Monthly Archives: May 2012

KKM Defence Committe Member Ramu Ramanathan speaks in Marathi Theatre Panel Discussion

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Pic sourced from – http://www.criticalstages.org/criticalstages5/plugin/print/?id=74

Panel discussion: Marathi Theatre in the 21st Century

Deepa Punjani, in http://www.mumbaitheatreguide.com

The recent five-day festival (May 21-25 2012) of Marathi plays by the Bodhi Natya Parishad at the mini theatre of Ravindra Natya Mandir (PL Deshpande), hosted a discussion on Marathi theatre and its role in the twenty first century. The discussion, which was moderated by Dr Suresh Meshram, one of the founders of the Bodhi Natya Parishad, had as its panelists, Dr Hemu Adhikari, Milind Inamdar, Abhiram Bhadkamkar, Ramu Ramanathan and Premanand Gajvi.The panelists, all theatre practitioners, put forth their views about how Marathi theatre might be envisaged in this century with its concerns and challenges. It was evident that although the discussion was centred on the prominence of regional theatre in Maharashtra, the issues raised, are relevant to other language theatres in Indiatoo.Dr Hemu Adhikari, veteran actor and former-scientist from BARC, plus the voice of rationality in many anti-superstition drives, while referring to the tradition of Marathi theatre over the past hundred years, talked about how today’s youth seemed to want to express things very different from what the previous generation of theatre-goers were accustomed to. He cited young Pune-based playwright Dharmakirti Sumant’s plays such as PAANI and GELI EKVEES VARSHA as examples. In GELI EKVEES VARSHA, the young protagonist who grows up confused, as he cannot come to terms with his parents’ socialist ideals, in a post liberalisation era, ends up rejecting history, rather vehemently. His rejection is symbolically marked in his disruption of the stage design. Referring to PAANI by the same playwright, Dr Adhikari said that the play showed a young writer who had a calibrated response to political and social issues.

Later, when it was veteran playwright Premanand Gajvi’s (whose play GHOTBAR PAANI will have its 3001 staging as a finale to the festival) turn to speak, he said, he was sceptical of plays like PAANI and GELI EKVEES VARSHA and the thought process of young playwrights who ”rejected history”. Gajvi felt, if history can be rejected so glibly, what should it be replaced with? He added that PAANI, which was based on the Narmada Bachaao Aandolan, was not actually examining the dialectics of the struggle; and what went amiss with one of the most significant social uprisings in India of the twentieth century, but only superficially tackled an issue which was quite complex. Gajvi, who has been workshopping with young playwrights and has ”discovered three new plays”, drove another point home in contention to Dr Hemu Adhikari’s opening remarks of how the new century is one of immense challenges. Gajvi said that while the challenges are there (and have always been there) he can only foresee these getting more vexed in the days to come. The time to find a solution has come, but the process is not going to be easy all.

The challenges are not new, as pointed out by director, Girish Patki in a post-discussion. He was candid enough to state that while the discussion was relevant, he felt that ‘tried-and-tested stock phrases and sentences were being repeated. Dramatist Abhiram Bhadkamkar whose plays are having a good run on the Marathi stage; and director Milind Inamdar, faculty at the Theatre Arts Department of Mumbai University, elaborated on key challenges in their presentations. The challenges, they said, are as much about the perception of Marathi theatre today, as it is about how it is depicted. Hence the familiar litany about prayogik (experimental) v/s vyavsayik (commercial), the attitude of producers on the commercial stage, the genre of plays, the lack of performance space, the dearth of ideas in terms of executing the productions, impoverished content which is far removed from society, a disconnect with our repository of literature such as the short story and the poem, busy schedules (especially in a manic city like Mumbai), definitions of entertainment having changed (even threatening the very existence of the live performance), and such others.

A different kind of perspective was put forth by playwright, Ramu Ramanathan. He discussed other cultural perspectives, which were resonant with the topic on hand. He began by referring to three English plays that were recently adjudged as the best plays of the Hindu Metroplus Playwright Award this year. He felt that these new plays, all written by young writers, were promising in terms of content as well as theatre craft. The award-winning play by Prashanth Kumar Nair – ROMEO AND JULIET – NO STRINGS ATTACHED had a playful, play within a play format. One of the short-listed playwrights, Satish Pendharkar, he said, has penned a Bada Sircar folkish social critique called, THE LAST JOURNEY. Ramanathan felt that the seven-to-eight plays in The Hindu competition were by playwrights who were bi-lingual; plus rooted in some or the other theatre tradition, be that socio-cultural or even academic. He said: ”The 40 entries indicate that plays cannot be written overnight. Plays require rigour, craft and patience. And a playwright, who has the opportunity to negotiate the socio-cultural nuances more effectively.”

