Studio Safdar Trust
Studio Safdar, named after Safdar Hashmi is an independent, non-funded space for arts and activism based in Shadi Khampur New Delhi. It was established in 2012 by Jana Natya Manch (Janam) – one of India’s leading political street theatre groups.
The Studio is dedicated to creating an alternate and affordable space in Delhi for staging and experimenting with the arts. It supports activism that explored the multiple intersections of communities and politics.
Studio Safdar is run by Studio Safdar Trust and is loacted in Shadi Khampur area of West Delhi.
Origin and Future
Safdar Hashmi at 34 was thinking of setting up a small cultural centre in a working class neighbourhood of Delhi. His motivations were manifold – every time Jana Natya Manch (Janam) went to working class areas and slums to perform, Safdar was excited at the talent he saw in the youth, and appalled that this talent would most often go waste; he was concerned that Janam might stagnate as people’s artists if there was no expansion of their creative horizons; he saw that many members of Janam were in their thirties and the pressures of family and work were beginning to tell on them; these were the early years of the video boom and Safdar felt a need to master this emerging technology.
The cultural centre that he envisaged, then, was to be a training ground primarily for political street theatre groups; a space where Janam members could replenish their creative resources; a centre that might allow some Janam members to become full-time cultural workers; an institute that imparted training in new technologies; and a centre that drew underprivileged youth into cultural work. The idea of the Janotsav – which Sahmat organised with spectacular success in 1990 in Mangolpuri – was, for Safdar, an outcome of this thinking.
Before any of this could be realised, though, Safdar was killed in a brutal attack on Janam in January 1989. The main task at that time was to train, learn to write and direct plays, because in Safdar’s death Janam had lost its creative leader.
While the task of training to fill up the vacuum created by Safdar’s absence took precedence over everything else, simultaneously Janam's area of activity also increased. Janam then began conducting regular workshops and training sessions. The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Lecture series was begun. A bilingual magazine, Nukkad Janam Samvaad was published. Proscenium plays were done with regularity, with theatre-persons including Habib Tanvir, M.K. Raina, Govind Deshpande, Anuradha Kapur, N.K. Sharma, and others to work with us.
Janam also took the lead in organising all India meetings of people’s theatre activists. The history of street theatre in India was recorded. Writing in journals about street theatre also started expanding on the basic framework that Safdar had set out. To be sure, the first steps towards many of these initiatives had come from Safdar himself – he was instrumental in bringing artists together in the wake of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, on the question of artists’ solidarity with workers.
Simultaneously, a concern about the general state of infrastructure for theatre also grew. Over the years it was realised that one of the key areas of concern for theatre groups was the lack of rehearsal infrastructure. A rehearsal space for an amateur theatre group typically means any place they are not heckled out of. Theatre groups are forced, then, to rent rehearsal space at commercial rates, drilling a hole in their pockets.
Around the summer of 2009, Janam began to think of setting up a space that will do three things simultaneously. First, a space that will provide the facilities for Janam and other theatre groups and activist organisations to conduct rehearsals, workshops and training. Every time Janam organised the All India Meeting, we realised that there was a demand for training in street theatre.
Second, a space that would encourage community engagement. This became all the more urgent in 2010 when there were unprecedented challenges, and training new and young activists in sustained cultural work became extremely important.
Third, a space that could become a theatre studio, which could be used by theatre persons and other artistes.
Janam was able to acquire the space in Shadi Khampur during the summer of 2011. There are three spaces: a studio theatre space on the ground floor, called Studio Safdar, to be given out for rehearsals and performances; space on the third floor of the same building which has three rooms and some open space, besides bathrooms and a kitchen – here there was a plan to set up a library for neighbourhood children and theatre enthusiasts, a workspace where we can work with material (wood, paper, etc.), a room for meetings etc.; the terrace of the same building, to be used for routine rehearsals by Janam. The ownership of the space will remain in the name of Jana Natya Manch.
Studio Safdar is adjacent to the May Day Bookstore and Café, and in fact the two spaces are internally connected.
Studio Safdar was inaugurated on 12 April 2012, and May Day a few weeks later, on 1 May. For visitors, Studio Safdar and May Day are a seamless experience.
SHUBHA MUDGAL (President, Studio Safdar Trust)
MOLOYASHREE HASHMI (Secretary, Studio Safdar Trust)
JOYOTI ROY (Treasurer, Studio Safdar Trust)