Arts & Culture

Indian People’s Theatre Association: A Look at India’s Oldest Theatre Collective

The theatre collective that started 76 years ago has left an indispensable mark on Indian theatre art and Bollywood.

“If you are doing something on IPTA, there’s a chance you will get lost? Because which chapter do you pick up?” said Jagan Shah, a writer and a theatre director who has been putting together Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA)  story from its inception till date. For starters, Indian People’s Theatre Association or IPTA is a theatre collective which brings together theatre artists from across India to illustrate political and social issues through dramas, street plays, and theatres. It closely adheres to the ideology of Communist  Party of India and seeks to inform and educate people about a plethora of issues concerning the common man by means of art.

IPTA’s history can be traced back to 1943 when two major historical incidents were gaining momentum. The struggle for India’s independence had reached its peak and World War II had galloped the world in a deadly conflict. The Bengal famine of 1943 along with Nazi force’s intrusion over Soviet Russia evoked intellectuals in India to initiate an organization which could inform the masses about these problems. Artists too felt the need to contribute in India’s freedom struggle through their art and thus the group was born at a conference in Mumbai in 1943. Subsequently, a lot of committees of IPTA were created all across India.

Despite its unabashed left leaning stance, IPTA had members who were staunch leftists as well as those who had no or naïve  political views. Along with politically charged individuals like Bijon Bhattachary and Mulk Raj Anand, it has prolific Bollywood personalities like Prithviraj Kapoor, Balraj Sahni, and Utpal Dutt as its members too.

One of the most important plays made by IPTA member Bijoy Bhattachary was Nabanna (New Harvest) in Bengali which depicted the plight of the Bengal famine. Another play called Nava Jiboner Gaan by Jyotirindra Moitra and the film Dharti Ke Laal  reciprocated the conscience of people of that time.

IPTA had a firm presence in the University of Delhi during the pre-independence era. Indraprastha College for Women had a dedicated IPTA group that performed anti-government plays. Even when government did not give them space and mikes to perform, they arranged their own materials and venues. When they were not allowed to publicise their plays in newspaper, they would write the name of venue on papers with pen and stick them on walls.

IPTA has substantial influence on the Bollywood movies of 1950s and 1960s as many directors, actors, scriptwriters, lyricists, music directors, and choreographers who came together to make a film were previous members or contributors of IPTA. Among the renounced actors who had alliance with IPTA were A.K Hangal, Balraj Sahni, and Utpal Dutt. Song writers like Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra, and Kaifi Azmi along with music directors Hemant Kumar and Salil Chaudhary were associated with the theatre group.

 

At the time of partition, when the entire country was burning with Hindu Muslim divide, IPTA (along with other cultural organisations like Progressive Writer’s Association) made its best efforts to extinguish the fire from places like Mumbai, where it had substantial presence. Stalwart Prithviraj Kapoor along with young sons Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor sought out on a truck procession to ease out the tension between native Hindus and Muslims of Mumbai.

Post independence, IPTA began to face clamp downs and repression by government. The organisation which once enjoyed the support of nationalist leaders, now started to face their resistance as the onus of power now lied on these nationalist leaders. Gradually members of IPTA started to drift away from the main organisation and led new factions in various parts of the country. Bahurupee, IPTA Mumbai, and the Delhi based theatre company Jana Natya Manch started by Late Safdar Hashmi are successful offshoots of IPTA that still continue to produce political dramas to express dissent through art on contemporary issues. IPTA in its original essence might not exist today but it certainly is kept alive by common thoughts like idea of rebellion and struggle for equality espoused by like minded artists.

Feature Image Credits: IPTA Facebook


Priyanshu

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