Referring to the strategies of survival, Ramanathan spoke of how there is an acute need for our theatre to explore new spaces. He spoke of how this used to be done in factories, boulevards, streets in Mumbai but has ceased to be. He emphasized that this was not agit-prop or street theatre but community theatre. Play-readings are equally important to keep theatre alive. Recalling a performance in Brussels, a one-man show, he said that the simplest kind of performances can leave lasting impressions. It all depends on what is being conveyed and how it is done.

Ramu Ramanathan then touched upon the silence among the artist community; especially with the ban on the group, Kabir Kala Manch. He said, the Pune-based theatre activist Deepak Dengle is in prison, and other members of the agit-prop group, including lead singer-poets, Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Sachin Mali, and others have gone underground after threats from the police / ATS. All are charged sans any act of violence (just guilt of association) of “being Naxalites” and the ATS is using an uncritical media to plant allegations against the Kabir Kala Manch. There is silence from the theatre community only because this is happening to ”non upper-caste upper class theatre activists” in Maharashtra.

*Deepa Punjani i.Read more here

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In defence of the shahirs

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Freny Manecksha , in Times Crest | May 26, 2012

 

It’s a tale of ironies. Just a few days before the uproar in Parliament over the cartoon figuring Dr Ambedkar, a poem, Kis Kis Ko Kaid Karoge, was read out at a gathering. The incandescent verses, penned by jailed poet Deepak Dengle speak of the thousands behind bars who, he believes, will one day walk free.

Dengle is in a Mumbai jail. Arrested by Maharashtra‘s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in April 2011, he and Dalit youth Siddharth Bhonsle are accused of the “crime” of being members of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). The KKM is a social and cultural organisation of Pune youths who work with many leaders of working class movements such as Narmada Bachao leader Medha Patkar and socialist leader Bhai Vaidya.

The ATS does not accuse the KKM of having engaged in any incident of violence;it says it has suspicions of the members having links with Maoists and is apprehensive of crimes they may then commit. Many of the other members of the troupe such as Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe, Sachin Mali and Ramesh Gaichor have similar cases lodged against and have been forced to go underground.

Ironically, these cultural activists have been lauded by the establishment. Anand Patwardhan‘s critically acclaimed film Jai Bhim Comrade, which won a National Award and was also given a prize of Rs 51, 000 by the Maharashtra government, features members of the KKM. Patwardhan says he is setting up a defence panel for the embattled KKM members consisting of activists such as Bhai Vaidya, former IPS officer Sudhakar Suradkar, writer Dr Anand Teltumbde, CPI leader Prakash Reddy, actor Ratna Pathak Shah, Medha Patkar and Teesta Setalvad.

Patwardhan’s film, which is structured around Dalit culture and politics in Maharashtra over the last 15 years, was born, he says, out of the shock of Vilas Ghogre’s suicide four days after the police killings at Ramabai Colony in 1997.

Ghogre, a friend of Patwardhan, was a leftist singer-poet or shahir who hanged himself out of his intense despair and sense of injustice.

“I had filmed Vilas singing a song for the working class when I made Bombay Our City in the early 1980s and over the years I had recorded a lot of his songs on my tape recorder. But photos of him were hard to find so reconstructing his story was no easy task. I began recording other shahirs who use their art to fight a system of injustice. I wanted to see how deeply the culture had penetrated amongst the people so I recorded the songs of women like Saraswati Bhonsle, a labourer and housewife, ” says Patwardhan.

It was during the course of this distinctive style of story-telling through music and song-poetry that Patwardhan came across the Gen Next of shahirs, the KKM, who put up an electrifying performance in 2007 at Ramabai Nagar. Formed in 2003 in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage, the troupe comprised of very young, mainly dalit, boys and girls from the poorer sections of Pune and its surrounding areas who were inspired by the music of Vilas Ghogre and other progressive dalit shahirs of the past and the present.

