It established in 1943 at Mumbai’s Marwari School, the Indian People’s Theatre Association, or Ipta, has undergone several transmutation. Then the split in the Communist Party of India resulted in offshoots like Safdar Hashmi’s Jana Natya Manch forging their own identity in the 1970s. Ipta has more than 500 units in around 30 states and union territories, with more than 12,000 members. It’s no longer the blacklisted organization of its early days, but it’s still largely independent of state get festival and repertory grants from a governmental agency.
Origin of People’s Theatre in India
The Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) was formed as the cultural front of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in 1942. It was the first national-level theatre movement in India, and primarily focused on proscenium plays1. IPTA regularly performed short skits and plays in working class apartment buildings, “where workers with their families would gather on one side or peep through the doors and windows of their dwellings” [Tanvir 2007 : 68]. One of the few street plays performed was Shanti Doot Kamgar (“Working Class : Harbinger of Peace”), inspired by the Chinese Revolution, where “communist activists would visit restaurants, and other public places, cook up some kind of quarrel between themselves, and when people’s attention was sufficiently drawn to them, one of them would scramble up on top of a table and deliver an agitational speech summoning support for the cause” [Tanvir 2007:68].
Post-independence, with several internal conflicts within the communist movement, IPTA gradually became defunct. By the late 1950s, it was formally dissolved as a national organisation, with only independent state units existing, including one in Delhi.
IPTA is considered one of the oldest associations of performing art in India. in fact, over the last five to six decades notable artists, musicians, writers, dancers, singers and directors have been a part of the Indian People's Theatre Association. Personalities like Amar Shaikh, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Homi Bhabha, Sombhu Mitra, Kaifi Azmi, Shanti Bardhan, Krishanchander, Sahir Ludhianvi, Balraj Sahni, Mohan Segal, Harindranath Chattopadhyay were all a part of this IPTA. This made IPTA to be at the forefront of the Indian Theatre movement.
It also conducts a summer theatre camp for children, and liaises with other Ipta branches in the state, like those in Raipur, Bilaspur, Bhilai, Dongargarh, Balco (Bharat Aluminium Co. Ltd) township and Ambikapur—each of which has its own set of activities.
Directors, actors, scriptwriters, lyricists, music directors and dance directors – a large spectrum of the talent that went into filmmaking – came from the IPTA, moulding the vision of the world that the film presented.6 In the IPTA documents on how to prepare for the VII Conference (1953), there is the following section: “Film: Since a large number of IPTA members and progressive writers and artistes are entering into the film world, due to the increasing demand of the people for healthy and realistic films, the present position of the film industry requires special study.
One of the most significant dramas staged by Indian People's Theatre Association was Nabanna, a Bengali drama. The word literally refers to harvest and is a Bengali folk festival thet celebrated good yield of crops. The drama was penned down by Bijon Bhattacharya and directed by Sombhu Mitra. The Bengal of 1943 was bogged down by infamous famine. The play portrayed the predicament of the masses and indifference of the British government to the plight of the people. Other dramas that were staged by the IPTA include Nava Jiboner Gaan (Bengali) by Jyotirindra Moitra, Desha Sathi in Marathi, Prarambham in Telugu and Zubeida directed by Balraj Sahni. All these plays, in one way or the other, mirrored the sufferance of the common people due to the then economic and socio-political conditions.