He was actively involved in preserving the age-old, dying folk theatre of Kashmir, by reorganising Bhand artists into regular groups, now working in the valley under his guidance and support. He is the founder of many theatre groups such as Abhinava Bharati, Kashmir Bhagat Theatre, Shahwali Lika Rang, Luka Theatre Bombay, National Bhand Theatre, Wathora etc. He has played pioneering role in reviving Kashmir's Folk-Theatre, Baand Pather. His book 'Bhandnatyam' is considered to be a classic on Kashmir's Folk-Theatre.
Shri Kemmu has also been writing well researched articles on folk theatre, music, dance and culture of Kashmir in Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi and English, which have been published in prestigious journals. Shri Sidharth Kak's documentary film The Bhands of Kashmir was produced under Shri Kemmu's expert guidance.
Shri Kemmu is presently a Senior Fellow (Literature) of Govt. of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development, devoting his time to writing of plays and a book on folk theatre of Kashmir. He has also organised a number of actor's and playwrights' workshops in Kashmir and made significant contribution to the promotion and dissemination of Kashmiri arts and culture. In recognition of his service to Kashmiri arts and literature, Shri Kemmu has been honoured with several awards by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Rashtra Bhasa Prachar Samiti etc. He received the Sahitya Akademi award in 1982 for his contribution to Kashmiri literature as a playwright.
Moti Lal Kemmu, noted playwright is a master of his craft. He has done renaissance work in the restoration of Kashmir’s vanishing folk theatre form, Bhand Paather. For nearly three decades he made strong efforts to give it a distinct identity, acceptability and respectability. Kemmu himself wrote in their form and encouraged other Bhands and writers to write in this form. He made strenuous efforts for the preservation of Sufiyana style of singing and playing on Surnai by Bhands. It goes to his credit that he revived the dying martial art of Kashmir known as Dhamali dance and founded Dhamali Dance Centre. He also arranged the presentation of Rof dances and composed Hafiz Nagma after learning the same from Ustad Kamal Bhat. Mr Kemmu has also adopted different styles of singing, narrations into theatre. He has written more than a dozen plays and won many awards. His recent play ‘Bhand Duhayae’ written on the plight of Bhands in the wake of militancy has foccused National and International attention on Kashmir’s Bhand Paather. Shri Siddharth Kak’s documentary film “The Bhands Of Kashmir” was produced under Shri Kemmu’s guidance.
Recently he talked to Kashmir Sentinel about his life and work. Below are the excerpts of the interview.
How did you get interested in theatre and dance?
MLK: As a child I watched the Bhachnagma performances of Pandit Gopi Nath (Gupa Bacha) in Mehndiraat function in my own House. The house had a big hall in the top floor and people in the neighbourhood often made use of it for Mehndiraat purposes. Gopi Nath impressed me by his acting and dancing. He performed Gor, Krishen, Gosain Batni and Moat in one character Paathers. Gupa Bacha is a superb performer, master of expressions, comic as well as tragic. In boyhood days I learnt that all our Gods dance, and desired that dancing should again become essential part of our festivals.
Where did you receive your initial training in Theatre and culture?
MLK: I got my initial training when I was a 6th class student of National High School, Srinagar. My teachers spotted and initiated me into different aspects of theatre. Pandit Jagan Nath Boni (Raina) taught me nautch (dancing on rhythm), Pt Arjun Nath Bhatt and Badri Nath Koul taught me reciting, singing and acting. Pt Badri Nath Kaul was playwright and he wrote Taramati Harish Chandar, and other plays during 1944, 45 and 47 in which I acted and presented dance items as well. By this time I had developed strong dislike for traditional dancing attire. I revolted against it. In the traditional attire males would dance in Choli-Gagra. I preferred Bharatnatyam type of dress and dance. After joining SP College in 1949 as Arts student, one of my subjects was Sanskrit and had to study Swapan Vasavdutta in the course. For the study of Abhigyan Shakantulam I took up Sanskrit again in BA. Prof Balji Nath Pandita would teach Vasavdutta orally. He remembered all the lines and shalokas and would render them like an actor. In Gandhi Memorial College, from where I passed BA I was editor of the Hindi sectionof college Magazine ‘Sangarmaal’.
Why has Kashmiri Pandit community disowned its rich heritage of Sanskrit?
MLK: I feel really bad. Shocking! All our scriptures and Shastras are written in Sanskrit. The day we cut ourselves from Sanskrit, we cut ourselves from our culture. We have been following a policy of linguistic opportunism by adapting languages to suit our mundane interests. Securing a job has been our criteria for adoption or patronisation of a language. There is no linguistic loyalty. It is a disgusting situation. Now, we do not read and write Kashmiri. So many good manuscripts have remained unpublished because the authors’ descendents had other priorities. This mindest of cultural neutrality can be broken only at individual basis. In my times, we were taught Lal Ded, Nund Rishi, Parmanand, Ramayana etc in our Thokur Kuth (Puja Room).
