Play narrates life, struggles of folk artist Bhikhari Thakur

New Delhi, Feb 15 (PTI) A play on the life and struggles of folk artist Bhikhari Thakur gave a glimpse of 'launda naach', one of the traditional art forms of Bihar, while raising pertinent questions on social evil of caste discrimination.

'Bhikhari Naama', a musical play by Bhikhari Thakur Repertory and Research Centre, was staged here at the National School of Drama's Bharat Rang Mahotsav on Friday.

Directed by Jainendra Dost, the play narrated his life from childhood to youth and the struggles he faced because of caste bias, migration for livelihood before settling down in his village to form a theatre troupe.

After learning about Thakur's legacy during his Phd thesis on 'launda naach', a performing art form in which men dance and sing dressed as women, Dost wanted to tell his story to the world and inform people about the tradition is 'now considered vulgar'.

'I began collecting stories and events from Bhikhari's life, right from his birth to when he created the naach group. These were then re-assembled in chronological order before being made into a written performance text.

'The real challenge here was to think of the form that would best reflect his work and life. We found the answer in our very own launda naach tradition. We weaved together songs, music, dance, drama and comedy in a documentary theatre form,' the directed said.

The two-hour play uses Thakur's own songs and some new ones performed in folk singing traditions including 'purbi, nirgun, doha, and choubala' to highlight the cultural, socio-economical aspects of Thakur's life.

Dost, who also plays the narrator and Thakur's role for the most part, added events from Thakur's life that reflected the caste bias he faced in his own village, pain of separation from his wife as he migrated to West Bengal to earn a livelihood.

'Thakur, who was a barber by caste, performed serious songs that talked about ill treatment of widows, dowry, trade of girl child, caste discrimination in front of an audience that paid for it.

'He was a hundred years ahead of his time. Sadly, the social evils still affect the society. He will always be contemporary,' Dost told PTI.

Born in 1887 in Bihar, Thakur went on to pen and perform social plays like 'Bidesiya', 'Beti-Bechwa', 'Bhai-Birod', 'Bidhwa-Bilaap', and 'Gobar-Ghichor'.

Calling the modern connotation of 'launda naach' as unfortunate, Dost said that people have confused it with something else that's vulgar.

'Launda naach is a theatre form of Bihar, it always spoke of social change and morality. But people over the year have turned it into something vulgar, and it has affected people like us who are still true to the form,' the 35-year-old director said.

Three of Thakur's original troupe -- Ramchandra Manjhi, Shivlal Bari and Lakhichand Manjhi -- also performed in 'Bhikhari Naama'.

'I was 10 when I joined Bhikhari Thakur's group, long before Gandhi had become famous,' remembered Manjhi, a name that has become synonymous with 'launda naach'.

Performing at the age of 95, Manji said incidents of dowry killings and other social issues have come down over the years, but it is up to the younger generation to carry the words of Thakur forward.

'The times have changed. We are living in a new era. New generation has come through. We have lived our life. It's time for us to bid the final goodbye. Such incidents have come down now,' he said.

The singer was honoured with the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy award in 2017, after which he started receiving more invites.

'The government made sure I am alive and kicking even at this old age. The President awarded me. Because of that, I have got an invitation from Mumbai. I am rushing here and there at this age. What do I do,' he said with a smile on his face. PTI MAH MAH