Employing Theatre as a Tool for Social Change: Discussing the Adaptation of Folk Forms in Amitava Dasgupta’s ‘Kaheke’ Through a Newspaper Review
Can theatre question the traditional practices of a community and reflect on discriminatory policies as well as non-intervention of legal bodies, which often result in heinous crimes, including death, towards the Dalits? Plays have often reflected on caste-based violence and exclusionary customs by adapting folk forms and performances in order to communicate with local communities.
One such effort was documented in a review, written by Romesh Chander and published in The Hindu (24.12.2004), on the play ‘Kaheke’ (Human Sacrifice). Produced by the Brechtian Mirror, the play is directed by Amitava Dasgupta, a staunch Leftist, who migrated to Delhi from Kolkata, escaping from the police brutalities of the mid-sixties in Bengal. Stressing on the role of folk forms for social change, Kaheke employs the folk forms of Kaheke and Harinatak from the Upper Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh into its performance, implementing the Epic Theatre structure to narrate a political tale, of the ‘emancipation of the lower castes.’
Through the character of Viram, the son of a traditional metal sculptor, who returns to his village after graduating from the Delhi School of Arts, the play highlights the issue of caste based discrimination when he is denied entry into a temple where a new statue made by his father, Kauta is to be installed. Later in the play, Thunia, Viram’s brother, steals the idol from the temple. The next day when the idol is found, the god-man, Ishwari Gur, of the village names Viram as the suspect and orders him to undergo the Kaheke as the villagers “smell danger from the young and educated ones.” Kaheke underlines the dichotomy between the modern and traditional structures and displays the gaps between their practices.
Chander writes, “some of its (Brechtian Mirror) repertory members have been working with traditional artistes and researching folk legends and music while exploring the possibility of using folk forms in contemporary theatre and also as tools for social change.”The Hindu
All Courtesy: Anand Gupt Collection/ Alkazi Theatre Archives