Patwardhan recalls, “Their music and performances had the passion of youth and they were also very gifted musicians at the same time. The subjects they tackled were of a wide spectrum. They brought huge drama and energy to the stage. ”

Among the leading lights of the KKM is Sheetal Sathe whose vibrant personality is brilliantly captured on screen especially in the feminist song-poems dedicated to a mother. Lauding her huge talent, actor Ratna Pathak Shah pointed out how effectively she conveys to people like us her empathy for her community. Speaking at the launch of the defence committee, she said this authentic voice assumes “extraordinary validity in a society where everything is second-hand”. In her youth, she added, one listened to voices from different cultures, from voices of struggles. “That voice has fallen silent. ”

Dr Ilina Sen, whose husband, Dr Binayak Sen was also jailed on charges of sedition for allegedly having links with Maoists in Chhattisgarh, finds the increasing trend of criminalising people disturbing. She says, “Although I have never viewed KKM performances live, I have seen Jai Bhim Comrade. I understand that there is no criminal act attributed to the members and even the police have said that. So labelling them is part of a mindset, a very dangerous one. ”

Sheetal Sathe is inspiring people to write

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Dear Friends

Please find below a piece of inspiration written by  KKM defence Committee Facebook Page  member,  Nidhin Shobhana , who lives in Pune. Kabir Kala Manch Defence Commitee was formed  a few days back to fight the state opression against artistes who use their music, poetry and voices to make people aware of their rights .

(A poem Inspired by Sheetal Sathe )

When I heard her voice
It pierced my silence
Denying me a full stop
Sowing red-blue seeds of uneasiness
It infringed my benumbed bubble
Of comfortable ends,
Of easy full stops

Her voice haunts me
With Question Marks and Exclamations
She drowns me in concealed waters
Of tears, of sweat, of shame and of anguish…
The decisive full stop
Seems like a distant dream
A red-blue dream!
Her voice will guide me.

JAI BHIM COMRADE: Songs of Justice that Threaten the State

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Something is terribly wrong when a government feels threatened by protest songs and jails singers, says Satyen K Bordoloi as he profiles the now underground group Kabir Kala Manch through Anand Patwardhan’s searing documentary, Jai Bhim Comrade.

One important question rang in everyone’s mind as they sat stunned watching a 10-minute clip from Anand Patwardhan’s seminal documentary, Jai Bhim Comrade. Why would the government of one of the biggest, richest and most populous states of India, Maharashtra, feel threatened by a rag-tag, seemingly nondescript street music group – that had neither cut any major record deal nor had any songs go viral like Kolaveri Di?

Sheetal Sathe of Kabir Kala Manch

So threatened and desperate that they sent the best of their police force, the ATS – Anti Terrorism Squad, after them? The answer stares at you in the face in Jai Bhim Comrade.

A woman in her mid 20s, Sheetal Sathe, stands on the stage in a maroon kurta. The bad sound system is unable to hide either the soul-wrenching quality of her voice or the power of her words. She intersperses her songs of poverty and exploitation of her people, the Dalits (untouchables), with comments like: “Ambedkar had once said that if this Constitution fails to give people economic, social and political justice, then it will be brought down by my own people.”

Read more here

Panel to fight targeting of Dalit youth

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Published: Friday, May 18, 2012,
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

A group of activists announced the formation of a defence committee to work towards securing the release of a jailed activist and others who have labelled Naxalites at the Mumbai Press Club on Friday. The youth belong to Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a Pune-based cultural organisation.

Kabir Kala Manch is a Dalit organisation whose youth perform songs and plays on varied social topics – from workers rights to environmental issues, women’s liberation to farmers’ suicide, urban displacement and corruption.

While noted documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan pledged to donate the Rs51,000 award money for his film Jai Bhim Comrade towards the newly-formed committee, other members of the civil society who showed their solidarity with KKM were actor Ratna Pathak Shah, Prakash Reddy of CPI, Dr BR Ambedkar’s grandson Anandraj Ambedkar, former IPS officer Sudhakar Suradkar, Com. Prakash Reddy, advocate PA Sebastian and Dalit poet JV Pawar.