Did you participate in Culture Activities in SP College?
MLK: Besides attending the meetings of literary club and Hindi Parishad, some of us-Hindi enthusiasts began to assemble a few writers and started Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. Prof Hari Krishen Kaul, Prof Chaman Lal Sapru and Dr SS Toshakhani were the founder members. A Hindi play “Rakhi” and my dance programme in the college was the only theatre activity presented. Prior to my college days I had watched Kashmiri plays, Samaj Ki Bhool, Chitra and Vidhwa and had acted in a play “Shaheed Sherwani” Maqbool Sherwani’s heroic defiance of tribal raiders had stirred Kashmiris. The play was perhaps written by Prem Nath Pardesi and directed by Pt Ved Lal Vakil (Dhar). It was staged at National School. Santosh played Sherwani, while Nissar Aziz did the role of a Kabali. Around this time, I came in contact with Pandit Kashi Nath Bhan. He was a good director, set designer. Watching him directing and painting sets, I learnt about theatre arts.
How did you react to tribal raid. Did you have any specific poliical views that time?
MLK: I was just a High School student (middle standard) then and could not react substantially to the raid. For us a daily routine in the evenings was to lit an earthern lamp or a candle on the window and organise marches shouting “Hamlavar Khabardar Ham Kashmir Hai Tayar”. Same theme dominated poetry sessions, Mushairas etc. Genrally speaking Kashmiri reaction was one of the hostility to the raid, at least in Srinagar city. People in general followed Sheikh Abdullah and India-Pakistan issue did not concern them. In subsequent years things changed and people began leaning towards Pakistan. Social relations between two communities that time at common level were extremely cordial. In general there was respect for Kashmiri Pandits. By the time I joined college, communalism had started taking roots. Personally I had no political leanings, though I admired Subash Bose and Bhagat Singh. However, I was not dogmatic about taking up any platform, which promoted my cultural talent. I participated in RSS Sammelans and the left led cultural conference, without owning their political philosophy. In 1951-52 I produced and presented ‘Draupadi Cheer Haran’ at Chattabal Bhairav Premises to awaken Pandit community.
You have been closely associated with cultural conference? Did Marxism inspire you as a cultural activist?
MLK: I came in contact with Cultural Conference during 1950-51. I was introduced as a dancer, and became member of Progressive Theatre Association. Its members were S/S Mohan Lal Aima, Pran Kishore, Pushkar Bhan, Noor Mohd Roshan, Aziz Haroon etc. Earlier founding of the local chapter of IPTA by K.A. Abbas in 1945 had given good filip to theatre. Prem Nath Pardesi and Thakur Poonchi, who played an important role in radio later were associated with it. My involvement with cultural conference was limited, as a cultural worker only. I had my own views on helping downtrodden people. Many communist cadres were simply hypocrites.
Did you have an opportuity to work with great Kashmiri poet, late Dina Nath Nadim?
MLK: I first saw Nadim in a ‘Kavi Darbar’, in 1948-49 at Sheetalnath stage as Raasakhan-Hindi poet. Some years later I danced on Nadim’s vibrant and forceful poem ‘Wavan Vonanam’ Ghani Namtahali’s Chakari and my dance brought people to party programmes of Cultural Conference (IPTA). Late GM Sadiq was quite impressed by my dance and nicknamed me as ‘Wav’. Our performances, particularly in Budgam tehsl were politically very useful for the organisers. Later Nadim wrote ‘1953’, when everything was scarce and Sheikh Abdullah was called ‘Oalu Bab’ (Patoto Father). Nadim was a real genius. In 1953 I performed a role in Bombur Yamberzal, written by him. It was directed by Mohan Lal Aima and was staged at Nedou’s Hotel and SP College. Veteran folk artiste Zoona Begum was Yambarzal. While Mohan Lal Aima was toofan, Pushkar Bhan played as Harud, Dwarika Nath Bakaya acted Bombur. GR Santosh, Girdhari Dass, Omkar Nath and me were flowers and Pran Kishore was Gilitoor. In this Opera, attempt was made to show how Kashmir was being sucked into the influence of American Bloc. The musical had good poetry. ‘Bambro Bambro Shamrang Bambro’ became a hit song and the opera was well received by the people. Nadim’s imagery was great. I once made the great Bharatnatyam danceuse Indrani Rehman to dance on one of the songs of the opera at Tagore Hall in 1964. Retrospectively, I feel Bambur Yambarzal gave us back our Gyavan Paathar (Geet Natya). Nadim had seen opera’White Haired Girl’ in China and was inspired to write a one in his own mother tongue. In 1955 Marshal Bulganin and Khruschev visited Kashmir. They were shown second production of ‘Bombur Yambarzal’.
How did your family and society react to your role as a dancer?
MLK: Though people called us Raas Kath and talked contemptuously about me, the reaction of my family was not hostile. My mother never asked me why I was late. Inspite of odds, scarcity of means, I never failed till I passed my graduation. I had my own way of revolting against the traditional system. I once went to my in-laws houses wearing Afghan type shelwar-kurta and with long hair. They were stunned.
