While the history of Hindi Theatre can be traced back to the Mughal era with the emergence of the synergetic Urdu and Hindustani traditions in arts, the modern Hindi theatre form is equally indebted to Parsi theatre. During the period of 1850 – 1930, it flourished in Bombay and soon spread across various other regions in India. In order to cater to a more diverse audience, they soon evolved a certain mix of Hindi and Urdu in their scripts and performances which went on to become the Hindustani language. In Kolkata, it was the efforts of Bharatendu Harishchandra which led to the development of the Hindi theatre. These plays were mostly based on folklore and mythological tales, but aimed at raising a voice against the British rule. Years down, it was Shyamanand Jalan who is credited for the renaissance in Hindi theatre in Kolkata. Besides original work, he also translated plays from Bengali and other languages, introducing them to the Hindi speaking audiences.
Little Thespian, formed by the husband wife duo of SM Azhar Alam and Uma Jhunjhunwala was formed in 1994 and has been working steadily ever since in the domain of Hindi and Urdu theatre or Hindustani, as they like to describe it, in Kolkata. Recalling the history of theatre practices In Kolkata in Hindi, he points out the significance of Parsi theatre as a major force. His own journey began during his graduation days at Maulana Azad College and the indelible mark left on him by Bengali theatre especially the works of Badal Sarkar and Mohit Chattopadhyay. As for Uma Jhunjhunwala, theatre was more of a political act for her to begin with during her university days. It was only afterwards when both of them decided to pursue it seriously and professionally. And based on their experience after all these years, they feel that the major challenge in case of Hindi theatre in Kolkata is the absence of a proper audience. And this in turn has become their driving forces since for both husband and wife, theatre has a social responsibility besides entertainment. While the struggle is still very much alive, they feel they have been successful to an extent in penetrating a section of the minority community, culturally, who have otherwise never been interested in theatre. But still that is hardly a match for the historically, culturally and politically conditioned audience of Bengali theatre. And despite all their intentions and achievements, the recent policies taken up by NSD has really not been very helpful in widespread development of marginal theatre especially for groups with limited resources.
However, Azhar Alam’s love and regard for Bengali theatre doesn’t stop him from criticizing the contemporary tendencies, which he finds to be somewhat, compromised for the sake of commercialization. And having said, both he and his wife talk about a certain mind-set in the overall theatre culture and practice in Bengal which is somewhat resistant to other languages. Be it about training centres or performance venues, Hindi theatre is grossly neglected by the Paschim Banga Natya Academy. Uma Jhunjhunwala shares an incident elaborating how they were made to be victim of the Academy’s prejudice and how hardly anyone from the Bengali theatre fraternity stood by their side. However both of them sound confident, hopeful and undaunted about their greater goal.