On the 11th of January, to celebrate the 30th death anniversary of Safdar Hashmi, his very own play “Hatyare” was re-enacted in the Jadavpur University World view area by Kolkata youth theatre group, the Hypocrites. Safdar, who was a communist playwright and director and is often regarded as the pioneer of street theatre in India, was shot dead in 1989 in Jhandapur while he and his group Jana Natya Manch or JANAM were performing a play called ‘Halla Bol’. The play was preceded by a brief talk on street theatre by the eminent actor and director Chandan Sen, and Sudhanva Deshpande, who was and still is a member of Janam, and had worked with Safdar in very close proximity.
‘Hatyare’ is a play by Safdar that revolves around the city of Aligarh where an informal industry of locks thrives without any previous history of Hindu-Muslim conflict. An industrialist feels the need to crush this sector in order to enhance the flourishing of his own company. He hires a couple of hooligans to create a communal disharmony between the workers. The goons in turn stab a Muslim by screaming ‘Jay shree Ram’, and another Hindu by giving a shrill cry of “Allah hu Akabar”. Thus begins a riot and people lose their lives, while the state issues a curfew and the city comes to a standstill. The politicians follow the same course of action. The industrialist and his manager try to provoke the fathers of the dead workers to stand and take arms against each other, but they end up hugging each other grieving their dead sons. This scene ends up being the climax of the play. The characters are seen circling around the guilty and point out to the audience that these people who try to rip the unity of the workers should never be trusted, and that workers can never be the enemy of the masses. The play ends with the re-echoing of ‘halla bol’ bringing in our minds back the fact that Safdar was murdered in cold blood in 1989 as he dared to oppose.
This play is one of the many street plays that Janam had performed to protest against the capitalist propaganda of the Congress. ‘Hatyare’ which was enacted on the 11th of January, formed a part of the convocation that was called by AFSU or the Arts Faculty Students Union of Jadavpur University to protest against the council system that the state of West Bengal has promised to impose. The circumstances that form a background to the play and justify its relevance are very similar. While Hashmi tried to speak and expose the capitalist propaganda of the government, Saikat Ghosh, the director from Hypocrites, tries to put before us the results of the forceful amendment of council by eradicating the student’s union. Both the versions of the play stay in tune with the fact that the masses are supposed to be united, even when the state tries to rip them apart on issues of sex, caste, colour or religion. Chandan Sen during this convocation had remarked,
“They fear the union”,
and that is why political organisations that dare to oppose are nipped.