ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Theatre and Politics of Safdar Hashmi

Halla Bol: The Death and Life of Safdar Hashmi by Sudhanva Deshpande, 2020; New Delhi: Leftword Books, pp 264 (price not indicated).


It is not till the near end of this fast-paced book (p 215) that we get to the play it takes its title from, Halla Bol. Reverberating through pop culture, including in a 2008 Ajay Devgn-starring Bollywood movie of the same title, a YouTube series, and a startling Wikipedia entry that attributes the campaign to Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1994,1 this revolutionary slogan exemplifies the life of the slain convenor of the street theatre group Jana Natya Manch (Janam) and full-time worker of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]), Safdar Hashmi. But more than that, Sudhanva Deshpande, the author of this latest account of Hashmi’s life, fuses the man with his art. It makes sense then that we see how Halla Bol is the culmination of Safdar’s2 violently abortive life’s work, rather than a popular slogan to rally around.

To understand his life, we start with his death. The attack on Safdar by mercenary goons during a performance on 1 January 1989, and his subsequent death from injuries sustained on 2 January unfolded in the public eye with surprising simultaneity given that this took place in an era long before cell phones and the Metro as a reliable and fast public transportation. Of this oft-mythologised death, some even call it martyrdom, of a political artist, Sudhanva in Halla Bol provides us with something we have never had before—a visceral, gut-wrenching, etched-in-detail first-person narrative of the events of the day. It is gory, horrific, and heartbreaking. Sudhanva, with two of his comrades Brijesh and Vishwajit recover the prostrate and wounded Safdar from where his attackers left him mid-road, and try to get him immediate and competent medical attention, a precarious journey riddled with rickshaw rides, reluctant taxis, broken-down cars, and multiple hospitals.

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Updated On : 13th Jan, 2020
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