Arshad Mushtaq's 'Theatre Of The Oppressed' Is A Beacon Of Light For Kashmir's People

Arshad Mushtaq
Arshad MushtaqArshad Mushtaq

What is the purpose of art if it does not resonate with those who consume it? Artists of the past, present, and future have always found themselves asking themselves a big question — “Who am I creating for?”

Some create art that caters to a niche audience, better known as high art. What we shall focus on today is the kind of art that resonates with the masses, something we can call people’s art.

When we talk of people’s art, one talented contemporary playwright’s work comes to mind. He is Arshad Mushtaq, who is well-known for adapting famous European plays and making renditions of those plays in the geo-political context of his homeland, Kashmir. His work shows that an artist’s job is to reflect the hopes and aspirations of the common man. Mushtaq burst onto the scene in 2005, when he made Kashmiri’s first digital feature film 'Akh Daleel Looluch'. The film is set in 1887 and focuses on Kashmiri’s struggle against the Dogra rule.

Mushtaq soon blossomed into a successful playwright and his artistry can be called what is termed the 'theatre of the oppressed'. This methodology was created by Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal in the 1970s. In this form of theatre, the aim is to use art as an instrument of social and political change and also involves a lot of direct interactor between the audience and the performers. The idea is to redefine the meaning of the word ‘spectators’ and through their active participation in the theatrical performance unfolding before them, make them conscious of their socio-political reality.

His emotionally evocative 'Bea Chus Shahid' (I am the Witness) is a play in the Kashmiri language revolving around the journey of an elderly man who carries letters and comes in contact with a young cricket player. The story takes a twist when the younger individual goes through the letters and further goes on to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the messages to which he is a witness. It is a story about Kashmir’s history of struggle and is one that every Kashmiri can relate to.

"It’s been 10 years of this play running around. This play makes one cry but that’s the catharsis every Kashmiri needs. The craft is self-explanatory. Even if the play is read to you, as a Kashmiri, one will undoubtedly connect to it, but when the audience is an outsider, it is a challenge, and that’s where the craft and theatre come in."

Arshad Mushtaq in an interview with the Indian Express

Another one of Mushtaq’s famous works is the English play, 'Fading Memoirs'. The play portrays poetic expressions inspired by the works of acclaimed poets such as Shaikh Ul Alam, T S Eliot, Rasa Javidhani, Mehmud Darvaish, and Agha Shahid Ali and reflects the sensibilities that emanate from society. Through this play, Mushtaq wants to show that memory is a responsibility. In a world where memories fade away with each passing day, this play serves as a remembrance project.

Last but not least is Mushtaq’s production of 'Su Yee', a Kashmiri adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s famous play 'Waiting for Godot'. Waiting for Godot is a tragicomedy involving a long exchange between two characters who wait for a mysterious figure, 'Godot', who never arrives. Throughout the years there have been many interpretations of who ‘Godot’ is or isn’t but the mysterious figure has remained forever elusive. Su Yee first premiered on August 20, 2004, in Srinagar and received a standing ovation from the audience.

"After Su Yee’s success, doing theatre became a responsibility. I remember members of the audience walking up to me after its premiere. They told me you showed everything – our story I believe it’s our collective story."

Arshad Mushtaq in an interview with Scroll

It is in this way that Mushtaq has cemented himself as the voice of the oppressed and as the artist of the masses. It is my sincere hope that his artistry continues to serve as a beacon for one of the most troubled yet beautiful places on Earth, Jammu & Kashmir.