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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Suraj Tiku was a Creative Set-Designer

By Dr. R.K. Tamiri

Suraj Tiku had no formal training in Set-Designing. He acquired this art by assisting Late Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan, the redoubtable set-designer whose contributions to set-designing remain unrivalled by any Kashmiri even to this day. Suraj Tiku was very good in learning and adaptation. Among Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan's many students it was only Suraj Tiku who emerged as an outstanding and creative Set-Designer. Suraj's pick-up was very quick.

Set-Designing is an art in which the artist creates an illusion. In technique it is quite apart and more difficult than painting. Since the actor has to move the set-designer has to depict the movement. Unlike painting the task of designing sets is complex, involving many things.

Santosh Tiku, who learnt set-designing from his father remarks, "Father (Suraj Tiku) had great imagination drives. He  successfully designed set depicting heavenly scenes, showing gladiator emitting fire from mouth etc. In the designing of sets Father would lay stress on three aspects-understanding the situation, Focusing on the environment and background for the play and lastly, recreating the times in which the play was to be situated. I think after Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan my father was the only set-designer at the provincial level."

Music Maestro Krishen Langoo opines, "Suraj had tremendous imagery. He once showed Chouraha (Square) with a small lantern. He was creative. Even upto Bombay there was no set-designer who could match him in creativity. After 1967 Suraj Tiku concentrated mostly on set-designing".

A Republic Day Tableau-Shalimar Gardens Kashmir,

designed by Suraj Tiku

Suraj Tiku had many firsts to his credit in the history of set-designing in Kashmir. It was he who first showed river on stage and introduced three dimensional sets, beginning with 'Bina Divaron Ke Ghar' (1967).

Living legend on Kashmir's folk theatre 'Bhand Pather', Moti Lal Kemu observes, "Suraj was a good set-designer after Late Kashi Nath Bhan. He created sets for 'Bina Divaron Ke Ghar' (A house without walls', 'Taentkor' Tsaya (shade) etc. These plays had different sets. It was a difficult job to do. Yet he performed the task so well. Suraj would understand the set background to be created and knew theatre very well".

Artist Gokul Dembi corroborates," Suraj was a reputed set-designer in dramas. Continuous sets were made by him. Set designers of Delhi and other places made great money but Tiku got nothing as he was devoted to theatre. In set-designing he was very innovative and also quick in doing it. Set designing never posed any problem for him. He knew the job well and would do all things jovially. During State-sponsored Jeshan-e-Bahar Suraj did  lot of commercial work. He was a good illustrator and knew applied site of art i.e. graphics, layout etc. very well",.

Sh. O.N. Khazanchi, a versatile actor and Suraj Tiku's friend says, "Suraj was master of stage technique. In set designing Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan was the best and Suraj, the next best. Suraj made sets for plays staged in police meets and Ram Lilas, hosted by Sanatan Dharam Sabha. He would be incharge of the stage management. These sets had also to be executed quickly. Suraj did set-designing for 'Nefa Ki Sham', a play staged by Song and Drama Division. One of the sets designed by Suraj Tiku still stands at the Director's office in Song and Drama Division, New Delhi. He was a gifted artist in set-designing and adept in tricks of stage".

Delhi Training:

Suraj Tiku's great moment came in November, 1966 when he was selected for two-year training course in set-designing by Song and Drama Division. Three other artists, selected for acting, who were Suraj's fellow trainees in Delhi included ON Khazanchi, Krishen Langoo and ON Raina. Till 1966 Theatre in Kashmir was in a sense unprofessional, with conception about lights. They did not know mime and had a state-of-the art knowledge about acting or sets. Artists used to do acting just by watching others or evolving their own styles.

Selection of these four Kashmiri artists for two year professional training was a watershed in the history of Kashmir theatre. These artists had a strenuous schedule in Delhi under country's best artists. Rama Rao gave them in training in acting, set classes, lighting, breathing exercises and gestures. In addition Suraj Tiku had separate training in set-designing under Mr. Sharma, then India's leading set-designer. The training was meticulously professional.

It was during this apprenticeship at Delhi Suraj Tiku caught eye of legendary Col. Gupte. The latter was Director of Festival at Delhi. The Folk Theatre troupes from different parts of India had come to take part in the Festival. Kashmiri artists got an opportunity to work with Shombu Mitra. Visiting down memory lane Krishen Langoo recalls, "Col. Gupte was very strict and a hard disciplinarian. He debunked cheap acting. Only Tiku had free access to him. He would often say 'Tiku Ko Bulao' (call Tiku) and order Yeh Banana Hai' (this has to be made). Suraj Tiku was very quick."

