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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Suraj Tiku - Theatre was his passion

By Dr. R.K. Tamiri

SURAJ TIKU carved out a niche for himself in the field of painting and set-designing. The truth, however, remains that acting was his real passion. It was again the efforts of Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan that drew Suraj to theatre. Bhan was the role model so far as theatre in Kashmir was concerned. Those were the days when theatre in Kashmir was still in its infancy, with little professionalism involved in it. Many artists preferred it as a pastime, rather than making it a full time pursuit.

Tiku had no formal training in theatre. He acquired acting skills through the process of selflearning. In fact, till 1964 no artist in Kashmir had any formal training. Pt. Ved Lal Dhar (Vakil), the grand old man of Kashmir theatre, had a brief stint at Alfred Co. in Calcutta. Sh.Sham Lal Dhar Bahar was the first local artist to acquire a Diploma in Dramatics at National School of Drama under Ebrahim Alkazi. Suraj Tiku had the privilege to have acted in almost all the plays staged by Sudhar Samiti and Kala Kendra under the direction of Messers Kashi Nath Bhan, Madhav Lal Tiku and Trilok Dass.

Samaj Sudhar Phase:

Though modern Kashmiri theatre had its modest beginnings in 1920s, yet it emerged as a distinct entity only in 1940s. Two types of theatrical activity were witnessed in Kashmir simultaneously from 1944 onwards. One was community (Pandit) focused, carried on under the aegis of Samaj Sudhar Samiti. This social outfit used to host plays initially at Shital Nath but had to shift later to Shivalaya, Chotta Bazar.

Many of the leading lights of Samaj Sudhar Samiti had remained in the forefront of Kashmiri Pandit community's Roti agitation in 1932. They had also been among the pioneers in Kashmir's Theatre movement from 1928 onwards. Sudhar Samiti plays had a strong social message. These castigated dowry as a social evil, attacked extravagant feasts and expenditure on marriages and other occasions. At times plays had also historical and religious mythology themes.

Pt. Nand Lal Kaul alias Nanna was a modern poet and perhaps the first playwright among Kashmiris in 20th century. He wrote Satach Kahawat (The Touchstone of Truth), Davya-Lol (Love of God), Ramun Raj (Ram Rajya), Prahlad Bhagat (Bhakt Prahlad) etc. Many of his works were Kashmiri renderings from Urdu but these were done excellently.

Sudhar Samiti staged these plays of 'Nanna', besides Akanandun, Vishwamitr, Satraat, Raja Harish Chander, Shiv-Parvati, Satyavan Savitri. Suraj Tiku's real talent flowed in these plays in which he acted.

Kala Kendra Years:

By 1950-51 Sudhar Samiti's theatre activity, conducted under its 'Natak Vibag', had started losing steam. Many of its unemployed artists had found full-time job in Central ordinance department and had little time to carry on theatre work on a regular basis. Also, a new generation of theatre artists had arrived on the scene. They had higher aspirations and were impatient. Sudhar Samiti found itself handicapped to respond to their urges. A new cultural outfit 'Kala Kendra' was launched by the newer artists. In a certain sense Sudhar Samiti's 'Natak Vibag' took rebirth as 'Kala Kendra'. History has its own dynamic. Some of the artists of Sudhar Samiti decided to work with Kala Kendra while others faded out.

Cultural Front:

The other type of Theatre activity that gained impetus after 1947 was the one inspired by leftoriented Indian Peoples' Theatre Association (IPTA). Balraj Sahni, the great actor, who was a leading light of this movement wanted a Kashmir Chapter of IPTA. This emerged in the form of Cultural Front (later Cultural Congress). Plays, written by the Cultural Front artists were staged regularly for quite sometime. The plays focused on the life of people in general and addressed broader issues. Plays staged by Cultural Congress included 'Land to the Tiller', 'Shihil Kul', 'Bombur Ta Yemberzal', 'Himal Nagiraay', 'Neki Badi'. Kashmir’s poet-laureate Pandit Dina Nath Nadim was moving spirit behind these plays. Some of the Kala Kendra actors took part in Cultural Congress activities as well. A patriotic play ‘Kashmir Hamara Hai’ was staged under the able Direction of Sh. Kashi Nath Bhan. Suraj Tiku played a lead role in it. Suraj Tiku was not among founders of Kala Kendra since he was actively involved with Samaj Sudhar Samiti’s Theatre Work. He joined the new outfit only after Director Trilok Dass returned from Madras and enrolled himself in Kala Kendra.

