Review by Vinoo
Author : Safdar Hashmi
I thought it apt to review this book along with the movie as it finds a mention for Saeed Mirza. ‘The right to perform’ is a book with selected writings of Safdar Hashmi. It covers topics in Street theatre, Theatre, Cinema and Interviews and Safdar in conversation, and is a must read for anyone who has anything to do with theatre. Safdar was a theatre activist with a political purpose, a communist, an artist who took his art to the people. Safdar Hashmi, to me, is our own version of Che Guevera.
A protest street play called ‘DTC ki Dhandli’ (DTC’s fraudulence), against the bus fare hike, was put up by Jan Natya Manch. Two actors were arrested and then released with threats not to perform again. The artists called this a gross violation of their democratic rights and issued a statement. Among the signatories were Bhisham Sahni, Vishnu Prabhakar, Hans Raj Rahbar, M K Raina, Dadi Padumji, Manjit Bawa, Vivan Sundaram, Pameshwar Broota and many others. Film-makers Saeed Mirza and Kundan Shah, who were in the capital on that day, also put their names on the statements.
But our play did manage to fan one of the truly spontaneous and successful popular uprisings in Delhi in the past ten years. DTC was forced to rationalize their fares. After our play we would tell the people to pay 30% increase and not the whole thing.
In the first four years of our experience we gave 2000 performances.
‘Aurat’, ‘Teen Crore’ (referring to registered, educated, unemployed 30 million people in the country), ‘Price Rise’, ‘Kursi kursi’ were a few of their successful plays.
Born on 12 April 1954 in Delhi, Safdar did his MA in English Literature from St Stephens College, Delhi University, in 1975. During his years at the Univ he became a member of the Students Federation of India and then joined IPTA, Indian Peoples’ Theatre Ass’n. He was one of the founder members of Jana Natya Manch (Janam) in 1973. In 1976 he became a member of the CPI(M).
Safdar Hashmi died in hospital on 02 January 1989, the victim of a deliberate attack by workers of the Indian National Congress. He was murdered while his theatre group, Jana Natya Manch, was staging a play ‘Halla Bol’ at Sahibabad, in the outskirts of Delhi – a street play in support of a wage increase for industrial workers. The issues raised in the play were, ironically, the right to speak, the right of the worker to assert his or her identity. Fourteen years after the incident, a Ghaziabad court convicted ten people, including Congress Party member Mukesh Sharma for the murder.
Safdar has also written books like ‘Holi’, ‘Bansuriwala’, ‘Kitaben’, ‘Pedh’, ‘Duniya sabki’, ‘Natak ki duniya’, ‘Safdar’ etc in Hindi now available with simple drawings and illustrations to go with the writing.
Also reading ‘The Fifth flame’ – the story of Safdar Hashmi by Qamar Azad Hashmi, his mother.
Useless trivia : M F Husain’s ‘Tribute to Safdar Hashmi’ was the first painting by an Indian that joined the Million-dollar club when it was auctioned in the year 1989.