|One of the most eminent people in the theatre world of India today, Bhanu Bharti was born in Ajmer, Rajasthan in 1947. After graduating from the National School of Drama, New Delhi, in 1973, he studied traditional Japanese theatre in the University of Tokyo.
AAJ is not merely his theatre group, it is also his mantra for life, a continuous struggle for interpretation and creation.With over fifty productions to his credit, and a long string of honours, including the Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Bhanu Bharti does not cease to experiment. And his dedication to theatre does not fail to inspire. “Look at me,” he says, ‘three decades and still struggling.”
Bhanu Bharti has directed several national cultural programmes such as the mega event in Delhi’s Vijay Chowk on the 50th Anniversary of India’s Independence, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations for the Indian diaspora in 2006, the Bharat Utsav in Delhi for the celebration of India’s 60th Anniversary of Independence, etc.
Every year, Aaj Theatre Company has been presenting a theatre festival of its own productions in Delhi. Its reputation has spread internationally and Bhanu Bharti is now viewed as one of the most innovative directors of his time.
Yearning for fulfilment
DIWAN SINGH BAJELI
PHOTO: S. SUBRAMANIUM
"Apart from a tedious search for significant scripts, what is troubling me most is the absence of human contact and prevailing intolerance that have crept into human behaviour and social and political institutions," says Bhanu Bharti, eminent theatre director, who is in Delhi these days in connection with his three-day drama festival featuring his previous productions - "Samrat", "Bapu" and "Naachin".
"Market forces have reduced every creative effort to a commodity attractively packaged for sale. In such an atmosphere there is little space for serious theatrical art."
A graduate from National School of Drama, Bhanu has directed more than 70 plays in his eventful theatrical journey spanning nearly 40 years. Apart from his deep grounding in various aspects of Indian traditional and contemporary theatre, he joined University of Tokyo to study traditional theatre of Japan. He has spent a lot of time to study the life and ritualistic art of the Bheel tribe of Mewar region of Rajasthan. In spite of his exposure and exploration and experimentation with theatre traditions of India, Japan and ritualistic theatre of tribal, he has not made any conscious attempt to transplant these diverse forms into his art. "I have internalised these forms and styles. From Japanese theatre I assimilated elements like the use of space, the rhythm of performers and the use of silences."
"Rituals are deeply imbedded in the psyche of an individual. My interaction with Bheels has opened up before me a whole world of fascinating rituals and their living connection with the community. We always say that theatre is the product of rituals and it is a communal art. Tribals have still a deep-rooted sense of community despite social changes that are taking place. We, urban people have lost that sense. As far as rituals are concerned these exist in tribal society in the purest form." For the last 20 years or so he has been frequently visiting them.
During his stay with tribals, he produced K.N. Panikkar's "Pashu Gayatri", a Malayalam play, with tribal performers. `Pashu Gayatri' was hailed as an imaginative theatrical piece which is truly Indian in sensibility and content as well as form. "Working with tribals is a unique experience. There I am no director; they are not actors. In the process of production the text underwent tremendous transformation. It was reconstruction and re-creation. What remained of the original was its spirit. I am happy that when Kavalam saw it, he endorsed my production because he felt that the spirit of the play remained intact."
Bhanu is against the imposition of unrealistic development schemes and the imposition of urban values on tribal society. He feels that these forcible measures will break up the harmony of tribal society. "I went there for my own education. I unlearnt what I have learnt in drama school and university. This interaction has changed my relations with urban actors."
After "Pashu Gayatri" Bhanu has remained in the national focus with his productions like "Chandrama Singh urf Chamku Das", "Yamgatha" and "Aks-Tamasha". His three productions - "Pashu Gayatri", "Kaal Katha" and "Amar Beej" - are based on rituals of the Bheel tribe. Over the years, Bhanu has occupied several prestigious positions in the field of dramatic art. He was Head of the Drama Department of Rajasthan University, Director of Shri Ram Centre for Art and Culture, Delhi and chairman of Rajasthan Sangeet Natak Akademi. He was honoured by several cultural bodies including Sangeet Natak Akademi for his contribution to the enrichment of Indian theatre.
Bhanu is not happy with the present state of Indian theatre movement as well as with the functioning of cultural bodies, including National School of Drama. He feels theatre practitioners lack creative passion essential for discovery and renewal which characterised the `70s, producing great directors, actors and playwrights. Despite all these negative features, "I have faith that theatre will not die so long as human life in this planet exists".