The narrow entrance and humble interiors of the Proscenium Art Centre don’t do justice to the essence of culture that lies within those walls. One look around tells the different stories associated with the numerous plays that have been shown at the centre, the various artists who have graced the halls over the years, the laughs and cries shared in the small green room and finally, the cosy stage where art has come alive in front of small yet passionate theatre lovers.
One doesn’t have to go far to understand this rich legacy of theatre; the owner Sheo Kumar Jhunjhunwala is always present with a hearty smile on his face and numerous stories related to the art form to which he has been associated with for 55 years. An actor till 40 and now a director, Jhunjhunwala explains how theatre has always been his one true love. When asked about the decreasing popularity of theatre, Jhunjhunwala said, “Till there are artists who want to express, theatre will keep on going.”
Organised at the Proscenium Art Centre from, the 16th Intimate Theatre Festival had a rather ironic name. Proscenium stands for a space between an artist and audience, it’s a social construct that divides reel from the real but intimate theatre essentially dilutes all that.
The festival opened amid great enthusiasm and love, inaugurated by Ashok Singh, renowned theatre artist and director. “People don’t understand our madness for theatre, and I have been a part of it for 42 years. Theatre is a difficult art to master; it is difficult because the remunerations are zero”, explained Singh during his ardent keynote address.
Prem Kapoor, a distinguished author of the theatre industry, also spoke at the festival about how it has become increasingly difficult for theatre groups to pay for the hall, lights and props.
But does that mean theatre has called it a day? Definitely not said Kapoor and that is where intimate theatre comes in. It is an experience of realisation for the audience, the realisation of pain, pleasure and all the possible human emotions through the eyes of the performer and the vision of a director. A medium for artists to bring out the problems in society, theatre has always worked as a critical machinery to entertain as well as educate.
Addressing issues desperately in need of societal attention, the beauty of the festival lay in the themes chosen this year. From talking about the current socio-political scenario to highlighting the plight of women, the festival provided an enriching and eye-opening experience.
Proceedings opened with Ashani Sonket, directed by Ashis Chattopadhyay, which took on the state of religion and politics in today’s India. The bold direction and dialogues highlighted the manufactured conflict between the two predominant religious communities.
Amid the themes of political satires and disharmony, an unconventional play talking about the bastardisation of art in culture stood out. Written and directed by Palash Chaturvedi, Ikhtiyaar dealt with the conflict between commercial and aesthetic art and displayed an interesting take on the psychology of writers.
Talking about the horrific physical and mental abuse Sumita, a housewife, goes through at the hands of her husband and greedy mother-in-law; Astitva directed by Dinesh Wadera, gave an unforgettable experience that one can only get watching intimate theatre. The actor Rajshree’s portrayal of the troubled character left an ever-lasting impression as the art form made the room come alive with her each holler and cry.
According to Sahir Siddiqui, who has been a pillar of the Proscenium Art Centre, “The theatre festival has tried to bring voices that are not big names, but have a commendable enthusiasm to their art and theatre.” Proscenium has been prolific in the matters of providing space for this diminishing yet impactful art form. For any theatre group that wishes to showcase their talent, the centre takes care of all the expenses.
Evolving through the sands of time, theatre has made its makers and artists return to seek the strange elusive energy between the audience and the performer. Despite rat-ridden dressing rooms and comparatively smaller wages, the liveliness of the art has managed to create a legacy of 2,500 years.
This legacy acts as the motivation behind the creation of the Proscenium Art Centre, which strives to provide a platform that allows all the patrons to celebrate theatre in its full glory. Proscenium has led the way to other theatre stages to open up their gates for passionate, young and enthusiastic people to showcase their creativity. With such institutions around, trying desperately to help for a cause, it is heartening to see how the fire lives on.