread the path less travelled, well-known dramatist Pali Bhupinder Singh comes across as a breath of fresh air. Yet, the man hailed as the different voice of Punjabi theatre disagrees with the select club that believes it isnít good enough. Scoffs he, "It is generally, albeit erroneously, believed that Punjabi theatre lags behind in comparison to theatre at the national level." To this sceptical breed he shoots off, "Let it be remembered that Punjabi theatre is different, not substandard."

Playwright Pali Bhupinder Singh feels that the beauty of Punjabi dramas is that they connect with the common man
Playwright Pali Bhupinder Singh feels that the beauty of Punjabi dramas is that they connect with the common man

The beauty of Punjabi dramas, he asserts, is that they connect with the common man. Yes, he admits that often when voicing the concern of the common man it fails to transcend into a universal issue. But when it does, as in the plays of Balwant Gargi or Dr Atamjitís, it becomes great drama. When Pali began writing he was deeply impressed by Dr Atamjit. Comparisons were also made till well-known critic C. L. Ahuja told him to come out of Dr Atamjitís shadow.

Today, Pali is nobodyís clone and has managed to create his own niche. Intrigued by man-woman relationships, his plays often question the double standards and delve into the issue of marriage and morality. Forthrightness on issues like sex is evident in plays like Tuhanu Kehda Rang Pasand Hai, he confesses, is discomfiting. "For, one is answerable to family, especially oneís wife. But I am bold not brazen." Taking pot-shots at hypocrisy and double-standards of politics, too, is fraught with risk. However, he is dead against knee-jerk reactions to political events.

"A play", he believes "must pass through the ultimate litmus test of time and be relevant for all times to come." That is why he isnít too happy with his play Sirjana, based on female foeticide, for he quips, "Once the problem is over, it will become meaningless." That is why he feels there is much to learn from Greek tragedies and even more from our own Sanskrit dramas, which are timeless.

Swimming against the tide is Paliís natural style. So, just when he was told that Punjabi theatre has no poetics of its own, he did a Ph.D on the subject. Right now, he has taken on the onerous task of writing an encyclopaedia on Punjabi theatre in a project commissioned by the UGC. In the process, he has not only found over a 1000 plays worth their salt but also many playwrights who have been ignored.

How difficult is it to make a mark as Punjabi playwright? He shares that a playwright always has to face the dilemmaó who will stage my play? Essentially, a playwright he turned to direction more out of compulsion. Ironically, while his bigwig contemporaries may not have deemed it fit to stage his plays, Bollywood has come calling. One of his play RSVP, a comedy dwelling on the phoren craze has been bought by none other than actor Akshay Kumar and another, Terrorist di Premika, by a big production house. 

Bollywood and creative writers ... often the end result is acrimonious. But Pali is confident he will get his due from filmdom as well. Anyway, this recipient of the I. C. Nanda Award for his first book Is Chowk ton Shahar Disda Hai, Punjabi Sahit Akadmiís Kartar Singh Dhaliwal Purskar and several Sahit Akademi Delhi awards is no unsung dramatist. While many of his plays are part of university syllabus, some have been translated and staged in Hindi.

While after 2008, he had taken a hiatus of sorts, at present he is busy writing not one but a series of five plays. He intends to stage them together. Five days in a row or may be morning till night. Will there be takers for this kind of theatre marathon?

He says "Theatre is not for masses. Few do it and fewer still want to see it. Except in UK in other nations too theatre rarely goes houseful. In Moga, where he is based, the absence of theatre auditoriums compounds the apathy. But whether theatre fetches rewards or not, he has no intentions of quitting it ever. Ready with his pen, whose ink is unlikely to dry off, he will continue to wield the directorial baton as well.