It’s a hot weekday afternoon and the streets in R K Puram, a central government residential colony in the capital city, are deserted. A sudden clarion call brings the area back to life. “O ji suno ji, agey suno ji… jaagenge sabko jagayenge hum, ek pyaara sa natak dikhayenge hum…”
Street plays are not common here and a crowd gathers in no time. Realising they have started well, the actors continue.
“Bhai, tujhe pata hai Ganga kahan se nikalti hai, aur kahan jaati hai?”
“Haan bhai. Ganga apne ghar se laal lipstick laga ke nikalti hai, aur Chhannu Lal mithai wale gali se hotey hue Sharma ji ke ghar jakey milti…”
Soon, the audience gets involved. The actors get to the subject. Ganga is unclean, and so are the streets in the colony. There is a solution, though. “Goyal ji”. (Brijesh Goyal, the Aam Aadmi Party — AAP — candidate from New Delhi constituency under which RK Puram falls). While AAP is the ruling party in Delhi, Opposition-led local bodies mostly manage the upkeep and maintenance of the city.
The party, co-founded by Arvind Kejriwal, has gone back to traditional means to tell people about the work it has done. “The campaigns and road shows are very important, but the party felt we could reach out to people using nukkad natak (street play),” says Arti Singh, AAP’s New Delhi district coordinator.
“We don’t use mikes. We are theatre actors and have to entirely depend on our voice… Our aim is to be one among the audience,” says Shivanshu, 21, an actor in the group.
Manish, an EC official holding a camera, and a policeman, accompany the group at all times, to comply with the campaign norms. “We have permission for only two hours in each place. The EC official is there to remind us every now and then that time is running out,” Zeenat Kazi, another member of the group, says.
Kamla Rana, a 45-year-old resident of the colony, asks the theatre group, “Who do you want us to vote for? AAP?” Anand Dahiya, 25, the oldest member in the group, replies, “That is your choice. But, do vote.”
“We are not here to campaign, that’s the job of the leaders. We are here to spread a message,’’ Dahiya points out.
But how did they get associated with the AAP?
“We have taken part in various campaigns, such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. So when we heard AAP was looking to stage nukkad nataks, we approached (Delhi minister for development, labour and employment) Gopal Rai’s office. We gave them a demo. There were many others who tried, but we got selected,” Shivanshu says.
He refuses to get drawn into a conversation on how much they get paid. “It’s not much, we’re not supposed to talk about it.”
Brijesh Goyal, the AAP candidate, tells Business Standard that such forms of communication remain relevant even today. “Political rallies are fine, but art appeals to everyone. We decided to use this strategy in some pockets in the constituency. AAP works for people on the ground, and there can be no better way to connect than through street theatres.”
The loudest cheer for the actors is reserved for a scene where two persons come to convince a voter. “Aap humein vote dijiye, hum aapko daaru pilayenge.” A second actor comes. “Aur hum aapko chicken khilayenge.” The protagonist shoos them away, shouting, “Tumlogon ne desh ko barbaad kar diya,” as the audience applauds.
Prakriti Dutta Mukherjee, a National School of Drama (NSD) pass-out, who has acted and directed street plays, says, “Nukkad nataks are almost always political, since they are loaded with social messages. Unless a performance is spreading canards, or dealing in slander, there should be no problem in using the art during election campaigns. It generates direct human connection and reaches hearts, not just heads.”
The theme revolves around the many problems in the constituency. Sealing of shops, roads, water supply... “And you would have heard us sing the line ‘ek vote, haan’ repeatedly. We are working around that, because each vote matters,” Dahiya sums up as the group boards a bus for their next stop.