What was the cultural scenario prior to establishment of the Academy?
MLK: Sudhar Samiti Dramatic Vibhang produced “Kashmir Hamara written by Sudhama Ji Koul which ran for about 100 nights and was shown to Army personnel at the fronts as well. Cultural Congress presented ‘Kashmir Yeh Hai’, Chor Bazar, Dollar Saheb, during 50, 51, 52. “Viz Chi Saney” was produced during 1954-55 by Cultural Conference with financial assistance from the State government. A theatre was built by SS Samiti at Chota Bazar and plays in Hindi and Kashmiri based on puranic tales were produced alongwith Aka Nandun, Habba Khatoon, Satyavan Savitras etc. I produced two Dance Dramas, Shiv Tandav and Govri Tandav under the guidance of Master JD Shivpuri at Shivala Theatre. Jashni-Kashmir was celebrated during the full month of September, 1956 and Opera “Heemal Nagirai” was presented at the Nedous Hotel. This was jointly written by DN Nadim and Noor Mohd Roshan. I choreographed its dances and also presented two dance programmes named ‘Rhythm of Dal Lake’ using poems of Nadim, Chaman and Beikas. Bhand Jashan, Bhangra, Kud Dance, Acrobats and other artists presented programmes during the festival in the Valley.
What was the role of the Cultural Academy in promoting Cultural Act vities then?
MLK: Academy was established in 1958 with yearly budget of Rs 0.50 lacs. Till 1963-64 its activities were very limited. Cultural workers had very little involvement with it. But after 1963-64 with the adoption of its constitution its activities expanded.
When did you go to Baroda University? What have been your experiences there?
MLK: In 1956-57 I was working in Evacuees Property Department. I used to participate in amateur theatre and give dance performances. I was approaching GM Sadiq and Bakhshi Ghulam Mohd to sanction loan scholarship in my favour to enable me to learn Classical dancing. I was asked by Bakhshi Saheb to seek admission, which I did at the Baroda University after resigning from Senior Assistants post. I learnt Kathak dancing from Sh Sundar Lal Gangani at the College of Indian Music and Dramatics. The financial position of my family was very bad. Our family had the tradition of paying debts throughout since my childhood-My application was rejected by the State General Department. It wrote on the file-”It has no concern with development. What benefit it would give to the state.” After borrowing some money, I continued my first year till I passed it with distinction. After returning to Srinagar I could not go back and join the secondyear. During my stay at Baroda, I had joined diploma in dramatics and participated in Hindi version of a Gujarati play “Hoholika” by Prof CC Mehta. The play was presented at AIFACS Hall at Delhi in connection with 1957 centenary celebrations. Next day Hindustan Times carried an action photograph of mine on the front page. The same play was presented at the Baroda University lawns for the distinguished members of PEN-Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists attended by Shri JL Nehru, PM and Dr Radhakrishnan, then Vice President of India, as well. Nehruji patted me on shoulder, saying, “very surprising, Kashmiri boy coming to Baroda to learn dance and Drama, very good very good.” After my return from Baroda, I tried to seek a job. I enrolled for MA in Hindi at the University of Kashmir, Magarmal Bagh. I left it halfway and joined PWD on work charge basis., In 1956-57 I had founded Abhinav Bharati and started presenting Upendra Nath Ashk plays. In 1959 I produced Tagore’s Dhak Ghar and in 1960 participated in the first Drama festival of the Academy with Qazi Ji in Bhavai Style and got Best Actors Award for myself and the Best Play Award for the Production.
When did you go to Baroda again?
MLK: In December, 1961, after getting the National Scholarship to study play production under Prof CC Mehta.
Who selected you for the Scholarship?
MLK: I was interviewed by a Galaxy of top theatre experts of the country viz. Mama Varerkar, Adi Rangacharya, NC Jain, Suresh Awasthy, Prof CC Mehta and many others.
When did you start writing plays?
MLK: Shri Adi Marzban, veteran Gujarati-Parsi theatrist of Bombay had come to Baroda to participate in a Seminar on “What is Farce”. As a University student I had to receive him and look after him. Enquiring about me, my background, situation of Theatre in Kashmir etc, he inspired me to write. Soon my guide gave me a book, theatre of the absurd by Martin Eslin to read. I read the book with interest and after its reading the playwright in me took birth. I wrote my first play, “Darpan Aantahpur Ka” in two sittings. After that I wrote ‘Sandhya Beti’. My Guide encouraged me to write. In December 1963 I wrote ‘Nangay’, which was produced by the Drama Department in early March, 1964. Thereafter I returned to Srinagar. In April 1963 my father had expired and I had to seek a job to look after my family. Baroda University authorities were keen to create a job for me but I could not leave Kashmir due to domestic circumstances.
And you joined Cultural Academy?
MLK: Yes, after getting selected in an interview at the Tali Manzil by the Sadri-Riyasat, Chief Minister and the Secretary of the Academy.
