SCENES spotlights young people around the world who are breaking down barriers and creating change. Character-focused short films will inspire and amaze as these young change-makers tell their extraordinary stories.
Large crowds pack the streets of New Delhi. They have come from all over the city to see and hear this group of street performers. “They’re here, they’re here,” shouts an artist. “The street actors are here,” they join the others. The young group is part of the Sukhmanch Theater, which organizes street performances as a form of activism.
Theater is an ancient practice in India. It is deeply rooted in a culture that dates back 5,000 years. Street theatre, popularly known as ‘nukkad natak’, is performed in public spaces as a platform to raise awareness of social issues. During the 1980s, its popularity increased significantly, encouraging political parties and big business to use ‘nukkad’ for their own advertising.
The art form generally has a tinge of everything: humor, political satire, and music. “It’s totally unfiltered content,” says Divyakshi Jain, an actor with the Sukhmanch Theatre. “It goes through stages of creation. You give it that dramatic punch, maybe some elements of emotion, comedy, then we start with the improvisations,” he adds.
Sukhmanch Theater has performed over 2,000 street theater shows across India. Her performances shine a light on gender inequality, child marriage and human trafficking. “Sometimes the audience is silent. There are a few moments after the ‘nukkad’, I can’t speak, they can’t speak. Most are crying, many are shocked or angry,” explains Sukhmanch Theater founder Shilpi Marwaha. .
This unique art form reaches large audiences by breaking down the barriers of traditional theater. ‘Nukkad’ literally means street corner, something the performance group has taken very seriously. “From a multi-star hotel in Gurgaon to the slums of Seelampu, we have acted everywhere,” says Gaurav Dubey, one of the actors.
Organizing a show in a public space offers the opportunity to interact directly with people. “Sometimes something comes up in the middle of the ‘nukkad,’ so we pause, have a little discussion in the middle, and then start again,” explains Shilpi.
deal with sensitive issues
As with any other form of activism, street performers have faced some challenges. “This time we were acting, and then we went to individual discussions. The discussion got very serious there. People kept saying we were spoiling their girls, teaching them bad things,” Shilpi recalls.
But street performances have also given the team the language to connect with people. “I can’t completely ignore their beliefs,” says Divyakshi. “I have to give them a logic, perhaps from their own understanding, that the theater showed me,” he adds.
A voice for the voiceless
Street theater has given a voice to everyone in India. “‘Nukkad natak’ is a very participatory process, and I think that’s the beauty of it because it gives you the ability to have people’s voices or diverse voices,” says Divyashi. “I discovered myself and discovered my own thought processes,” adds Pareekshit, a stage actor.
The actors collaborate during workshops and rehearsals, discussing different ideas and making sure to speak on topics they believe in and question the principles that society has followed for centuries.
“What I realized the most was that I cannot see art only as a means. As the end of a social cause. Art, theater itself, is also an end. In itself it is a cause. It cannot just working for a cause. It’s the cause,” explains Divyashi.
Sukhmanch Theater’s goal is clear: denounce injustice for a better world. The actors know that there is no basic formula or path for their mission. They adjust their actions to each situation, environment and place to bring about social change in India. “Even if one person changes, society starts to change,” says Pareekshit.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism