Cut to 2017 and IPTA — the only amateur theatre group to have a federated set-up — is still going strong and has just completed 75 years, making it the oldest standing theatre group in Asia. To celebrate the event, a week of curated plays are being staged at Prithvi Theatre, which has hosted most of the group’s productions in Mumbai.
“Jawarhalal Nehru had approved of the movement and though he was unable to attend the first meeting, he sent a letter. I believe that TATA Institute of Social Sciences in Bangalore still has the letter in their archives,” says Padma Shri awardee M. S. Sathyu, who has been associated with the group for over 50 years.
Sathyu explains that one reason why IPTA has survived so long is because it has always had multiple directors and actors helming projects as opposed to many other groups that revolved around a single individual. “Shambhu Mitra, Utpal Dutt and Balraj Sahni had their own theatre groups, but they revolved around personalities, so after them, the groups ceased to exist. But IPTA is not dependent on any one person; it’s an institution. We have a number of actors, directors and workers who have the dedication it needs to make the group work and I think that’s why we have worked till now,” he explains.
Perhaps an instance of the lifelong the dedication that Sathyu has spoken about can be illustrated through film and theatre director, Ramesh Talwar’s journey with IPTA. “The first play I did with IPTA was Aakhri Shama by Kaifi Azmi. I got the role of the main character, who organises a mushaira. I did the play in Lal Quila, Delhi, 1969, to commemorate 100 years since Ghalib’s death. At that time, I had to wear a beard and mustache because I looked too young for the role. When I performed the play on May 1 this year, I realised that I have been performing it for 48 years! I had to wear a wig to look young,” he laughs. “I do Bollywood work for the money, theatre is my passion and the members of IPTA have long become family to me,” he adds.
It is perhaps actor Rakesh Bedi who best explains why it is that so many look to IPTA as an exemplary body in theatre. “We have no system of hierarchy based on seniority. Tomorrow, they may reject one of my plays or they may accept a play by someone completely new,” he states.
However, there are three elements, he adds, which are absolutely essential for any IPTA play. “The entertainment factor has to be there, yes, but along with that, the play has to have good content. Also, there needs to have a strong social message,” he elaborates.
In a country that has achieved its independence long ago and has seen a decline in the communist movement, the relevance of a left-leaning theatre group, which was formed to fight for Indian independence may seem dubious. However, as Sathyu says that today, perhaps more than before, the work that the group is doing is perhaps more important than ever before. “We are a secular group, we are interested in social and political issues, and with a lot of communalism growing in India. After partition, I think that this is the worst period we are having. Identity is being related very closely to what community we come from and it’s a dangerous thing. So, it becomes more meaningful for an organisation like ours to make people aware of things,” he declares.
The IPTA festival is ongoing till May 7, At Prithvi Theatre, Juhu
Courtsey : http://www.asianage.com/life/art/050517/celebrating-the-stage.html