Suraj was still with Sudhar Samiti's Natak Vibag when Prithviraj Kapoor, the great stage actor, came to Kashmir to lay the foundation stone of Samiti's Theatre Hall on 9th of October 1952. Kapoor had enacted Soliloquy-- ‘Merchant of Venice on the visit. Samiti hosted a play for the visiting dignitary. Prithvi Raj Kapoor was all praise for Suraj Tiku, Kashi Nath Bhan and Trilok Das.Artist BK Qasba who was present on the occasion says that Kapoor called Suraj a great artist.

Suraj Tiku’s great acting performances came in such plays- Raksha Bandhan, Sativan Savitri (1951), Krishn Janam (1952), Aurat (1953), Prahlad Bhagat (1957) Akh Nar Akh Kotamb and Tarqi Ki Rah par (1962), Bina Dewaroan Ke Ghar (1967), Graduate Pagal (1972). Taent Kor, Uljan, Satraat, Widhwa, Lol Fun Funkar, Widhwa. After 1968 Suraj concentrated mainly on set-designing. Tiku worked with such veteran artists -Messers Ved Lal Vakil, Mahender Wali, Madhav Lal Tiku, Omkar Nath Khazanchi, Laxmi Narain Kaul, Hriday Nath Gurtoo, Omkar Nath Gursu alias ('Ibn Adam’), Makhan Lal Saraf (who later floated his own theatre group (‘Rang Manch'), Krishen Langoo, Pyare Lal Razdan, Moti Lal Kemu, Somnath Sumbly, Girdhari Lal Dass and many others.

Role Models:

Suraj had three idols in his life Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan (Direction and Stage Craft), Pt. Trilok Kaul (Painting) and Prithvi Raj Kapoor (Acting), Suraj Tiku was inspired by Prithvi Raj Kapoor. He would recreate him as a Kashmiri Pandit character in Kashmiri Pandit roles.

If Suraj had to choose any one after Prithvi Raj Kapoor it was Shashi Kapoor. Suraj’s friend and the versatlie actor, ON Khazanchi says, “In later days when my son took him to watch ‘Suhag’ Suraj appreciated Amitabh Bachan as well but Prithvi Raj Kapoor remained the main influence. Suraj’s delivery of dialogues was superb. In dialogue delivery he was much like Prithvi Raj Kapoor and remembered all his dialogues.”

Critics rate Suraj Tiku as one of the five best actors of modern Kashmiri theatre, alongside Ved Lal Vakil, Madhav Tiku, Som Nath Sumbly and Omkar Nath Khazanchi. In many plays Suraj and his illustrious uncle, Madhav Lal Tiku acted together. Suraj had great versatility and could play any role. Yet experts rate Khazanchi higher than Suraj in versatility. Suraj Tiku always cherished doing a role and would feel upset if denied a role in a play. Invariably Suraj would get best roles in best plays.

Suraj Tiku acted in the roles of Khandani Batta (A Pandit with distinguished lineage), money lender, Kashmiri Pandit official etc. He loved to do the role of villain as well. Suraj performed this with great finesse in plays like Manziraat, Kashmir Hamara Hai (Directed by Sh. Kashi Nath Bhan), Satraat etc. As a comedian Suraj was peerless. In many plays staged by Sudhar Samiti and Kala Kendra comedy used to be the premier item. Suraj performed comedian roles in these plays, which added to their popularity.

Best Role:

Opinions are, however, divided on Suraj’s all-time best role in acting. Bal Krishan Qasba, an artist colleague of Suraj, rates Suraj’s role as comedian in ‘Satyavan Savitri’ as the most outstanding one. Music maestro, Krishan Langoo regards Suraj’s role as daughter-in-law’s father in Satraat as the best. He recalls,” In those days Tiku was quite handsome and had curly hair, before turning bald in later years. As a 10 year old boy I had gone to see the play ‘Satraat’ at Shitalnath with my neighbour, Pt. Mahendra Wali, who was himself an actor. The play castigated dowry as a social evil. As daughter- in-law’s father Suraj had dressed himself in Achkan and Tangmoori Pyjama. Suraj’s superb acting created a lasting impression on me. I developed fancy, initially for him and subsequently for theatre”.

Sh. MK Tiku, a leading Saffron trader and connoisseur of theatre admires Suraj’s role as ‘beggar’ in the play ‘Uljan’. This play was staged first at Shivalaya and later at SP College. When MK Tiku asked Suraj the secret of this great performance Suraj disclosed that for attaining perfection in this role he used to visit Charas (Shoda) Gali (near Hari Singh High Street) for hours together to study how begging was done.

