Home Forum Indian People’s Theatre Association completes 80 years of fruitful existence

Indian People’s Theatre Association completes 80 years of fruitful existence


By Dr VK Dobhal

IPTA was established at the national level on 25 May, 1943, in Bombay (now Mumbai). The history of IPTA runs parallel to the people’s cultural movement in the country and relates to the independence and the anti-fascist movements.
The origin of IPTA followed the first Progressive Writer’s Association Conference in 1936, the Establishment of Youth Cultural Institute at Calcutta in 1940, and setting up of the People’s Theatre at Bangalore by Anil De’ Silva of Sri Lanka in 1941. Anil De’ Silva assisted in formation of IPTA in Bombay in 1942. Various progressive cultural troupes, theatre groups and other progressive cultural activists came together, spontaneously, and at their own initiative for the formation of IPTA. The name People’s Theatre was suggested by the renowned scientist, Homi Jahangir Bhabha, who was inspired by Romain Rolland’s book on the concepts of People’s Theatre. In the Hindi belt it is called Bhartiya Jan Natya Sangh, in Assam and West Bengal, Bhartiya Gana Natya Sangh (Gana Sanskriti Sangh) and in Andhra Pradesh, Praja Natya Mandali. The mission statement of IPTA is ‘People’s Theatre Stars the People’. The symbol/logo designed by the famous painter Chitta Prasad is a drummer (nagara vadak), which is a reminder of one of the oldest mediums of communication.
The devastating man-made famine of Bengal in 1942 inspired many a progressive writer and artist. One of them was Binoy Roy, who organised the Bengal Cultural Squad to sensitise about the impact of the famine on the people and to collect money to support the victims. The Squad traveled through the breadth of the country presenting their choir, ‘Bhookha Hai Bengal’, created by Vamik Jaunpuri, and other songs and plays. Musician Prem Dhawan, drum player Dashrath Lal, singer Reva Roy, actress Usha Dutt were also a part of the Squad. Motivated by the Squad, several cultural groups were formed, including the Agra Cultural Squad. When these groups became effective in their regions, a need was felt to organise them at the national level. Ideologically, these groups were inspired by the left movement and the then General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, PC Joshi, played an instrumental role in bringing these groups on a common forum. General Secretary of the Progressive Writers’ Association Sajjad Zaheer also contributed a lot. The Indian People’s Theatre Association was thus born.
IPTA came into existence on 25 May, 1943, at the National Conference held at the Marwari School in Bombay. It was attended by creative artists from all over the country. In his Presidential Address, Professor Hiren Mukherjee gave a call to all those present: “Come writer and the artist, come actor and the playwright, come all who work by hand or by brain, dedicate yourselves to the task of building a brave new world of freedom and social justice.” The first National Committee comprised Trade Union Leader NM Joshi as the President, Anil De’ Silva as the General Secretary, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas as the Treasurer, Binoy Roy and KD Chandi as the Joint Secretaries. The National Committee and regional committees comprised leading progressive artists from Bombay, Bengal, Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Malabar, Mangalore, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and representatives of various mass organisations. Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru sent his message for the Conference.

