Nature is the ‘Book of Life’ and so travelling over the length and breadth of the country teaches us exotic bits and pieces, says one of the best theatre artists, directors and Sangeet Natak Academi awardees for Direction, Maharaj Krishna Raina fondly known as M K Raina in an exclusive interview with The Dance India Magazine.
Hailing from the beautiful city, Kashmir, M K Raina started theatre at a tender age of ten along with his education. He graduated from the famous National School of Drama in New Delhi, with a State Scholarship from the Government. Though not having much of a cultural background (father being a medical practitioner), Raina dared and decided to pursue theatre arts as profession at a very young age and was completely supported by his folks at home.
“Kashmir has a very vibrant, secular theatre and culture movement and a fast progress during my growing years”, he proudly stated. He also said that he grew up in the best times of Kashmir when there was tremendous freedom and peace par excellence along with a lot of space for each person’s art, work worth, talent, etc. Staying in such a culturally vivacious city gave him an opportunity at a very youthful age to witness performances of prominent artists such as Pandit Birju Maharaj and Begum Akhtar.
After working on stage for a company for a while, he decided to do freelancing, as it was natural for him. He being very active in theatre and having renowned mentors such as his Principal, who was a legendary poet of Kashmir who used to write beautiful Operas for the students, encouraged him to be a freelancer till date. “The people of Kashmir are very lovely”, he expressed, saying that they would talk to him as if conversing with the next legendary artist. He was influenced by many poets who inspired and encouraged youngsters to perform entertaining plays. Some of those inspiring poets were Dinanath Nadim, Abur Rehman Rahi and Amin Kamil.
Another influential person in Raina’s life was his father, who gave him the space he needed and let his studies and theatre go hand in hand. He mentioned that his father always encouraged him to experiment and stood as a backbone, though he could not watch every play of his, he watched few of his plays and that made him highly proud of his son and the work he was doing.
Raina is a cultural activist and is associated with Sahamat (Safdar Hasmi Memorial Trust) which is a politico- cultural organisation having members who are actors, musicians, dancers and many more. His father was also a political activist, who worked with a political party before and after Independence, but quit when the party dissolved.
Being a Kashmiri Pandit, M K Raina never felt any difference in Kashmir and in the field of theatre, rather his regular visits to the city since 16 years to organize shows and plays has encouraged the local talent to dedicatedly work in the field of art and theatre.
When asked about the massacre, which happened in the year 2000, he said, that it was the worst period, with shoot at sight orders all over the place in the premises leading to each and every person losing everything and the complete clan had to move out and get uprooted overnight in a need to save their lives. During this period, he lost his mother and to perform the last rites in such critical situation he had to get permission from the paramilitary forces. His father who luckily had children settled in other states could move out without any difficulty but his relatives had to stay in refugee camps and had to start from scratch.
His life in National School of Drama (NSD) was described as the most inspiring, where he had great theatre teachers like Ebrahim Alkazi, from whom he learnt a lot and who was the most committed to theatre and was concerned about every student. For him, being a student at NSD was like chiselling a stone and shaping into a beautiful statue. He also said that, “It was like smashing the ideas of the student and bringing out ideas of modern aesthetics, world culture, theatre, art, poetry, music, painting, ancient drama, Greek, Sanskrit and Asian drama which were all present in the syllabus”.
Raina possess an obsession for travelling all over the country and interests in acquiring details about every culture and folk of the realm. Hailing from Kashmir, which didn’t have access for trains or railways for many years, he witnessed his first train at the age of 16. This led to his curiosity to visit every corner of the country and understand India.
When he was offered a scholarship to visit France, during his college days he firmly rejected the offer, to the shock of his examiners, as he wanted to visit places in India such as Konark, Ajanta, etc. He had a concept that before visiting a country abroad and gaining knowledge about their foreign culture, it is mandatory to thoroughly have knowledge about our own homeland, India. This would help in interacting with the people of that country as exchange knowledge. He still follows the principle, which also helped him in bagging a global assignment to teach in the West and work on an Indian production along with them. This helped him in making his personality lucid in understanding them to a great extent. He also stated that he believed in equality, when it comes to cultural exchange.