Moti Lal Kemmu, a legendary figure in Kashmir’s folk theatre, ‘Band Pather’ describes Suraj’s role as Sarvajana Mitr in his play ‘Tsaya’ as his best ever performance. Kemu says,” "Suraj himself admitted that he enjoyed to play this role as it befitted his character. This role had to be created because there was no ideal he could imitate”.

Sarvajana Mitr, who represents the people, is a historical figurean outstanding scholar brought to Kashmir from Taxila University by King Lalitaditya. Kemu even goes to the extent of pronouncing that Late Trilok Dass owed his success primarily to the good team (which included Suraj Tiku) he had, ‘who would assemble at Chottabazar and invariably spend their evenings together’. Since Suraj had great versatility in his acting he was an asset to the organisation he was associated with. Once ‘Song and Drama Division’ had staged a play ‘Desh Hamara Hai’ at Mattan, under the direction of Gulshan Rai Kapoor, a talented actor with excellent voice. ON Raina, who had to do the role of a ‘Maharashtrian’ had not turned up. Kapoor was in a fix as Raina’s item was third on the agenda. A man of crisis that Suraj was and also who loved to take up the challenges he volunteered to do Raina’s item. Suraj did his makeup himself. It was a little difficult as he had to look like a Maharashtrian. Suraj sang and danced with gay abandon. No body could make out that Suraj was not a Maharashtrian. Gulshan Rai was so amused that tears started rolling down his eyes as he burst into laughter. ON Khazanchi the great actor, describes Suraj Tiku as an artist and actor of great calibre. He says, “I have never seen such outstanding talent. He would assist us in script/dialogue writing. Suraj was adept in tricks of stage and theatre. At times if an actor faltered in dialogue delivery Suraj knew enough tricks to cover this up, without the audience getting even remotely conscious about it.”

Kemmu is equally effusive in his praise of Suraj Tiku. He observes: “Suraj Tiku was a talented artist. He had great sense of subtle high quality humour. He would set audience thinking in understanding the satirical element in it. Suraj learnt acting from Parsi theatre, which he used to attend. He would do good acting, ranking almost equal to Madhav Lal Tiku. He was among the top five actors of his time. Suraj was equally proficient in Kashmiri as well as Urdu. He had good voice and flexibility in his body. Suraj would understand the assigned role well and then try to create and perform it equally well. His delivery of dialogues particularly in ‘Taentkor’ and ‘Tsaya’ was very good. He had a radio voice" Tiku acted in radio dramas and a number of TV plays, including ‘Simon’s Papa’. He acted in two films—'Manziraat’ (produced by Prabhat films) and ‘Shair-e- Kashmir Mehjoor (in both Kashmiri and Hindu versions). In Delhi Tiku alongwith Krishan Langoo, Ali Mohammed Rah and Ali Mohammed Nishtar had a brief role in ‘Dr. Radio’, produced by Vilayat Jafri. Suraj Tiku toured different parts of the state and the country with roving theatre of ‘Song and Drama Division’ and gave performances.


Suraj’s brilliance would come to fore in the art of make-up as well. He would perform this job for his theatre and police meet plays. Later, he trained Sh. Hriday Nath Gurtoo for this, who equally excelled in this job.

Great learner:

Suraj Tiku had great zeal to learn and improvise. He kept himself abreast with the latest trends in set-designing and painting. He never missed an issue of ‘Screen’, a film journal, to keep himself posted with what was going in the film world. At Kala Kendra he would have hair-splitting discussions with his artist colleagues. Sh. Chaman Lal Chrungoo, a veteran of Kala Kendra recalls on a nostalgic note, “Suraj was very intelligent and had great insights into the scope of a play. Since I was secretary of the organisation he would sit for hours together with me, discussing different aspects—social, psychological etc., of a play.”

Santosh Tiku, Suraj’s son recalls the atmosphere at home, saying, “At home father used to discuss theatre personalities like Ebrahim Alkazi, Prithviraj Kapoor, Balraj Sahni etc. These discussions would be joined in by Madhav Lal Tiku, his son Tej Tiku etc. Invariably these discussions would turn to plays staged by Kala Kendra. Father knew everything about Elkazi’s plays. He was a great learner and never hesitated to own up his inadequacies. He knew Kashmir’s folklore pretty well and harnessed this to add new elements into plays. Father occasionally listened to music but was not a connoisseur of it. I have only heard him singing Parbhaton Ki Pedan...”

Suraj Tiku had great sense of history and maintained an archive of theatre material. He was careful not to lend it to others for the fear of losing it.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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