In Conferences that followed Sarojini Naidu, Dr Rajendra Prasad and other leaders also sent their messages.
The second and the third Conferences were also held in Bombay in 1944 and 1945. The fourth Conference was held at Calcutta in 1946, fifth at Ahmedabad in 1948, sixth at Allahabad in 1949 and seventh at Bombay in 1953. During this period, many progressive thinkers took organisational roles including Anna Bhau Sathe, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Vallathol, Manoranjan Bhattacharya, Niranjan Sen, Dr Raja Rao, Rajendra Raghuvanshi, M Nagabhushanam, Balraj Sahani, Eric Cyprian, Sarla Gupta, Dr SC Jog, Binoy Roy, VP Sathe, Sudhi Pradhan, Bimal Roy, Tera Singh Chann, Amritlal Nagar, K Subramaniam, KVJ Namboodri, Shiela Bhatia, Dina Gandhi (Pathak), Surinder Kaur, Abdul Malik, RM Singh, Vishnu Prasad Rawa, Nagen Kakoti, Janardan Kurup, Nemi Chandra Jain, Venkat Rao Kandilker, Salil Chaudhry, Hemang Biswas, and Amar Sheikh. The eighth National Conference was held at Natraj Nagri – Ramleela Maidan, Delhi, from 23 December, 1957 to 1 January, 1958. The conference was attended by more than 1000 artists from all over India and inaugurated by the then Vice President, Dr S Radhakrishnan.
IPTA’s cultural movement portrayed contemporary reality through visual art, traditional art forms with modern thought. It created awareness for socio-political change. The members of IPTA who favoured Art for Life (Kala Jeevan Ke Liye) developed a new vision towards arts and aesthetics. They established a new definition of the relationship between art, artists and the audience. IPTA absorbed the live elements of Indian culture, established relationship with the progressive assets of world culture and itself contributed to the world of art by its creativity. IPTA members were oppressed time and again by the powerful for their progressive and revolutionary ideas and expressions.
Modern choir singing in India was initiated by IPTA. Pt Ravi Shankar composed Iqbal’s ‘Sare Jahan Se Achha…’ for the Central Cultural Troupe of IPTA established in 1944. Binoy Roy, Salil Chaudhary, Hemang Vishwas, Prem Dhawan, Narendra Sharma, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shankar Shailendra, Makhdoom Muhiuddin, Sheel Vallathol, Jyotirmai Moitra, Jyoti Prasad Agrawal, Bhupen Hazarika, Anil Biswas and many others penned and composed songs in different languages. They were responsible for initiating Janasangeet (people’s music) and led it to new heights.
The dance drama of the Central Troupe, namely, Bharat ki Atma (The Spirit of India) and Amar Bharat (Etenal India) made a historic contribution. These presentations involved Ravi Shankar, Binoy Roy and Aboni Das Gupta as musicians, Shantivardhan and Nagesh as dance directors and Prem Dhawan as lyricist. Simultaneously, traditional folk forms were provided contemporary context by Jyotirmai Moitra in his ‘Navjeevner Gaan’ (dance drama), and by Dr Raja Rao of Andhra Pradesh in Burra Katha, Veethi Natak and Hari Katha. The Machhua dance of Malabar and folk dances of North India also gave a new identity to the people’s art. Amar Sheikh’s folk songs in Marathi and Magai Ojha’s Assamese folk instrumental music also found their place in the movement.
IPTA gave a new direction to Indian theatre. It presented people’s pains and sorrows, dreams and ambitions in a new form breaking down the existing and conventional forms. Bijon Bhattacharya’s play ‘Navaanna’ (The New Crop) proved to be path breaking. Shankar-Vasireddy’s ‘Maa Bhumi’, Toppil Bhasi’s ‘Ningal Enne Communist Aakki’ (You Made Me a Communist) along with the plays of Dr Rashid Jahan, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Ali Sardar Jafri, T Sarmalkar, Balwant Gargi, Jaswant Thakkar, Mama Varerkar, Acharya Atrey, and others established the realistic theatre in the country. Directors and actors included Balraj Sahni, Shambhu Mitra, Habib Tanvir, Bhishma Sahni, Dina Pathak, Rajendra Raghuvanshi, RM Singh, Utpal Dutt, AK Hangal, Rameshwar Singh Kashyap, Shiela Bhatia and others. Shadow plays and extempore plays were experimented with. Tapas Sen made his contribution in stage light effects and Shilpi Kumar in set design.
IPTA produced a film, Dharti Ke Lal, in 1946. This was based on Bijon Bharttacharya’s dramas ‘Navaann’ and ‘Antim Abhilasha’. This film was directed by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas with music direction by Pt Ravi Shankar, dance direction by Shanti Vardhan and lyrics by Ali Sardar Jafri and Prem Dhawan. Shambhu Mitra, Tripti Mitra, Balraj Sahni, Damayanti Sahni, Usha Dutt, and hundreds of farmers, students, and labourers acted in the film. Many other artists of IPTA including Ritwik Ghatak established their own identity in the film world and affected the realistic cinema stream.
Around 1960, IPTA disintegrated at the national level though units in Bombay, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and some other places continued their activities. Many theatre groups continued to extend their progressive ideology working independently. During this period Shambhu Mitra’s theatre group ‘Bahuroopi’, Habib Tanvir’s ‘New Theatre’, Ruma Guha Thakurta’s ‘Calcutta Youth Choir’, MB Shrinivasan’s ‘Madras Youth Choir’ made a mark. Shanti Vardhan, Utpal Dutt and many others also had performing groups. Inspired by the legacy of People’s Cultural Movement, Jan Natya Manch, Jan Sanskriti Manch, and many other organisations also came into being. In the early 1980s, a dialogue was established between IPTA units across the country and attempts were made to reconstitute the National organisation.
IPTA’s national convention was called in 1985 at Agra, where 300 representatives from 15 states participated. This was an initiative to reconstitute IPTA at the National level. After more than two decades, in 1986, the ninth National Conference was held at Hyderabad. The noted film director, Shyam Benegal, inaugurated the Conference. Kaifi Azmi was elected as the President. Hemang Viswas, Rajendra Raghuvanshi, C Nagabhushnam, AK Hangal, Dina Pathak, MS Sathyu, Bhishm Sahni, Subrat Banerjee, Sayyad Abdul Malik, Toppil Bhasi, Rameshwar Singh Kashyap, Narayan Surve, MV Sriniwasan, Jaswant Thakkar, Surinder Kaur and Ruma Guha Thakurta were elected as Vice Presidents. Other office bearers were: Govind Vidyarthi as General Secretary, Abid Razvi, K Pratap Reddy, Jitendra Raghuvanshi, Tanvir Akhtar, and Amitabh Pandey as Secretaries.
The Conference declaration said: We, the old and new workers of IPTA, re-dedicate ourselves to organise IPTA into a powerful and effective National Movement. We trust the people of India who are countering the divisive forces in the country and we take pride in building live cultural relationships by joining hands.
Presently, more than 600 units of IPTA are active in 24 states and union territories across the country.