When asked about films, he said that they happened simultaneously along with theatre. The first film ‘27 down’ which was made in the year 1972, won a National Award and was also praised by every artist and viewer. He mentioned that 70s was a fervent period on culture and there was a parallel cinema movement.
According to M K Raina, the theatre movement which mainly comes from folk drama is the base of any country and our country is considered very special for having a separate style of drama schools for every region. “Theatre is like the Pacific Ocean in which you can make a small boat for yourself to sail along and create your own identity”, he pointed out.
In a trip to Andhra University in Visakhapatnam for a 3-month workshop in the year 1980, led him to visit the beautiful tribal places in and around the city and learn a lot about their culture and folk. After visiting these places, he realised that people in tribal areas speak many languages, showing the vastness and spread of India and helps in getting a richer and wider idea of India in a deeper way.
He also mentioned that, “there exists traditional and western theatre but western theatre is like proscenium and has very limited possibility”. The traditional kind of theatre requires open space and the actors need freedom for exploration and improvisation.
M K Raina who is also a great director, is fascinated with technology which led him to make numerous documentaries on literature and heritage. He made documentaries on Ladakh, Kashmir, UP, Homi Bhabha, Music of Kashmir and many more. Some things which he tends to connect but which cannot be put into drama are put into documentary, he says.
“Documentation is a special science which is essential, but India hasn’t completely opened up to it and there is little awareness about it”, Raina stressed and added that documentation is the need of the hour and if no proper documentation is made, many valuable cultural aspects will vanish as time passes by.
About his family, he happily mentioned that his wife, Anjali is in the medical field but is a classical singer and an art lover. His son, Ananth is a documentary film maker and a music lover, while his daughter is the only one who is in a different field and has done her master’s in Public Policy.
Culture and theatre is the backbone to the country as it represents the complete face of the country. But in India, there are no sufficient resources, encouragement and exposure to this art form. He said that, “Funds are definitely granted from Central and State government but the dividends are higher and it is like a ritual to give some monetary support, but only to their terms and not in the terms of necessity.”
Folk theatres have different forms like Katha forms, ballet forms, etc., which are very important for the development and maintenance of culture of the country. The people of the respective folk forms need to be given lot of investment in monetary terms and ample mentorship by eminent artists of the field. They should be encouraged to choose this field as profession to carry forward the tradition and legacy of their traditional folk form.
The Yakshagana folk dance form was made popular and brought into prominence by three activists and writers. This helped in saving such an art form from becoming extinct. He quoted that, “a country without culture is a pauper country and there exists no soul or spine for it so investment in culture development is a must.” He also suggested that, “every district must have a culture complex with space for performance, a library to store the documentation a rehearsal area and a stay for the artists”.
He mentioned that, if theatre is utterly neglected, it implies that not only the government has failed but also the people have failed and are not aware of their responsibilities.
According to him, a play writer should know the science of drama and science of theatre to write a play. One should know and have a proper idea the possibilities in theatre before showcasing a play. He also stated that, “a good play is always entertaining and the definition of entertainment does not necessarily imply happiness or laughter rather it is an aspect which gives the audience different innovative thoughts and ideas and new emotions to delve upon. A good play soothes the mind and the nerves of the viewer”.
Speaking of his most cherished moments so far, he said that whenever, “he was given the freedom to do what he wanted to do which gave him immense pleasure.” He also mentioned few incidents which were the most remembered memories from his journey. One was where, he directed a play ‘Andha Yug’, an epic play which was about the last day of Mahabharata on the rompers of an old fort in Delhi and also another incident where he directed a play in Ladakh at an elevation of 12,000 feet with picturesque view of the mountains on one side and the royal palace on the other.
He also said that, street plays are the best form of entertainment in India and a very effective way to spread key messages, when theatre and stage plays cost a bomb.