When did you write in Kashmiri?
MLK: In April, 1964, I wrote my first play “Trunov” in Kashmiri at Srinagar. It is a semi absurd play, Tshai in 1965-66, and Mangay in 1966. I published my three Hindi plays in 1968 and received Best Book Award for it in 1969. Thereafter I published my first Kashmiri book “Trunove” in 1969 and got an award for it also.
You are regarded as the soul of Kashmir’s folk theatre, called Bhand Paather. What have you done for its restoration?
MLK: Kashmir is predominantly populated by Muslims. Bhands are also Muslims. Yet folk drama has survived amongst them. I had seen Bhand Chok and Wattal Pathar prior to 1947. The former impressed me. I was disappoined with Watal Pathar then, because of its crude vulgarity and obscene language. After joining the Cultural Academy, I motivated Mohd Subhan Bhagat and party to take up Paather seriously and present Bhand plays. I gave them my play Trunove to read. It was presented at the Exhibition Grounds the same year. I used to visit Akingam very often and trained the actors of the party. I separated Bandil (Vulgarity) from Bhand Paather and laid stress on acting. Subsequently they proved to be very good actors. I spent two years to motivate them, train them and in 1966 they participated in the Academy Drama competition and it was the first rural group to present a play in a modern proscinium theatre. I encouraged Mohd Subhan Bhagat to write plays for his party and produced his plays at Tagore Hall. For 3 consecutive years, Best Play Production Awards, two Acting Awards and Set Awards were received by the party from the Drama Competition of 1967, 68 and 1969. In 1968 a constitution was framed for the party and the theatre was named Kashmir Bhagat Theatre and got registered the same year. From 1971 I worked with other Bhand Parties and thus revived the Bhand Paather. It had lost patronage and much of old rhythm and rhythm by then. I wrote constitutions for many a groups, got them registerred so that they were able to receive petty financial assistance from the Academy, to sustain their activities. From the year 1970 the Kashmir Bhagat Theatre began to receive non-recurring subsidy for its artistes against presenting of 15 play performances during a year. Their performances in the rural areas encouraged other Bhands to present their Paathers as well.
How many plays have you written in Bhand Paather form?
MLK: All my plays are not in Bhand Paather form. I have created a form suitable for my theme. I am a modern playwright. I have evolved a distinct style of my playwrighting. Bhand Paather is always humorous. My earlier plays are humourous but now I have added many more dimensions, much more variation, My plays have contemporary relevance.
Do Bhands present your plays ?
MLK: Yes, My play Heemal Nagirai must have been presented by the Wular Theatre more than 1000 times. So is Nangay, Maznil Niku, Laila Majnoo and Zin-e-Mazoor being staged. Recently there was “Festival of Moti Lal Kemmu’s plays” at Wathora, Bomai and Tangmarg organised by Wullar Theatre. It my interest you to know that from 1980 myself and my son started organising workshops of Folk Theatre at different centres of Wathora, Bomai, Takia Imam Saheb and we had to evolve play-scripts for productions. If Bhand Paathar has to survive it has to face many challenges. It should always be attractive than any other performing art. I introduced musical plays and Daastan plays in Bhand Pathar which are proving very successful.
What has remained your unfinished task in relation to Bhand Pather?
MLK: I tried my best to open a Bhand Training Centre at Wathora or Akingam. But Subhan Bhagat did not show much interest. I am still pursuing the idea with National Bhand Theatre to start such a Centre at Wathora.
Has exile affected your work?
MLK: To some extent. I am not directly in contact with the performers. Yet I am still guiding Bhands from this place. After retirement I wrote plays for theatre; Dhak Yeli Tsalan (Bhand Duhayee), Shah Paathar, Nagar Udase, Shaap, Akanandun and Heemal Nagirai is being re-written and revised. I am engaged in writting a comprehensive book on history and form of Bhand Paather entitled “Bhand Natyam”. I hope to complete it by the end of 2000.
Your “Pashugatha”, is being currently serialised in ‘Koshur Samachar’. What you want to convey through it?
MLK: It is a satirical writing in allegorical form. Through Pashugatha I am trying to portray political vandalism and exploitation of simple folks during the last fifty years experienced by us in the name of “democratic rule”.
By Moti Lal Kemmu
Whenever Kashmiris migrated to other parts of the country for longer times or permanent settlement they were known as Kashmiris because of their language and customs. While speaking Hindi in Hindi-Urdu belt they could be recognized by their accent as well. A Kashmiri can easily adopt and learn languages and customs of other parts of India, particularly northern India. Most of migrated Kashmiris built Mohallas in Delhi, Lucknow, Benaras and other cities as well.
In some cities some of the lanes or by-lanes are named after Kashmiris of the locality who made their name famous by their chosen profession. Kashmiris are proud of their motherland and also feel proud in being called Kashmiri anywhere in the world.
