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He’s hogging arc lights of an indigenous kind

- NSD-trained tribal actor shuns money & mainstream fame to work for theatre revival in Kolhan’s hinterland

Talaash’s wily Taimur, acclaimed actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a farmer’s son from Uttar Pradesh who went on to graduate from National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi, and seek a Bollywood career.

Santhali youth Jitrai Hansda, who worked as a “measurement man” under a contractor of the land revenue department, also got a chance to go to NSD for a three-year diploma in 2009. But Hansda, who hails from Karandih on Jamshedpur fringes, chose not to pursue a career in TV or films.

Three years ago he was clear he would come back and work to uplift his own culture.

He kept his word and is now back.

As an NSD student, Hansda performed in Beijing, Shanghai and across the country. But right now, the actor is taking a talent recce across Kolhan region for tribal theatre revival.

“I’ll host a theatre workshop focussing on tribal artistes but everyone is welcome. Entry is free. It will be held on December 9 on Kalamandir premises,” he said.

Before joining NSD, during his years as a skilled labourer, the artistically inclined but needy youth used to visit Kalamandir — the NGO has its offices in Bistupur — where he got his first taste of theatre.

Now, with his savings, including the Rs 15,000 that NSD gives its alumni to conduct workshops, Hansda will try to link 16 Kolhan villages for theatre, 12 for folk songs and eight for indigenous dances.

He will also ferret out long-forgotten scripts of tribal plays and stage them in cities.

“Earlier, villagers used to stage their own plays. But now, rural cultural diet comprises of TV and Hindi films. I have to do my bit to save tribal culture from going extinct,” he reasoned.

He added that he personally knew about the existence of 35 Santhali plays. “I want to collect scripts and customise them to suit today’s audience. In fact, Pandit Raghunath Murmu, Ol Chiki script founder, wrote four plays, Bidu Chandan, Kherwal Bir, Sidho-Kanhu and Dare Ge Dhon. They are eminently enjoyable,” he said.

Hansda added that he learnt a lot at NSD.

“I want to dedicate whatever I learnt to hone theatre artistes from among tribal youths. Drama is not just an instinctive craft, it is also about techniques of acting, direction, stage mounting and lighting,” he said.

He also rued that theatre in Jamshedpur was dying a slow death. “The city once had good theatre production houses, professional presentation and a strong audience. Now, the focus has shifted Mumbai’s TV and film industry. I am happy for them, but I’d like to see similar enthusiasm for indigenous culture,” he smiles, no stranger to economic constraints.

On a personal note, he added: “For an artiste like me who wants to work for the cultural uplift of my own people, hearing only Hindi film songs in villages is disheartening.”

Yet, the optimist in him believes that audiences still reward good theatre if production standards are high. “We need sponsorship and participation of youngsters to keep our own cultural flag flying. If you think about it, both are inter-linked,” said Hansda.

Theatre for thought there.


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