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It is a concise biography of the two artists in two short sections, besides a foreword and a section carrying condensed biographical notes.  Written in simple, forceful prose, the monograph is a factual record of the purposeful life of two of the renowned sons of India.  The New Delhi-based Sahmat, an umbrella cultural organisation realised the necessity to fill this vacuum.  In 2011, it held a three-day symposium on the IPTA and the PWA, the first ever formal discussion on Indian political theatre and litera6ture.  The group also published a book on two principal players of the IPTA movement – Balraj and Bhisham Sahni.  Balraj and Bhisham Sahni: Brothers in the Political Theatre is an extension of Sahmat’s consensus to bring the memory of the IPTA and the PWA back to the national consciousness.

Balraj made it big in Indian cinema, and Bhisham went on to become one of the greatest Hindi writers and actors of all time.  While popular imagination reinforces the Sahni brothers as great entertainers, the book tries to take readers back to their initial days, much before they became celebrities.  As it tries to document their association with the IPTA, their struggles and their aspiration to bring about a change in the world come out prominently.  This the book does through two chapters, one written by Bhisham’s daughter Kalpana Sahni and the other by the first general secretary of the Communist Party, P.C. Joshi.

The first essay written by Kalpana Sahni, daughter of Bhisham Sahni, recalls the major incidents that took place in the lives of the two brothers while the second essay by P.C. Joshi, the first general secretary of the Communist Party of India, deals only with Balraj’s life.  A distinct transformation took place in the life of Balraj when he was introduced to Indian People’s Theatre Association.  He was planning to plunge headlong into the national struggle, but now he saw that the best way open for him would be to get into active involvement with IPTA and thereby pursued his mission.  IPTA was formed in 1942 as a cultural wing of the undivided Communist Party of India the objective of which was to endorse, support and encourage leftist consciousness.

While the first chapter is about the Sahni brothers’ association with the IPTA, the second, by P.C. Joshi, who was known to be the biggest patron of the IPTA, talks about the political lives of the Sahni brothers and what led them to become committed IPTA members.  Joshi points out that Balraj had always wanted to contribute to political change.  It was this yearning that led him to Santiniketan and Gandhi’s Ashram.  He learnt a lot about humanity and collectivism there but found these spaces too sanitised with respect to the harsh realities of the real world.  He found his true calling in Communism in London and decided to practise it through his skills in acting and writing.  Joshi describes how he was wary of foreign-returned Communists and considered them romantics more than anything else. However, Balraj and his wife, Damayanti, also a devout leftist, impressed Joshi and he let Balraj organise the IPTA.

It was this popularity that Indian cinema also capitalised on.  The likes of S.D. Burman, Prithviraj Kapoor, Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt, who were leftists themselves, were impressed by the growth of the IPTA.  For them, the IPTA had become a great ground to find talent in music, acting and direction. Unfortunately, Joshi reminisces, the IPTA gradually faded out after Independence, when the Communist Party changed its line under the general secretary, B.T. Ranadive. Joshi, under whom the IPTA had flourished, was accused of being a bourgeois agent and was expelled from the party.

MY TAKE:  This book could not be termed as a biography.  It is a document that helps one understand the relationship between art and politics.  It also gives valuable insights into the politics of the time through the lives of two individuals who became big names in independent India.  More importantly, it gives us a detailed picture of two artistes who were driven by the social and political concerns of their times, a trait absent in artistes of contemporary India.



AUTHORS:  Kalpana Sahni, P. C. Joshi


LANGUAGE:  English

PAGES: 100

PRICE:  Rs. 120

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