Through the open doors, a passing car backfires, groups of people wander in and out conversing loudly, JaNaM goes on. After all, this is what the street theater group was designed for: to emerge through the din of Delhi’s packed avenues, to capture attention and hold it, to gain momentum and energy from the curiosity of the pressing crowd.
In the Library Atrium, passers-by come to stop and stare, to listen, to understand. A George Bush caricature – dolled up in camouflage pants and cowboy hat saunters through, waving a plastic gun under the noses of Indian officials. No matter that the dialogue is in Hindi – the crowd of students, staff and faculty laughs anyway, the humor easily transcending language.
The performances are often like this – funny, passionate, sad, always direct. They frequently agitate for worker’s rights, women’s rights and human rights. They challenge viewers to think about democracy and decency, raising the minimum wage, equal treatment for women in the workplace, globalization.
JaNaM’s plays are like living things in their own right. They have none of the fitfulness or formality of Western theater; they require neither ticket nor technology. The production explodes into existence through the authorship of passion alone. A strip of cloth around the head, over the shoulders or tied to the waist, serves as a costume, transforming a factory worker into a government official or a union agitator. Seamlessly, the production dances from music to drama to song and back again. JaNaM is an assault on the senses.
JaNaM has performed a repertoire of nearly 90 plays more than 8,000 times. This year, the visit to the HWS Fisher Center was the first stop on their tour of the U.S. They go, as the actors say, where the people are. “We’re not used to this setting, said member Moloyashree Hashmi, speaking in the Geneva Room Wednesday night “with a mic, a podium; we’re used to the Indian Streets – we’re used to shouting!
Still, one gets the feeling, watching JaNaM captivate a crowd: whether they shout or not, they are certainly heard.