From his birth in a village called Satto-aali, the one which lays half in Pakistan and half in India, post-partition, it was certainly a daunting task of Kumar Anil Bharti, who dared to dream beyond the usual conventional track most of his age and time, chose to walk on, and become what he is today. A fine drama artist and better drama writer with three Academy awards to boot with, the journey of Bharti has been equally fascinating.
Born to arguably the first law graduate of the state, Bharti was always given the free hand to try his luck in fields other than the few conventional ones. His mother, who was also a folk singer, also influenced him in a great way while his father, although an advocate, always encouraged Bharti as a kid. While a school play ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisaan’ had sown the seeds of acting in young Bharti, stories like ‘Gautam Buddha and Daaku Unglimal’ had him glued to writing. The result, ultimately, could not be anything than expected as today he is one of the finest play writers and actors around.
Bharti recalls starting writing in the year of 1975, “After writing from one genre to another, trying almost all forms like short stories and poetry, I finally settled down with writing plays. The writing turned serious at the start of the decade of eighties’ when a noted drama artist of Jammu Radio station, Ratan Kalsi asked me to focus on this particular genre. He always had this trust in me- which I used to feel really awkward about initially, but as of now, I am really grateful to the persistent efforts of Kalsi Ji which have contributed a lot in what I am today.”
The ending of the decade of 80’s saw Bharti rise as one of the biggest names in the field of creative writing in the state. He was not only charming people with his acting skills but also presenting a wave of change through the dramas which he wrote in between. But it was his book, based on a drama- ‘Oss Morh Te’ which made Bharti shot to the fame. Written by Bharti in 1988, the book won the coveted award for the Best Award by Jammu and Kashmir Academy for Art, Culture and Languages, in the year 1989.
Bharti asserts that this was more than an award. “If you ask anyone from that era, there was so much corruption in the literature scenario of the state that writers would feel heart-broken. Best books were ignored while pathetic plays were winning awards in leaps. While there were many good writers and artists, the awards used to be decided on the basis of who is more close to whom. I had to fight for almost 4 years to break this sad chain of events. It was certainly more than an award for me,” he explains.
However, it was not the end of things. Bharti shares how he was demotivated and his play devalued by those who were irked by Bharti’s all out efforts against the corrupt traditions they used to practice. He says, “After they couldn’t break me by many means, then they started telling me how the award was a consolation given to me and how I should be content with it and try no more. One of them came to me and said that anyone can win the award in Dogri and that he would have respected me if I had won so in Hindi language. This was such an insult. You would not believe me but I took out a script that I had written in 1984, worked on improving it, made few changes here and there, gave it a name – Ek Disha Aur and submitted my entry the same year to Academy. Almost like a movie sequence, the book went on to win the Best Script Award in 1990!”
While unbelievable as it may sound, Bharti won two awards for Best Script in two consecutive years, written in two different languages. Talk about shutting your critics! While the critics were shut forever, the fire within Bharti did not. He performed plays by heaps, wrote scripts in dozens and kept winning hearts in many years to come. Incidentally, he got his third award for Best Script for his Punjabi play- Ek Tukda Zameen Di Tapaash. That he utilized the prize money from his awards into installing a printing press, speaks a lot about his passion for writing.
So how does it feels- from being called as a below average writer to winning three Best Script Awards and many othes? We asked Bharti, “Awards are not everything. When I started writing, I never told myself that I am writing for awards and if I don’t get any, I will stop writing. If I had not got any award, I would still be as obsessed as I am with my writing. Awards do matter- in fact they are closest to the best recognition of your work- but they are not everything. I would rather consider my being able to change certain things in state a greater achievement.” Humble coming from someone with so many trophies in his cupboard!
While he has written a lot of plays, the number of those which have come in print in the form of a book stands at 16 including 4 adapted versions of plays in Dogri. Some of the notables among these are Oss Morh Te, Ek Tukda Zameen Di Tapaash, Ek Disha Hor, Pushpanjli Chal Mere Hirna Ticchak Tu, Kamdev Dot Com, Aao Chhu Le Gagan, Duggar Di Anmulli Lok Virasat and Blood and Beauty. Bharti puts special emphasis on the last play as it is bringing laurels to him and state in most glorious way. This popular folk play has not only won awards in various parts of the country, including having the rare distinction of being staged in Srinagar; but has created history as it has been selected to be staged at Asia’s biggest International Theatre Festival ‘Bharat Rang Mahotsava’, being organized by National School of Drama New Delhi on 7th of February.
Another great contribution Bharti has made to the mother land is revival of old folk art forms like Haran and Bhagtan. While he has added a lot of color to the former, with a touch of modernization make it popular than ever, there is a lot to be done in latter, as he admits. However, he is hopeful that he will be able to do something about that almost-extinct art folk form. On his mission, he is usually out in villages with his video camera, extracting forgotten folk tunes and stories from the elders of the village.
It is not all that Bharti is doing, however. Through Natraj Natya Kunj, a cultural society established in 1984 by Bharti’s father for the promotion of art and culture in state, Bharti has kept the flag of Dogra tradition waving high. Focusing on producing best quality artists, Bharti’s group has been successfully performing in all parts of the country. Back to the old habits of the master, the group has been acclaiming Best Production award in State Level Annual Drama Festival organized by JKAACL for past four consecutive years. As of now, there are 25 students getting training from him, including 6 girls.
So how does he look at his journey so far? “Quite satisfying but equally difficult! It was not easy to convince people to be an artist, in my time. Sadly things have not changed even now, after 33 years. Today, I, my wife and my three children are all artists. This is my bit, my way of showing that art is not a bad thing at all. I hope people’s mindset change for good in coming times,” he answers. Currently, Bharti is working on the Dogri adaption of noted writer Dr. Davinder Singh’s ‘Garak Ho Reha Manukh’. There are a couple of other books and many plays in pipeline also
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