Spotlight on Independent India and its Artists

Today marks 67 years of India’s Independence. As many of you already know, people from different walks of life joined in on both the Indian freedom struggle, as well as actively strengthening the country in the immediate few years, following the declaration of Independence. There are many wonderful scholars and artists who took it upon themselves to inspire and motive people to contribute towards the betterment of India – some of whom we don’t always remember.


Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (1904 -1948):

Subhadra Kumari Chauhan was an Indian poet and an active participant of the Non-cooperation movement. Many of you might find her name familiar thanks to the popularity of some of her pieces like ‘Jhansi ki Rani’ and the incorporation of her Hindi poetry in school syllabi across the country. Born in Nihalpur village, Allahabad district, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan wrote a number of poems in Hindi that celebrated the notions of freedom, patriotism and determination. Her poems are often said to have had a huge impact on younger generations of her time, inspiring many of them to take up a role in the Indian Freedom movement. Her involvement in the Indian freedom struggle led to her being arrested and jailed twice, for her protests against British rule.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (1903 -1988):

Born in Mangalore, Kamaladevi was a freedom fighter and social reformer with a great love for theatre. She was a playwright as well as an actress, in a time when it was taboo for women to work, especially in publicly visible creative roles. Kamaladevi is best known for her encouragement of independent theatre in India, as well as her support towards strengthening the indigenous arts and handicrafts sector in India. She was a graduate of Queen’s Mary College, Chennai and later received a diploma in Sociology from the Bedford College, University of London.

Kamaladevi was living in London when she first learnt of Gandhiji’s Non-cooperation movement. She was producing plays along with her husband, Harindranath Chattopadhyay. She returned to India to join the Seva Dal, an organization dedicated towards social reform and upliftment. She was soon charged with the responsibility of heading the women’s section, overseeing recruitment and training. Kamaladevi was known for her active participation in the Indian freedom movement, however her love for theatre and the arts was made obvious to everyone when she undertook the responsibility to revive and create sustainable infrastructure for the handicrafts sector and theatrical arts in post Independent India. She set up several craft museums across the country, including the all important Theatre Crafts Museum in Delhi. She also set up the All India Handicrafts Board and the Crafts Council of India. With respect to indie theatre, Kamaladevi set up the National School of Drama, New Delhi and the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography (NIKC), Bangalore.

Safdar Hashmi (1954-1989):

Safdar Hashmi was a playwright, actor, director and lyricist – he primarily worked with the art of street theatre, introducing it as an effective tool of political expression and discussion. Hailing from Delhi, his stint with theatre began during his time at St. Stephens College and Delhi University, while he worked with the student wing of the CPI-M.

In 1973, he co-founded Jana Natya Manch or JANAM (People’s Theatre Front) – a theatre group that used the art of street theatre to promote political discussion, awareness and criticism. JANAM became well known for its controversial skits that openly criticized and discussed political leaders and their activities. In 1989, Safdar Hashmi succumbed to injuries he sustained when the JANAM group was brutally attacked by certain members of the Indian National Congress during the performance of the controversial street play ‘Halla Bol’.

JANAM continues to actively engage in theatre work and in 2012, the group inaugurated Studio Safdar – a performance and workshop space in Delhi.

There are an incredible number of artists – musicians, writers, dramatists, actors, choreographers – artists who used their skills to creatively express their political sentiments and to spread the word about our culture. I couldn’t have possibly mentioned all of them here, but if you have any ideas or stories to share, then please leave us a comment. Remember to please be grateful for the freedom and independence that so many wonderful people fought hard for. Happy Indian Independence Day.


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