But the famous poet-playwright of last century who is known as Kashmiri inspite of his Takhalus as 'Hashar' is Aga Mahmood, better known as Agha Hashar Kashmiri.
Kashmir is famous all around the world for its Shawls. Even during the reign of Kanishka Shawl merchants used to participate in the trade melas at Sialkote and sell shawls. They were known as 'Dausika' for selling Dussas of Pashmina.
Parents of Agha Hashar had migrated to Benaras in connection with shawl business. Aga Hashar was son of Aga Mahmad Ghani Shah who had migrated to Benaras and was married there in the year 1868 A.D. 'Hashar' was born and brought up at Banaras in Nariyal Bazar Mohalla Govind Kalan. His date of birth is 3rd April, 1879. He passed away at Lahore on 28th April, 1945. Most of the education was given to him at home and was taught Arabic, Persian and Urdu, mainly religious as his father was opposed to English and European style of education. However, on the insistance of his friends and customers Aga Hashar was admitted in Jai Narayan Mission High School. He could not get through in the tests and therefore he read at home.
At the initial stage Mahmood Hashar helped his father in business but gave it up shortly. Those days Parsi Theatre Companies were presenting shows of their plays at different cities in the country. Hashar developed taste for acting and writing plays for the companies during the days of his education. He had talent for writing poetry. Those days Parsi Theatre was real patron of poets who could write both poetry and plays. The atmosphere at home was not conducive for this activity and therefore, Agha Mahmood Hashar left for Bombay to try his luck in the field of playwrighting. At Banaras he had written a play in seven days entitled 'Aaftab-e-Mohabbat' which was not liked by the the master of the Alfred Company but was purchased for Rs 60/- by one Abdul Karim Khan owner of the Urdu paper Aksser-e-Banaras who published the same. In Bombay he met the proprietor of Alfred Co. Shri Kowas Ji Palan Ji Khataow and recited his poems to him. He liked the talent of recitation and presentation of poems by Hashar and he was appointed on Rs 15 per month for writing plays for the company. Thus started his relation with the company and he got proper atmosphere to write plays. He wroteMurid-e-Shak, his first play for the company. The play was an adaptation of Shakespeare's Winter Tale. It was successfully produced and presented by the Company and His wages were enhanced to Rs 40/- per month.
Thus started the career of a professional Playwright. His plays could be divided into four phases as per his stay in Bombay, Calcutta and other cities. We could enumerate his plays written from 1899 to 1901 for Alfred Company as under: 1. Mureed-i-Shak (1899). Hashar called it translation but some others consider it an adaptation of Shakespear's Winter Tale. The company presented it more than 50 times.
2. Nare Aasteen (1899-1900) 3. Asser--e-Hiras (1901). The play was based on B.R. Sheridan's play "Pizarro" 4. Meethi Churi or Durangi Duniya (1901) 5.Dame-Husun/Thandi Aagh (1901).
All the above plays became popular and Agha Hashar began to gain popularity.
Now other companies had also viewed the progress of Agha Hashar and recognised his talent. Within a period of half decade Hashar had experienced writing shorter songs, crisp situations, witty, sharp and pointed dialogues full of idoms and poetic virtues. Scenes were well-planned with dramatic atmosphere, romantic situations and conventional settings.
During the second phase of playwrighting from 1902 to 1910, Hashar wrote the following plays which were presented by different companies besides Alfred Company:- 1. Shahide Nan., for Alfred Company. Its some scenes were presented by some other companies of the time and later Hashar re-wrote the play after 2 years.
2. Saide Hawas, written in 1905-06 was based on Shakespeare’s "King John".
Hashar exploited Shakespear's dramatic acumen imaginatively. It was produced by Parsi Theatrical Company in 1906.
3. Safaid Khoon. Based on the plot of Shakespear’s famous tragedy "King Lear", this play was written in the year 1907 for 7 months for Bombay Natak Mandali for monthly salary of Rs 250/- 4. Khwabe Hasti. Though written in 1908 the play derives main thematic inspiration from Shakespear’s Macbeth particularly 'Dream Scene'. It was produced by New Alfred Theatrical Company.
5. Khoobsurat Bala. This 4 act play was written in 1909. This play is also considered to be influenced and adapted from Macbeth. Vice and virtue being the main theme it was a very popular play.
By now Hashar was so popular through his plays that he achieved country-wide reputation and some called him Indian Shakespeare. There were about a hundred playwrights from Hindi-Urdu belt, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Bombay, Delhi and even Lahore and Calcutta who were writing for different Parsi Theatrical Companies and must have influenced each other as is evident from similarity of titles of some other plays. But those who were contemporaries of Hashar and may have influenced him or got influenced in one way or other were Munshi Mahmood Ali Miyan 'Benarasi', Pt.
Narayan Prasad 'Betab', Mir Ghulam Abbas, Qazi Sayaad Hussain 'Nashtar', Shaad Abdul Lateef, and Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Naja. During his third phase of playwrighting Hashar wrote some of the significant plays and also moved to Calcutta from Bombay where he found atmosphere more congenial for his writing-ability.
