Delhi unit of IPTA turns fifty

December 29th, 2009 - 8:01 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) It’s been fifty years since it was born — and despite stiff competition from the National School of Drama, independent companies of contemporary theatre, television and cinema — the Delhi chapter of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) has managed to survive.
On Dec 27, the local unit of IPTA celebrated its 50th birthday.

As part of the celebrations, the association staged a 1977-vintage play “Anarkali-Akbar-Salim” and felicitated theatre personalities Zohra Sehgal, Ebrahim Alkazi, Kabir Bedi and Roshan Seth, who began their careers on the capital’s stage.

The play was directed by the general secretary of IPTA, Aziz Quraishi, who has been heading the organisation in the capital since 1981.

According to old-timers, the local chapter of IPTA has not been able to carve a niche for itself because of two reasons. The early generation of talented actors like Raj Babbar, Pankaj Kapoor, Om Puri and Pawan Malhotra found their calling in the movie world of Mumbai and could not devote time to theatre in New Delhi.

A devastating fire at the IPTA office on Shankar Road in 2002 destroyed most of the old records.

“The Delhi initiative of the IPTA started much later than Kolkata and Mumbai. A dedicated group of creative and financial contributors has helped it survive through the decades,” Quraishi said.

According to data from the IPTA archives, the eighth national conference of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) at the Ramlila grounds in the capital from Dec 23 to Jan 1, 1958 led to the birth of the Delhi chapter of IPTA. The conference was attended by 1,000 artists.

The records say that the theatre assembly was inaugurated by the then vice-president of India Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and the national IPTA committee comprised of theatre legends like Sachin Sen Gupta (Kolkata), Vishnu Prasad Rawa (Gauhati), Rajendra Raghuvanshi (Agra), K. Subramaniam (Chennai), Niranjan Sen (Calcutta), Nirman Ghosh (Kolkata), Radheyshyam Sinha (Patna), Raja Rao (Andhra Pradesh) and Muhani Abbasi (Mumbai).

A couple of years later, in 1960, the organisation - with headquarters in Kolkata and Mumbai - disintegrated to set up units across the country and began to chart a decentralised course of independent, socially relevant and creative theatre with more focus on regionalism and local folk forms.

In the capital, the early plays of IPTA reflected the northern Indian threatrical traditions and the city’s rich plural heritage in its “jan natyas (people’s plays)” with a slight socialist tilt.

According to Quraishi, the play “Anarkali-Akbar-Salim”, which recreates a slice of Mughal India, has an interesting history.

In 1977, “when IPTA was rehearsing the play, Raj Babbar, a struggling actor, left for Mumbai three days before the play was to be staged”. The association was at a loss and Pankaj Kapoor was brought in at the last moment to play Salim.

“The problem was that Anarkali was taller than Salim. Kapoor was of compact built. Fourteen-year-old Neelima Azim was chosen to play Anarkali to match Kapoor’s height and the play was a success,” the general secretary of IPTA recalled.

IPTA has given several Delhi-based actors a toehold in Mumbai.

Actor Pawan Malhotra, who once earned “Rs.250 from an IPTA show and was over the moon with the amount”, is one of them. And so are Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah - who were all associated with IPTA early in their respective careers.

IPTA was established on May 25, 1943 at a conference in the Marwari School in Bombay.

In his presidential address, academic and noted social thinker Hiren Mukherjee issued a call to all those present: “Writers and artists… come actors and dramatists, come all, those who work by hand and the thinkers, come and dedicate yourself to create a brave new world and a society that values freedom, independence, and social justice.”

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