Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Brahma Prakash

Staging Against Establishment: Gaddar and Jana Natya Mandaliof Andhra Pradesh

--Brahma Prakash

We live in a world where every crime a nation can commit is excused by false claims to Democracy […] Democracy has been the universally acceptable, authenticating concept in the pursuit of public relations, and the most abused system in reality [McGrath 2002].

This paper examines the historical success of the Jana Natya Mandali (JNM), the most popular revolutionary cultural organization in Andhra Pradesh with many regional branches in other states, in the context of theatre aesthetics and the preset conception and authenticity of Indian democracy. It further examines the role of JNM in dialectic conscientisation of people which led to relentless struggle by peasants, Adivasisand other lower sections of Indian society against the state’s anti-people policies and its alliances with imperial forces on the downfall of the NaxaliteMovement. Rapid and unequal globalizations, as well as the state’s giving in to new LPG policies have resulted in suffering of underdeveloped masses. The JNM, with its idea of New-Democracyand the politics of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism has become the voice of the suffering and an open challenge to the state and establishment. Founded in 1972 under the leadership of the legendary Gaddar, JNM has remained one of the most powerful and unparalleled cultural forces to expose the anti people policies and the illusionist claims of Indian democracy. Aimed towards creating a People’s oriented culture it has very successfully molded traditional folk forms like, Oggu Katha and Veedhi Bhagotham with powerful songs, theatricality and participation of people in the entire performance as the epic of the oppressed. The paper seeks to locate the reasons of aesthetics and politics that helped JNM to achieve such a rare goal when highly commercial and state sponsored institutions with the power of expression are unable to find their audiences and retain their identity. The paper identifies JNM as a cultural movement with the expression of powerfrom the marginalized sections in the face of vehement opposition from various sides.

The emergence of Jana Natya Mandali is not a one day process rather has its rich and revolutionary cultural background in the material and historical condition of Andhra Pradesh, and can be linked to powerful communist movement in the region. Disparities, inequalities, oppressions and violations of human rights are not new things for today’s Andhra Pradesh but with rapid and unequal globalization this also speeds up.

After the decline of IPTA and other progressive movements, Jana Natya Mandali

(literally, People Theatre Group) emerged as the cultural alternatives in southern state of

Andhra Pradesh. The group had taken lessons from their past experiences with Praja Natya Mandali and IPTA and moulded itself with the more realistic condition and powerful imaginations to see the continuing agrarian struggles. Some basic methodologies which JNM has adopted for its cultural expression:

Folk form as an important tool: Right from its beginning, JNM understood theeffectiveness of folk forms as the best means to reach among rural people. It took the popular folk forms like “Oggu katha”, “Veedhi Bhagotham”, “Yellama Katha” and other forms like Ryuti Cooli Vijayam and others.

Song as a powerful weapon: With Gaddar as the great singer and composer, song is very important in JNM activities. Song is basically kind of poems that canbe easily sung by people. And in that way JNM has understood the reality poetryand theatre cannot be divorced for the grater aesthetics of art. Gaddar has not only re-lived the oral tradition of the region but also has ‘liberated poetry from printed space and private sphere by composing poems’ (Shiva Prakash 2006). The songs used in JNM use to be very satirical and easy to adopt and sing ,it depicts the day to day lives of the workers, peasants, students, employs, women and adiavasis, like the song written on Railway workers, Rickshaw-pullers, poor-policemen and about corruption and rising prices became the classic for the general masses.

From the Masses to Masses: JNM maintains an organic link with the masses in moulding and remoulding its cultural tools to perform before larger audiences.JNM artists believes in participatory firsthand knowledge and observation of particular section of society and generally based its performance on them.

Artists from Below: One of the best qualities of this group which make it more popular is the idea of taking artists from lower section of society and group firm beliefs that artists are not necessarily born, but made. The art emerges from the lives of lower section of society does not make demarcation between daily lives and theatrical lives. Even most of the artists in this group comes from lower section of Dalits and Adivasis background.

Achieve: Video clips of Gaddar’s performance in different political rallies