Stating that the civil society should support jailed musician-poet Deepak Dengle, also part of his movie, Patwardhan said, “KKM members are against class and caste atrocities. If we don’t give people that space, then we will be responsible for militancy.”

While Dengle is in prison, many other members, including lead singer-poets Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Sachin Mali of Jai Bhim Comrade fame have gone underground after the police charged them with being Naxalites, said a press release.

Actor Ratna Pathak Shah said, “The voice that speaks against injustice must not fall silent. Their art is born out of their firsthand experience and that has validity in a world where everything is second-hand. The state cannot stop this voice.”

People must have space to express anger against injustice

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May 16, 2012, 12.00AM IST, TOI
Documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan ‘s latest movie, Jai Bhim Comrade, portraying events around a police firing on dalit protesters in 1997, won a National Award and a prize of Rs 51,000 from the Maharashtra government – which Patwardhan’s donated to the Kabir Kala Manch(KKM) Defence Committee,  ( the original article does not mention, but fact is money is donated to KKM Defence Committee ), KKM is a cultural troupe inspired by B RAmbedkar and Karl Marx, expressing the oppression of dalits through poetry and song. Patwardhan features this group, some members of which have gone underground recently. Speaking with Jyoti Punwani , Patwardhan explained his view of the KKM, why its work is important – and why Shankar’s 1949 cartoon depicting B R Ambedkar didn’t raise protests back then:How did you decide to feature the KKM in your documentary?I first saw an electric performance by the KKM in 2007 at the 10th anniversary of the police firing at Mumbai’s Ramabai Nagar. I had begun to film Jai Bhim Comrade in 1997 when 10 dalits were killed in this firing and Vilas Ghogre, a singer-poet i knew, hung himself in protest. This shocked me into documenting atrocities against dalits and recording their songs of protest.

The KKM is made up largely of young dalit boys and girls – but their music spoke of centuries of oppression and resistance. Over the next few years, i followed them intermittently with my camera, at performances, at their homes, with their families. I saw them as the new generation of shahirs or singer-poets who’d taken over the mantle from Annabhau Sathe, Amar Shaikh, Vamandada Kardak and Vilas Ghogre. To my surprise, they did not just sing overtly political songs but fought superstition and even wrote love songs, valorizing gender equality and inter-caste marriage.

Why are you donating the prize money you’ve received to the KKM Defence Committee?

The money was given for a film that highlights the KKM amongst others. Ironically, it was given by a state that’s trying to muzzle these sons and daughters of India. People must be given the democratic space to express anger against injustice – the best way to preserve the freedom we all believe in is to speak out even when it is unpopular and to identify the root causes of dissenta¦

The power of KKM’s music is undeniable and the fact that atrocities against dalits continue makes an uncompromising KKM suspect in the eyes of those who protect the status quo. Yet, the KKM i knew spoke of changing the world not with weapons but through song and drum.

Speaking of protest and dissent, what do you make of the NCERT Ambedkar cartoon row? The cartoon didn’t raise protests when it was drawn in 1949 – why now?

The cartoon in its day did not rouse controversy because the nation was young and hopeful. Ambedkar was drafting the Constitution. He was the law minister. Later, a disillusioned Ambedkar resigned when Nehru stonewalled his Hindu Code Bill in deference to orthodox Hindus. Betrayed by his secular friends, Ambedkar, with lakhs of followers, walked out of Hinduism and embraced Buddhism.

Today, repeated betrayals have frayed the sensitivities of dalits, but the iconic persona of Ambedkar is etched in their hearts forever. Deification, desecration and empty, symbo-lic gestures by the state are now a repeating cycle – these take the place of any real attempt to annihilate caste.

Deepak Dengle’s Poem- ‘ Kis Kis Ko Kaid Karoge ‘

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On Jan 31, 2013, Deepak dengle has been granted bail by the Mumbai High Court, finally eh will walk a free man, Below is his poem he wrote behind bars, from words to action, Deepak did it 🙂

Deepak  Dengle, of Kabir Kala  Manch , a writer, singer composer who has been inside  Mumbai  prison for a year now, has been using his writing skills inside the prison also.

KKM  Defence Committee Member Kamayani Bali Mahabal , recites his poem sent from the prison  at CGnet  swara

Listen here     Kis Kis Kaid Karogey