Delhi hosts its first Na­tional Behrupiye Fes­ti­val, re­veal­ing tales of great gift and deep de­s­pair

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - Live - - TIME OUT - Ruchika Garg ruchika,garg@hin­dus­tan­times.com ■

Once upon a time, they had a pres­ti­gious position in In­dia’s royal palaces, but the 21st cen­tury hasn’t been kind to the com­mu­nity of per­form­ers called the Behrupiye, the hu­man chameleons who can play dozens of dif­fer­ent roles.

Though on the de­cline, the com­mu­nity of per­form­ing artists had much to cheer about re­cently. The Na­tional Behrupiye Fes­ti­val, or­gan­ised by Mar­tand Foun­da­tion, Udaipur, and Indira Gandhi Na­tional Cen­tre for the Arts, in Delhi for the first time, was at­tended by 70 behrupiye from across the coun­try.

Vi­las Jamve, from Mar­tand Foun­da­tion, told us, “Behrupiya is a com­plete play in it­self and doesn’t re­quire a stage. [The per­former] is the ac­tor, the singer, the di­rec­tor, the writer, the lyri­cist, and the nar­ra­tor. This fes­ti­val is to con­serve In­dia’s old­est art form and to pro­mote it.”


When other means of en­ter­tain­ment were not avail­able in the older days, a behrupiya would be called to wed­dings and other oc­ca­sions to per­form. Their ver­sa­til­ity en­ter­tained all sec­tions of so­ci­ety. Each behrupiya is trained to take up 52 very dif­fer­ent roles.

Kr­ishna Behrupiya, 42, is the sev­enth gen­er­a­tion per­former in his fam­ily. Of the roles he can play, he says, “I can be Ardhna­reesh­war, a lion, a woman, a char­ac­ter from Ra­mayana or Ma­hab­harata... But my per­sonal favourite is a mon­key, be­cause first, I’m a devo­tee of Lord Hanu­man, and sec­ond, this role keeps me ac­tive. The rest makes me feel a lit­tle tired and bored.”


Kr­ishna has three sons and two younger broth­ers, all in the same pro­fes­sion. “It’s our fam­ily tra­di­tion and will al­ways re­main in our blood. No one taught us the art of act­ing, how to put on make-up, to dress up, to write di­a­logues. We’ve in­her­ited it from our fore­fa­thers. This all sounds

cool, but to tell the truth, we aren’t treated with re­spect in so­ci­ety. The po­lice shoo us away, as if we’re crim­i­nals,” says Kr­ishna, who earns ₹10,000-12,000 per month with his stage per­for­mances.

A res­i­dent of the Capital for the past 10 years, he has been par­tic­i­pat­ing in Ra­mayana shows or­gan­ised by sev­eral com­mit­tees. He has also gone abroad. “I’ve per­formed in Washington DC and at the Ber­lin Film Fes­ti­val. We got paid ₹500 per day. De­spite rep­re­sent­ing In­dia at the in­ter­na­tional level, we’re not val­ued,” says Kr­ishna. Once he felt very hu­mil­i­ated when asked to dress up and scare away mon­keys, but since that sort of work paid, he made it part of his pro­fes­sion.

An­other Delhi-based artist, Ratan Naz­zarud­din, took this up as a pro­fes­sion at the age of 16. “Har behrupiye ka guru uska baap hot hai,” he says, now aged 52. “I learnt all the ba­sic tech­niques from my fa­ther. We are god-gifted, but the government doesn’t want to talk about us. They in­vite us to per­form, give us cer­tifi­cates, but don’t care about us. We’re dy­ing, and we need to be saved. They should iden­tify au­then­tic behrupiyas and we should be pro­vided iden­tity cards. This will let us per­form peace­fully; oth­er­wise po­lice call us ‘cho­ruchakke.’”


At the fes­ti­val, an artist named Sikander was dressed up as Ma­hatma Gandhi.

“This is funny, ev­ery­one is wish­ing me be­lated happy birth­day,” he laughed. “My fore­fa­thers used to per­form at em­peror Ak­bar’s court. Behrupiyas were al­ways close to the kings — they’d feed us, we’d en­ter­tain them. The government could never un­der­stand our com­mu­nity. Some years ago, our caste of behrupiyas got nul­li­fied. We don’t ex­ist in the government caste reg­is­ter. We need at­ten­tion, oth­er­wise we’ll be­come a chap­ter in the school books,” said Sikander.

My fore­fa­thers used to per­form at em­peror Ak­bar’s court. Behrupiyas were al­ways close to the kings — they’d feed us, we’d en­ter­tain them. The government could never un­der­stand our com­mu­nity. SIKANDER A BEHRUPIYA ARTIST

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