Meeting or interacting with theatre related personalities is always an enriching experience. You learn about their craft, their struggles and also get to exchange ideas. However, the experience becomes all the more special, when you get an opportunity to meet an ex-director of National School of Drama (NSD), Delhi.
Kirti Jain, a professor of modern Indian drama has been teaching at NSD for the past 36 years. Her rich work experience, stories and the themes she picked for her plays can only leave you feeling inspired, worthy enough of being a theatre enthusiast’s role model. Prof. Jain headed the institute for seven years from 1988-1995. During this time, she initiated the Theatre-in-education programme, documentation and publication unit along with decentralizing training by starting a regional resource centre in Bangalore.
An alumnus of NSD, Prof. Jain credits her strong and confident personality to the institute. “Before coming here, I was a very shy person. So shy that I was never even interested in taking up theatre as a course of study. However, disillusioned with the way literature was taught in college, was at a loose end after graduation, therefore applied for NSD and got selected and decided to study direction,” says Prof Jain. She chose direction over stage acting as she liked interpreting texts and translating them to a visual form.
At NSD, Prof. Kirti trained under the theatre veteran Ebrahim Alkazi, who instilled a true learning environment in the institute. The notion of one-way teaching was broken. “We were encouraged to ask, to explore and to articulate. I never experienced such an atmosphere, while I was pursuing studying literature at Delhi University,” says Prof Jain. In fact, the same tradition of learning is followed till date at NSD, where students explore themselves and turn out to be confident beings at the end of the 3-year diploma courses. Along with this, the dramatic change in Prof. Jain’s personality got her thinking about the role of theatre in education, and was the concern that stayed with her till she got the opportunity to start the Theatre In Education Company at NSD.
In the ‘80s, students of NSD would go on an agitation; every now and then on minor issues ranging from casting for a production, dissatisfaction with mess food to action on insufficient attendance were a common occurrence. The same agitation repeated itself, when Prof. Jain became the director. This time around, it was about a request to pass a failed student. “The agitation lasted about three months as I was not willing to give in to this demand, which would bring down academic standards of the School. There was a lot of pressure from within the theatre community and the ministry to compromise but I was not willing to give in on this unreasonable demand. This was my trial by fire – the toughest period of my directorship and also an extremely learning experience. And I must say that I do take credit for the fact that 25 years down the line NSD hasn’t seen a single agitation from students,” adds Prof Jain.
Prof. Jain further elaborates about her experience, “I remember being petrified at the thought of administration, as I had no experience in it. But, I gradually realized that it had more to do with applying common sense and rather than any technical knowledge. Administering an arts institution had other requirements like understanding the medium and the artists, which of course was not a problem. We also needed to zealously guard the autonomy to retain control on the artistic and academic content of the course. In retrospect I can say that while administration was a very tiring job but the positive was that by the time I left the position, I had developed great faith in the younger generation. I discovered that given the right guidance and dealt with transparency they go along with you beyond your expectation. That experience stays with me till today and makes me optimistic about the future, unlike many others.”
Her directorial plays dealt with issues like women’s position in society, violence on women during partition and US attack on Iraq through plays like Subarnalata, Aur Kitne Tukde and Baghdad Burning. These plays received critical acclaim but also stirred up common man’s emotions. “I have always been interested in socio-politico conditions and these issues bothered me a lot. I had to take them out of my system somehow. So, the best way was to dig up more information on these issues and bring them to life in a play,” elaborates Prof. Jain.
She further adds that even though the society talks a lot about choices for women but they are hardly given a choice. “Under the veils of honour, women are subjugated/ suppressed at every level, as I tried depicting in the play Aur Kitne Tukde,” adds Prof. with tears brimming in her eyes. Inspired by Urvashi Bhutalia’s collection of oral histories in the book The Other Side of Silence, the play dramatizes hard hitting stories on women’s predicament through acts of rape, abduction, forcible conversion and martyrdom during partition.
Her other play Subarnalata too was appreciated a lot. It was even adjudged the best play by Sahitya Kala Parishad Academy and was co-written by an eminent Hindi fiction writer Geetanjali Shree. The play depicts the journey of a child bride as she is tricked into marriage by her father despite opposition from her mother, and dies struggling for a little space for herself- be it the right to look out of the window or read a book or talk to her friend next door.
Ask Prof. Jain about any of her favourite students and she refuses to take names. Though she takes pride in all her students “who come from extremely varied backgrounds but work very hard – almost twenty four hours a day to learn as much as they can during these three years, rehearsing, making properties and projects through the night . And this when they know that there is no viable profession in theatre! This definitely is very satisfying and makes one very proud of them.”
It has certainly been a long journey for Prof. Jain since she associated with theatre. However, it took her a while to create her own niche as her parents belonged to the same field. “Coming out of parents’ shadow is not easy. This is the main reason, why my daughters chose different career paths. One is doing her PhD in film studies, while the other one is a dancer and environmentalist,” says Prof. Jain.
Apart from theatre related activities, Prof. Jain enjoys cooking, but not the usual stuff. She likes to try her hand on exotic cuisines. Experimentation, be it on stage or with spices, Prof. Jain enjoys it all!
Exclusive video clips:
Aur Kitne Tukde: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QSKw5JLNNQ
- The play Bagdad Burning is inspired from the blog http://riverbendblog.blogspot.in/
- Subarnalata is a Bengali novel, written by the author Ashapoorna Debi. The play directed by Prof. Jain is inspired from the same novel
- Her other recent plays-Kaun Thagwa Nagaria Lootal Ho, about globalization and market economy based on a seminal Hindi story by Kashinath Singh; Hamara Shahar Us Baras, about the impact of communal politics is based on Geetanjali Shree’s novel of the same name