1. Silver King (1910) based on the play of Henry Arthur Jones of the same title. It was known under another title of Naik Parveen.
2. Pehla Pyar (1911), a social play on Indian society was his original play.
3. Van Devi (1913) This was written in pure Hindi.
4. Bharat Ramani (1914) was again an imaginative and original play. It focussed on Love and social problems. Hashar had acted as a Tantrik in the play.
5. Yahudi Ki Larki (1915). This play was perhaps based on W.T.
Mancrift's play 'Jews'. A film of the same title was made in later years which was very popular.
6. Sher Ki Gharaz was another imaginative play. Conflict of Thought Content, philosophy and atmosphere was the theme.
7. In 1920 Hashar wrote one of his famous plays 'Bilwa-Mangal' on Sur Dass. It was a very popular play of the last century.
8. Madhur Murli in Hindi was another imaginative play by Hashar related with Lord Krishna and the music of his Flute.
9. Bhagirath Ganga, based on Puranic story. It was later published from Lahore and was titled Bhagirathi alias Ghanga Avtaran.
During the fourth and last phase of his playwrighting Hashar was in Calcutta from 1920 to 1932 and wrote about dozen plays of significance, most of them in Hindi and experimenting and improvising his styles.
1. Rustum Soharab, (1920) based on Firdausi's Shahnama.
2. Hindustan (1921) in three parts, based on Indian History and Ramayan story.
3. Aurat Ka Pyar (1921). A film was also made on the plot of the play which shows the popularity of this play.
4. Mashriki Hoor, very popular play from Hashar written in 1922. A social play.
5. Aankh Ka Nasha written in 1923-24. Anti-prostitution and social evils.
6. Sita Vanvas in 1927-28, based on Ramayana. By now Hashar had started his own Drama company which was later sold to Nawab of Charkhari.
7. Bhisham Partighya written in 1928 and was based on Mahabharata story.
8. Bharati Bala written in 1929.
Exposure of social evils was the main theme.
9. Dharmi Balak Gharib Ki Duniya was written in 1929.
10. Dil Ki Pyas written in 1930-32 is perhaps the last play penned by Hashar.
Some of the plays written by Hashar are not available as he used to sell his plays to the Companies or was paid Munshi of some companies. During his last days he moved to Lahore where he formed his own film company. The films made on Hashar's plays or plots of the plays are, Yahudi Ki Larki, Bhisham Pratighya, Shirin Farhad, Aurat Ka Pyar, Chandi Dass, Kismat Ka Shikar and Dil Ki Aag.
Though Hashar was not highly educated, yet he had studied European and oriental classics particularly, Shakespeare and Sheridan, Firdausi, Ramyana and Mahabharata.
Whatever and whichever scene from European plays he liked, he would either directly translate it or translate and adapt the same in his own style and language befitting Indian atmosphere. The style of rendering dialogues in Parsi style was known as 'Blood and Thunder' style because of the poetic rendering of dialogues, which were written stylishly. For about one century Parsi Theatre had survived in the country when theatre halls were constructed in the cities and towns and touring companies were presenting shows. Aga Hashar Kashmiri's plays were seen with keenness, and were highly appreciated. He is the first Muslim playwright who has been awarded Gold Medal by Benaras Hindu University in recognition of his contribution to playwriting and Indian Theatre.
Later on Indian cinema broke the backbone of this theatre movement and Parsi Theatre Halls were turned into cinema houses and people were attracted to see films.
Almost all the famed actors, directors, musicians, scenic designers and writers connected with Parsi Theatre joined cinema world and films on Parsi drama scripts were made into films. For more than half a century the Indian cinema was influenced by the conventions of Parsi theatre.
In our state a man of literature is known as ADEEB. Only poets, short story writers and critics come into this category but playwright is not termed as "Adeeb". That is why Agha Hashar Kashmiri has been neglected and no chair in any University has been created on his name. Writing drama is perhaps considered inferior literature Alas!
By Moti Lal Kemmu
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was arrested on 9th August, 1953. There was hartal and near blackout for seven days in Srinagar and other towns of the Valley. On the seventh day, with people indoors, a huge procession came from down-town led by a few Bakshiates shouting slogans-- “Azad Hindustan Zindabad”. Most faces in the procession were identifiable with those who were pro-Sheikh only a few days back. Normalcy returned soon after.
I had passed my graduation the same year. Being jobless, I used to attend all the meetings of the Cultural conference. Nadim Saheb, after return from his China tour was living at Magharmal Bagh. In the discussions ‘the 1953 episode’ was attributed to the imperialistic intrigue. Since the Cultural Conference was an organisation of progressive writers, artists, theatrists, and performing artists, it projected cultural programmes reflecting unity of all peace-loving Kashmiris and exposing imperialistic manoeuvreing.
Mr Nadim had seen a Chinese Opera--’White Haired Girl’ and was highly impressed by it. He wanted to write similar one in Kashmiri. In a meeting held at his residence and attended by Mohan Lal Aima, Pran Kishore, GR Santosh, Roshan, Pushkar Bhan, Aziz Haroon, etc. and myself he explained the theme of the opera he intended to write. He gave us the legendery background of the Bombur Yambarzal as reflected in some of the verses of Kashmiri poetry of old poets. Yambarzal blossoms in the early spring alongwith Gilatoor. Bombur arrives in summer months and moves from one flower to another in search of Yambarzal which has withered away waiting in the summer months and moves from one flower to another in search of Yambarzal which has withered away, waiting for Bombur. Ultimately Bombur turns blind. In this belief Bombur and Yambarzal never meet. But Nadim’s Opera has an optimistic end.
After conceiving the story line of the Opera, Mr Nadim wanted to compose his poems on the popular folk tune. Only three songs were written keeping in mind such folk tunes but Mr Aima Saheb improvised the tunes and that made these popular musical compositions. Mr Nadim did not write the Opera in one-go. He would give us the scripts of songs one by one. The first song written by him was conceived as a duet, written on a popular tune broadcast over Radio Kashmir, Srinagar, on the poem by Abdul Ahad Azad, “Kazale Karinam Wozale Jamay Mea Nunam Kamdeevan Dil’ sung by Ghulam Mohammad Rah. On stage Nadim’s poem had to be sung by three characters,Gullala, Yambarzal and Maswal. For Gullala, Mr Ghulam Mohd Shah, a top male voice of the times, was selected for the role. Mr Aima Saheb, the Director of the Opera wanted to assign the role of Yambarzal to Miss Zia Durani, a handsome non-Kashmiri speaking enthusiast but the authorities decided the role for Zoona Begum, a popular Chakri singer-dancer.
Rest of the casting was done as follows: Gilatoor--Pran Kishore, Maswal--Omkar Nath, Agarwal-Kemmu, Tekabatani-Girdhari Dass, Irkyoam-Santosh,Bombur-Dwarika Nath Bakaya, Wav-Mohan Lal Aima, Harud-Pushkar Bhan. Excepting Rah, Zoona and Aima Saheb, none was experienced singer but were stage-actors. Perhaps none of us had seen any Opera, yet it was an experiment in pioneering the trend.
Bombur Yambarzal was a symbolic Opera. All the flowers represented Peace Loving Kashmiris. Wav and Harud (Wind and Autumn) represented Imperialistic agencies, dividing people.
There is an Opera house in Bombay, once constructed for presenting Operas for European audiences of Bombay. Now unused. In Europe Opera Houses had two parts, one for musicians, singers-performers and the other for audience. Music is the most important and dominating element of an Opera and for the perfect presentation, to create emotional impact singers with attractive voices are needed. The performers may not have attractive, slim body shape or full talent to act but good voice and singing are very very essential. There could be more than hundred musicians on the stage playing different instruments with notation on board, playing in total harmony. Desired atmosphere is also created through voice, tunes and symphonic melody in harmony. Even at times, audience listens with rapt attention with closed eyes. During 17-18th centuries, some Indian themes were also tried in Italian Operas such as stories of Sita, Savitri etc.
Mr Mohan Lal Aima, as director and composer of music for the Opera had to work strenuously with majority of amateur singers. Similarly all the musicians and instrumentalists did not know the notation and had to remember the tunes and pieces by intuition. The Opera when produced and performed during Oct.-Nov.-1953 created a stir and the number of audience increased appreciably.
When a song in chorus form in Bombur had to be conceived and written, Nadim Saheb asked for a tune which would be fit, attractive, vigorous and forceful. Many tunes and songs were sung and suggested. Finally, Nadim Saheb liked the Shamas Fakir’s song, “Shuniya Gachithay oas meyoan Oalooy--Amay ashq naran zooloyea” which is sung by popular Chakri singers and each line ends with broken Hay Hay Haay. Nadim wrote Bombro Bombro chorus with simple, forceful words and when set to tune by Mr Aima Saheb every actor and musician congratulated the director. Nadim had changed Hay Hay Hay with Ho Ho Hao commensurate with the word voice-image of last word of the each line. Bombro Bombro is sung in quicker pace than Chakri artiste’s traditional tune, which goes to the credit of Mr Aima Saheb, the first and foremost music composer Kashmir had produced.
This type of tune in Chakri style is called Sahrai. Patrons of Chakri singing must have listened to this type of songs numerous times, where sound like asoofiyana muqam. In this style abrupt pauses with short silences are considered embellishments. In olden days there were no transport facilities. After day’s toil villagers would go home in each others company. While crossing over the Karevas they would sing their favourite songs. While singing against the flow of winds, some impediment would cause pauses while one began to sing. Therefore a longer Ha will get broken into Ha Ha Ha. So this form of folk singing developed and was named Sahrai.
Aima Saheb gave us an improvised tune of Sahrai. When people would come out of Nedous Hotel, after having seen ‘Bombur Yambarzal’ every one would sing and mutter Bombro Bombro. Because of its popularity, it was sung in College entertainment programmes, and on Chakri by Kashmiri women.
