“Some do not accept Buddhist theater as part of the mainstream” | Nagpur News
Ever since humans first appeared on earth, storytelling has been a part of any evolving society. And stage theater is one of the oldest performing arts that still survives this era of digitalization. In India, amid the various forms of theater that have their roots in millennial traditions, is the slowly developing space for “Buddhist theater”, also known as “Bahujan theater”. Artist Virendra Ganvir was the organizer of the recently concluded Buddhist theater festival in Nagpur and the founder of Bahujan Rangbhoomi which stages plays on social issues with a strong Buddhist theme. Ganvir talks to YOU ââabout how Buddhist theater is mistakenly seen as a trend, but it is actually “the mainstream”
Q. Why do you firmly claim that the Buddhist / Bahujan theater is in fact a mainstream and not a parallel entity?
A. Absolutely, because all of our theater comes from the ancient Nag culture. We all find our origin there and slowly different streams have taken shape. We have evolved into an art form that portrays Buddhist values ââand is also known as Bahujan Theater. So at the end of the day, we’re all part of the mainstream. But what is happening here is a clash between two schools of thought, which have self-proclaimed themselves âmainstreamâ and do not want another form of theater to occupy this space.
Q. You call it Buddhist theater, but the other name Bahujan theater also signifies its socio-cultural importance?
A. Theater has certainly had a major role to play in shaping our society. The sole purpose of a play is not to entertain, but also to encourage the audience to introspect the message conveyed by the plays. In the 1850s, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule began to interact with people and plays were an important part of it. Later in the 1950s, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar also used theater as a fashion to educate people about society and uplift them. In fact, when Dr Ambedkar took deeksha to Nagpur in 1956, a play was staged here. At that time, more than six lakh people saw it, which was unprecedented. Even today, the same issues like caste and religion continue to plague our society. These are obstacles to making the world a better place. In today’s world, people are fighting against each other based on these concepts and we have to go beyond that and make people think about humanity.
Q. And that’s where the Buddhist part of the theater comes in.
A. Yes, the teachings of Lord Buddha carry a message for all of humanity. Through the theater, we have to represent it in a format that is understood by the people. Art must bring people together.
Q. How difficult is it to stage plays in a digital world?
A. First of all, I have no doubt in my mind that even today theater impacts people. When an audience attends the play, they don’t just watch it, but slowly begin to be a part of it. That’s the beauty of live theater. It’s vibrant, it’s real and the audience is immersed in it. The actors are all in the flesh. So every time you leave a room, the impact of it stays with you for a long time. Even in today’s digital world, there is an audience for live theater. This is the reason why, all over the world, they are also doing well commercially.
Q. Has it become difficult to find actors, especially now that young people might be more inclined to commercial art, whether in the theater or the cinema?
A. Those who get involved in Buddhist theater are from a different mold. Here I involve the child next door, the young person who is currently in a zero living zone and I focus their energy on creating something good. No one comes as an actor, they just come to be part of a social cause. The stage is the expression of this feeling of doing something for humanity. I don’t believe in commercial theater for my performing art style, and therefore my Bahujan Rangbhoomi is more of an inner calling. I have been doing this for 31 years now and so many students are doing well in business circles. Some are in Marathi movies, soap operas, etc. I am convinced that in the years to come, Buddhist theater will have its place in the traditional performing arts.