Exccelling Mentor:

Col. Gupte had directed and organised, playsó'NEFA Ki Sham', Katghar', 'Kohinoor Ka Lalten'. Original sets for 'NEFA 'Ki Sham' and 'Kohinoor Ka Lalten' had been made by Sharma, Tiku's Guru in Delhi. In remaking of these sets Tiku even excelled his mentor. In sets of Kohinoor made by Tiku one could hardly find any difference between Red Fort in sets and in real.

Another occasion in which Suraj Tiku excelled his mentor, this time Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan, was when he made sets for the 'night scene'. This set became a permanent one and would be often used when situation warranted. This set had been originally designed for Samaj Sudhar Samiti plays under the guidance of Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan. Those were difficult times for a set-designer. He had to achieve objectives more by his skills, with just crude items available for painting.

This 'Night Scene' curtain showed River Bank during night, with windows of the house having multi-coloured glass panes and the light from these getting reflected on to river waters. When Kashi Nath Bhan saw the set designed by Suraj, his pupil, he felt overjoyed. Patting him in appreciation he told Suraj, '"Ab Tum Tayar Ho" (you have now come of age). Recalling this episode Balkrishen Qasba, who too worked closely with Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan, says, "the basic idea of this set was that of Sh. Kashi Nath Bhan. Through use of Hareer (glazed paper) Suraj made it more beautiful. By playing light effects a superb scene was created".

A vintage Suraj Tiku Set

Suraj Tiku was very original. As an artist he carried that rare trait-humility. He would never hesitate in appreciating the work of others. On one occasion Suraj Tiku and his colleagues, during their training in Delhi, were watching a play at the festival. In one of the scenes depicting sea the particular effect given by the set-designer gave a feeling as if the sea waves were fast moving towards the audience. The Rishi (an ascetic) was shown busy preforming puja and trying to put his foot in water. Langoo recalls, "It was first time I had seen such a remarkable scene. Suddenly, there was a slap on my cheek. I saw Suraj running out of theatre and re-entering the hall through the rear door. I was at a loss to understand why Suraj behave that way. He revealed, "I was so thrilled to see such a great scene". Suraj had slapped me in sheer excitement".

Lobo Episode:

Suraj Tiku's great skills and creativity in set-designing has become part of the folklore associated with Kashmir's modern theatre. In early 1970s, Moti Lal Kemu's 'Tsaya' was going to be staged, under the Direction of redoubtable Trilok Dass. John Max Lobo, the renowned set-designer, had recently joined Doordarshan Srinagar. In 1975 he had done make-up for Adhe Adhurye. Originally, Suraj had to make sets for 'Tsaya'. At the last moment Trilok Dass brought Lobo to do the job. Suraj was deeply hurt. He called on Krishen Langoo and said, "Trath Peyi, Triyas rood na yaad" (I feel let down. Trilok had the temerity to show this disregard to me by getting Max Lobo".  Langoo tried to calm down Tiku and took him to Nishat Bagh, to make him relax. Suraj was busy those days doing sets for Ramlila, a job he did without demanding remuneration. We have a different version on Lobo affair from Tiku's family. Suraj had told them that it was on his advice Trilok brought in Lobo for making sets for 'Tsaya'. Probably, Suraj had lied to his family to convey an impression that his substitution by Lobo was no disrespect to him. In 'Tsaya' King Avantivarman was to be shown on a snowy mountain. An ice cave was to be made in plaster of paris, with entry and exit points. Lobo came to prepare sets at Kalakendra premises. The play was to be staged at Tagore Hall the next day. Designing of the cave required good skill. When sets were ready, Lobo was stuck-up. He had kept no exit point for the cave.

At 11 0'Clock in the night anxious Trilok Dass dropped in at Suraj Tiku's house and begged him to re-make the sets for the play. Suraj was a great man. He kept his hurt feelings aside and carried alongwith him his son Santosh Bhushan Lal Bangroo, ON Gursu and Abdul Majid. Lobo's sets were dismantled. It took Suraj less than three hours to prepare new  the new sets, which looked superb by any standard. Poor Lobo had to face choicest epithets for his blunders. He had no option other than to remain silent. Preparing sets for TV is one thing, while designing these for theatre is an altogether different proposition. Next day the sets were carried in carts to Tagore Hall and erected well in time. Native genius had triumphed. Langoo recalls, "He came the following morning to inform me that he had redesigned the sets for 'Tsaya'. I made him recollect what I had said to assuage his feelings--'You should not worry'. God was Sakshatkar ( omniscent ) with Suraj Tiku".


In 1980s Krishen Langoo had been given an assignment by HMT to stage a ballet 'Sangar' in Bangalore. In this ballet one of the scenes was to be--Dal Lake with Khel Vather Lotus (leaves), Houseboat and crossing over of a boat. An aerial view of Srinagar city was to be shown as it looked from Sankaracharya Hill. Suraj Tiku had accompanied Langoo for designing the sets.

On arrival in Bangalore one day was lost in sightseeing. Same evening Suraj suffered an acute attack of asthma and was virtually choking for breath. Langoo had tense moments as only 8-9 hours were left to do the job. Brave Suraj who never called quits reassured Langoo that he would be able to do the job well in time. He asked Langoo to fetch tablets he used to take to void of the attack.

The following morning Suraj declared that he was fit enough to start the work. He himself went to the market to fetch different items needed. Langoo recalls.

"Suraj purchased net to cover the stage fully. He bought cloth (Latha) and would not waste money. Suraj would always economise unlike the artists of today. He gave directions to the carpenter and tailor on how to make small pieces which were to be affixed on the net. A Hamtulbargepole was also got. Suraj brushed these small pieces, to make them look like lotus The set was raised on four pillars. This was all accomplished in 3-4 hours. The excellent quality of the sets was revealed under the effects of light. People did not see the ballet. They were mesmerised by Suraj's sets and felt as if they were actually in Kashmir".

Shuhulkul was staged in Women's College, Amirakadal. A Cabinet Minister of some state was the guest of honour. P.N. Kaul Sayil, a well-known Leela poet who was associated with the play recalls, "We had to show a Chinar tree in the sets. Many designers made an attempt but failed. Finally, we had to call Suraj Tiku. In the set made by Suraj Chinar looked so close to real one."

Rangbulbul, a play written by Sayil and directed by Krishen Langoo, was shown at Tagore Hall. A tree and variyal had to be shown in the background. In this opera child artists were being promoted for the first time. Suraj Tiku designed the sets. The tree drawn by him, showing flowers and bulbul (nightingale), looked like a live scene, as if flowers and bulbul were talking to one another. Suraj's sets were always full of life. The opera was much appreciated. Famed DD Producer Mohan Swaminatri, who too was part of the audience, later made this production for Doordarshan.

Another superb set was made by Suraj in Dana Thar (Pomegrenate Branch) in 1981-1982. This play, written by Bansi Nirdosh had been alloted simultaneously to two colleges--Women College, Nawakadal and  Women College, Amirakadal. Chief Minister Sheikh Abdullah and members of a visiting German Delegation were Guests of Honour at Amirakadal College. The play had a boat song. Sh. Bihari Kak, a noted artist and a participant in the play recalls"

"First song item in the play was Boat Song. Tiku made a wonderful set that gave a feeling as if the boat was actually moving in the Dal Lake. Suraj had put polythene sheet all around and green cloth was being given movement to deliver light effect. Two people were holding the wings, shuffling polythene sheet. Girls were singing in the background. This song and the set were adjusted as the best items in the play".

Birch Art:

Krishen Langoo refers to more instances abit Suraj's creativity. Many years back the clay roof of a house in Langoo's neighbourhood at Badiyar was being dismantled. Removal of clay yielded lot of birch-bark (burza vathar). Langoo's son would go and pick pieces of burza leaves. One day Suraj visited Langoo's home and decided to create an artistic work out of these burza pieces. He spread out a plastic sheet. Cutting burza leaves into beautiful  pieces he affixed these on the plastic sheet with fevicol. Then he drew a 'behat' (boat) in river. It showed the boatman standing on its bow (nam). The reflection of behat and hanji women in river water was also shown. Suraj next showed a peasant woman with coir basket (fotu) on her head coming out of the forest and moving towards the behat. Speaking about this music maestro says, "It was a remarkable landscape. I can never forget it."

Hero Machama:

In 1990 Suraj got an assignment for making sets for low budget 'Hero Machama', written by Pushkar Bhan. Krishen Langoo was the producer and the play was to be shown in 9 episodes. The story revolved round 'Machama', a plebeian and the protagonist in the play. Fortunes take a turn. 'Machama' becomes a mill-owner and finally turns into a millionaire. The protagonist experiences a dream, in which he travels to an alien land where the King had died and the country was in the process of electing the new incumbent to the throne.