The only one Rof song in the opera was also tuned after a popular Rof Tune which has been forgotten now. The song was led by Mr Rah and all other actors acting as flowers used to sing in two rows of Rof formation. Rest of the songs of the Opera were all composed in music by Aima Saheb with his creative effort and ability. Mr Pushkar Bhan maintained comic-satirical mood of the song Hu Hu Hu of Harud on a time beat. Since Aima Saheb acted Toofan himself, he sang the song of Toofan with wind like movements and the words, “Wah Wah Wah Wah Yam Bar Zal” would echo in the Hall.
Every musician has a background of classical semi-classical or folk music which enables him to compose new tunes and melodies. Mohan Lal Aima, as a producer-Composer in Radio Kashmir had done Yeoman’s service to Kashmiri music from 1949 to 1964. Most of his compositions are reported to have been erased from the tapes but the opera Bombur Yambarzal is said to be in tact. This opera was re-produced with some different cast during the time Kreshchov and Bulganian visited Kashmir. In 1964, I produced its shorter version and the shows were presented in Kerala, Tamil Nadu besides Jammu.
Bombur Yambarzal is relevant to present times as well. It is a classical piece for the stage performance. If produced on modern stage with the facilities available to us now, engaging good voices and dancers, it will prove its worth again. But, alas, no-one is interested in our cultural development in and outside Kashmir. It could be re-produced for TV for which funds are needed.
J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages presented Robe of honour to Mr DN Nadim but Mr Aima Saheb was not fortunate enough to receive one for the services he rendered for popularising Kashmiri music, its melodies, composing music for Kashmiri operas, films and Radio features.. Ye he lives in our memory alongwith his compositions and melodies.
By Kashmir Sentinel Correspondent
Sh. Moti Lal Kemu who pioneered the rebirth of Kashmiri folk theatre'Bhand Pathr' is known to give surprises. This time he has come up with'Shah Pathr'. The play was staged at Abhinav Theatre on November 27. It was written and directed by Kemu himself.
The play written in 1993-1994 revolves round the story of Sultan Budshah who applied balm to the wounds of hounded out Kashmiri Pandits. It is said once Budshah fell acutely ill due to a boil. Kashmiri Pandits were in hiding due to strong religious persecution of Budshah's father, Sultan Sikandar the iconoclast. When the Hakims attending on Budshah failed to cure him, the queen sought help from different quarters. Ultimately, Shriya Bhat, a leading Hakim, who too was in hiding, was taken to the King for administering treatment. Soon the King got well. As token of gratitude Budshah asked Shriya Bhat what he desired. The latter, as the true son of Kashmiris, demanded only one favour--End to the policy of religious persecution. The King granted it. A new chapter began in the life of persecuted Pandits. It appears 'Shah Pathr' has been written to send a similar message at a time when the predicament of the writer's community is virtually similar. Sh. Kemu said the objective of the play was to apprise the younger generation of their traditions of Kashmir.
The play was production of 30-day Kashmiri Theatre workshop conducted by Natrang in collaboration with Mr. Kemmu for Displaced Kashmiri boys and girls. The artists who participated in the play included among others-Sameeta Raina (Maskara), Chandji Kaul (Sultan-e-Kashmir), Bhasha Sumbli (Begum), Priya Raina (Gopali), Manoj Bhatt (Shriya Bhat etc.).
Aka Nandun is a popular folk legend of Kashmir. Many a known poets of Kashmir have composed the tale in seven to 14 cantos and a few playwrights have written its stage versions earlier as well.
Moti Lal Kemmu's Aka Nandun is in two acts. It has been written primarily for Bhand artistes so that they could include this play in their repertoire. The first act is full of humour, mime, wit and satire, the second act has pathos, agony and pain. The ending is as per tradition and happy one. The play has soofi undertones and fully uses the vakhs and shrukhs of Lal Ded and Nund Rishi. The playwright has given new interpretation to the tale.
The play contains folk style songs and dances. It has been so designed that Bhands can give open air performance as per their age old practice.
All the musical notes and tunes are Kashmiri folk and Sofiyana tunes.
Wathora is a village, 13 Kms. away from Srinagar . It has been inhabited by Bhands for the last two centuries. These Bhands are known for soofiyana singing, Bandh pather and folk dances. There are several registered parties still practicing the traditional art in the village but the National Bhand Theatre has emerged as one of the foremost folk theatres to present Bhand pather plays in and outside the State . The theatre won laurels in 1984-85 with its participation in the first National Theatre Festival of Sangeet Natak Akademi with Ashiq Te Gopali under Shri Ravi Kemmu's direction.
To do a workshop with these artistes is to infuse new strength in them to preserve this form and encourage new generation to keenly pursue the art. How for present endeavour, production of Aka Nandun will be succeessful, can be judged by the people after viewing it in the open Jashans.
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