“I just wanted to go through the depression, the trauma and pain they were going through. No one is born criminal it just takes fraction of seconds to become one.” ~Ifra Mushtaq
For Ifra Mushtaq, the pursuit of theatre is a creative venture as well as a means to give voice to the voiceless. The socially-committed determination of Ifra can be understood by her 15 day long theatre workshop with the inmates of Kot Bhalwal Central Jail. It is Jammu and Kashmir’s one of the most sensitive jails of the country. Ifra highlighted how “no one is born a criminal but made one” and what drove such men to commit violent crimes and how to rehabilitate them. She has also worked with the orphan kids of Rainbow Home, Hyderabad and Deaf & Dumb kids of Ahuti Centre, Hyderabad. She has also worked on her another poignant project called “SORDID TALES OF SUFFERING” a concept performance on the atrocities of women in Kashmir.
Ifra Mushtaq is the first woman theatre director of the state who is academically trained in Theatre Arts. She is the first woman Theatre director of the state who travelled across India with her productions and participated in different National and International Theatre Festivals. Besides this, Ifra is the first woman Theatre director of the state who conducted a community Theatre workshop and is working with the Nomad Gujjar Community of J&K. She has also conducted theatre as therapy workshop in the most controversial jails in India KOT BHALWAL CENTRAL JAIL.
In an interview conducted by The Logical Indian, it was motivating to hear why she works for theatre. What her targets are? And how she intends to use theatre for the social uplifting of the society at large?
Theatre in her hands has become an agency for the silenced communities who hence can speak through her works. Such and more aspects were discussed in the interview
1. You are known as the first women Theatre Director of Jammu & Kashmir. Can you tell us what prompted you take up theatre? Do you pursue it as a profession or a passion?
Ifra: Well let me correct it. I am the first academically trained woman theatre director of the state. There are others before me. I have always been fascinated by my father’s work. So I also wanted to do theatre but I wanted it pursue it academically. Before I tell my actors to follow my direction, I should myself be firstly aware of what I am telling them to do. What happens most of the time in Jammu Theatre some so called directors themselves don’t know what they are doing. (Smiles). I am good for nothing than theatre but yes yes it is not an easy nut to crack.
2. It is really fascinating that in one of your workshops you employed theatre as therapy. It was carried out in the most controversial jails in India Kot Bhalwal Central Jail? Please share what encouraged you to take up this project and what were its goals?
Ifra: It was long back in 2011 I attended a workshop on forum theatre and applied drama in Central University of Hyderabad where I was pursuing by Masters in Theatre Arts. The workshop was conducted by Ola Johnson from Stockholm University. I was so fascinated with the theme and this form of theatre that I decided to devise some special workshop. I was helped by then superintendent of Kot Bhalwal central jail Mrs Rajni Sehgal, We discussed the project and moved on. It was a wonderful experience. I just wanted to go through the depression, the trauma and pain they were going through. No one is born criminal it just takes fraction of seconds to become one. There were some participants who had committed serious crimes. I could have easily taken a written play and told them to speak up their dialogues. But I didn’t want that. I devised a special performance with them. We did forum theatre also. They were told to write the letters to people they love. Some wrote to their mothers, fathers, brothers and there was one who wrote a letter to his unborn child. It was very emotional.
3. Can you tell us about your project regarding the Gujjars of J&K? The nomadic tribes of the state? What is your target?
Ifra: My interest has always been working with different communities, Let it be in Kot Bhalwal Central Jail or working with the fresh actors from remote areas of J&K or with the girls from Gujjar & Bakarwaal community. I conducted a community theatre workshop with 35 girls from different remote villages of J&K. The workshop was an initiative by Gujjar Desh Charitable trust. It is very easy to work with professional actors and but it takes lots of courage to conceive a performance with the people who don’t want to become Madhuri, Katrina or Shahrukh, Theatre is just medium of telling their stories to people.
4. What are the major themes you like to focus in your directorial ventures?
Ifra: Well I am not restricted to one theme, I do what I want to do. My plays are mostly selected after a long discussion with my father. Major concern after always choosing a play is will I be able to do justice with my actors and script.
5. Besides being a director, you have also acted in many plays? Can you share with the readers some interesting experiences? You started your career as a child artist with Doordarshan kendra. Can you tell us about it?
Ifra: (Smiles) I acted during my Masters in Theatre at Central University of Hyderabad. Yes I started my career as a child artist with Doordarshan and acted in the first ever tele serial in Dogri to be telecasted on DD Jammu. Did a lot of projects for DD Kashmir. But I stopped, because that was not the goal for me. I was always theatre, theatre and theatre.
6. Please comment on the status of theatre in the state? Is it catching up or is it still an ignored arena? In this age of digital media, theatre is losing its sheen. What can be done to change the tide?
Ifra: Not at all Theatre is very active in J&K. You can see plays in Abhinav Theatre every other day these days. There are young people working and I feel very happy for them. It is not at all an ignored arena. If it would have been ignored you would not have been taking my interview (Smiles). I have seen people making false claims that women are not into theatre in Jammu. There are women who are very actively doing theatre in J&K these days. Let it be acting or direction. Youngsters are going for academic training in theatre arts which has always been my dream. For example Delight William, such a hard working and organic performer. Delight had worked in professional theatre company TIE New Delhi and worked there for almost two years with eminent theatre directors from India and abroad.
What would you like to say to the women of J&K, who wish to pursue theatre? How to begin? Who to approach? What is the best strategy to go about it? Any course or workshop that they can take up?
Ifra: I didn’t follow any messages from eminent people when I decided to take up theatre as my career. I followed what my heart said. So no message from my side. They will do what their heart says. It is like that they will approach someone and they will be successful in their theatre career. Just work with honesty
Who are you thankful to for accomplishing such a successful career?
Ifra: My Teachers and My Father….My father had never spoon feed me…..Althoug he himself is big name in theatre, he never spoon feed me. I owe everything to him.