In the sets Suraj had to show the Palace of 'Sheen Shah' (the King of the alien land) with people as strange creatures. Suraj was in dilemma as he had to operate on a shoestring budget. He went to the Pandit refugee camp at Nagrota, engaged the inmates in conversation and slowly won over their confidence. His eyes fell on a small grassmat (Patji). He asked them if they could design flowers and dresses with grass. Receiving positive reply Suraj took out his sketch-book and asked them to make Sikandar Choga. He told them they had to make 10-20 pieces each of different 'unique' costumes, pulhours (grass-shoes) with long stockings. They prepared Ghagra, shirts, massband, hairlike diamond--all in grass. The project was executed in 10-12 days, the total cost entailed was less than Rs one thousand.

Maharaja's Fort in Nagrota had been taken on rent for one month for Rs 2000. Suraj Tiku put carpets on wings. Through camera effect grass displayed golden hue. In the evening small flying insects would touch the electric bulb, produce sound of 'tip' and emit smoke. In camera it was captured as 'fog'. Suraj said it was the scene of heaven. He had completed sets for 'Sheen Shah'. Somehow, the play did not see the light of the day.


Sets for all Kala Kendra plays were designed and erected by Suraj Tiku. He made sets for more than 20 plays staged by Kala Kendra. Tiku had also been assisting Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan in making sets for Sudhar Samiti plays. He assisted Bhan in designing sets for famous opera 'Bombur Ta Yemberzal', written by Kashmir's poet-laureate Pt. Dina Nath Nadim and Late Noor Mohammed Roshan in October, 1956. Sets for such famous plays--Tsaya (1973), Alav (1974), Taentkor (1979), Aram Haram Hai, Uljan, Fun Ta Funkar , Graduate Pagal, Takdir Saz, Lalligerat were made by Suraj Tiku. 'Alav' , was Kashmiri rendering of 'Jheel Bula Rahi Hai', a play written by Late Ali Mohammed Lone. Takdir Saz and Lalligerat were also written by the latter, while Taentkor was written by Sajad Sailooni. In Graduate Pagal Suraj's son, Santosh not only assisted his father in making sets but also acted first time as a child artist. Suraj's other assistants in this play were Abdul Majid and Bhushan Bangaroo.

Sets for 'Tsaya', Alav and Taentkor received awards from J&K Cultural Academy. 'Tsaya' was also staged in Kashmiri Samiti ,Delhi premises.

In 1976 Suraj Tiku made sets for Ram Lilas, organised by Sanatan Dharam Pratap Sabha at Tagore Hall. He was assisted by Santosh Tiku and Bhushan Bangaroo. According to Santosh 'Ram Lila sets of this quality were not produced anywhere in India." These Ram Lilas were organised by Sh. Bishamber Dass Mangotrian. The direction was given by Messers Kedar Sharma and Om Sharma, while make-up was done by late Herday Nath Gurtoo. Suraj also made sets for Cultural Day function of Govt. Medical College, Srinagar in 1976.

For many plays directed by Santosh Tiku Suraj was the set-designer. Suraj Tiku would also help other set-designers as and when they needed his assistance. His contemporaries in set-designing were Messers Jawahar Lal Wanchoo and Late Omkar Nath Dhar, incidentally both of them were this author's teachers at Govt. Lower (Now High) School, RN Mandir, Chotta Bazar.

Suraj Tiku's great moment came in late 1980s when noted filmmaker Muzaffar Ali asked him to make sets for Kashmir part of the shooting of 'Zooni'. Soon after they visited Aharbal fall in Shopian area, the turmoil broke out and Suraj Tiku had to flee Kashmir.

Suraj had an opportunity to design a Tableau (Shalimar Bagh) for J&K Govt. for participation in Republic Day Parade. Suraj's Guru Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan had also designed some Tableaus. Prior to Bhan Tableaus for J&K Govt. used to be designed by Bengali artists.

Suraj Tiku was an institution builder. He never hesitated in training new generations in art and would try to give his best. His illustrious students included Herday Nath Gurtoo (Make-up), Kamal Nain Bhan (Painting), Bhushan Bangaroo (Set-designing), Santosh Tiku (Painting, Set-designing and acting) etc. Suraj would not only give professional tips regarding acting, theatre, set-designing but would also lay emphasis on 'What should be the feeling on the stage'.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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