Trisha Gupta finds out where Lokesh Jain would like to take theatre when he's taken it out of Mandi House.
“Structure, like speed, can be very masculine,” said Lokesh Jain. “There is a need for structure, but also a need to break that structure at times.” Jain has always been interested in breaking strict boundaries, whether they’re those of form, class or community. His current solo performance based on Sharankumar Limbale’s autobiography, Akkarmashi, emerged out of a long engagement with theatre as a social art. “Theatre does not evolve in isolation. There is no theatre without social conflict,” stressed Jain, who began his involvement with drama through street-level interventions in Delhi after the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
Jain may have been a theatre artist for 17 years, but he’s been a Dilliwala all his life. He grew up in Old Delhi, and still lives in the family home near Dilli Gate. His khadi kurta and scraggly beard may be completely at home in the comfortably arty environs of Triveni Tea Terrace, but Jain is deeply invested in taking theatre out of Mandi House and into the city’s schools and streets. He is a founding member and creative director of Jamghat, an organisation of and for street children in Delhi. He has been associated with the NGO Pravah for six years, and is also part of a collective of artists and development professionals called Mandala, whose Theatre-in-Education wing does plays and workshops for children. “We have taken well-known pieces like Ferdinand the Bull to different spaces, through theatre workshops in an orphanage near Jama Masjid,” said Jain.
Armed with an advanced diploma in acting from the Living Theatre Academy, where he trained in the early 1990s under Ebrahim Alkazi, Jain has long been experimenting with theatre that draws on local cultural forms. “You know, people in Manipur go on tiptoe to catch fish in the water – and that movement is incorporated in the region’s theatrical forms. And I count myself a murid [disciple] of Ratan Thiyyam, who is a master [of this sort of thing].” Jain’s realisation of the need to “explore one’s own roots” led to a consciousness that even urban settings have cultural conglomerations that are quite specific. “In Old Delhi, where I live, for instance, there is a composite culture, with Hindus and Muslims; there is an elite culture as well as a working class culture,” Jain said, describing how his interest in Delhi grew while researching an exhibition, “Shadow Uncensored”, in 1995-56. This interest led him to be part of KLOD-B (Knowing Loving Delhi Better), an organisation that he began with a group of friends in 1997-98 to explore the city on foot.
Jain’s concerns extend beyond the urban environment, though. He once evolved a version of Macbeth drawing on contemporary experiences “in the jungles of Assam”. Similarly, Akkarmashi, on this fortnight at The Attic, is based on the harrowing account of a childhood in a Maharashtrian village by the Dalit activist, writer, editor and critic Limbale. Caste made an appearance even in Premchand stories, Jain pointed out, “but a first-person narrative is different, it is painful for the audience and for me”. For Jain, this one man’s story describes “a 5,000-year-old history of suffering”, which he feels is getting lost in the current political climate. “I am not on any side. Party politics is all vested interests. Mine is simply a reaction to the violence that existed.
Time Out Delhi, 2007