The 75-minute solo performance is based on the prison dairies of Bhagat Singh, focusing on his essay, ‘Why I am an atheist’

The 75-minute solo performance is based on the prison dairies of Bhagat Singh, focusing on his essay, ‘Why I am an atheist’

Navtej Johar’s new play Tanashah, which opens in Hyderabad this weekend, is based on the diaries of Bhagat Singh. Discussing why the play hinges around Singh’s essay, Why I am an atheist, which he wrote in prison in Lahore shortly before he was hanged.,  63-year-old Navtej says over an email, “I am uncomfortable with the popular notions of religiosity and the idea of ‘God’, thus, I have chosen Bhagat Singh’s diaries. I also briefly speak of my own journey as a Sikh Bharatanatyam dancer. Underlying the work is my love for the Punjabi language and poetry. Incidentally, Bhagat Singh too was very fond of Punjabi poetry, especially Heer of Waris Shah (18th century), which remains a central theme of Tanashah.

Navtej also holds a workshop on BARPS— an acronym for five progressive stages leading to an embodied asana: bracing, alignment, rotation, poise and stretch — a method he has devised to practise asanas.

Solo performance

The 75-minute solo performance that he conceptualised and choreographed also features vocals by Balakrishnan Raghavan (Carnatic) and Madan Gopal Singh (Punjabi). “The piece is text heavy and the language is Punjabi, but it is a variety that Hindi or Urdu speakers would understand. So the drama element is predominant, it also includes movement and singing. Since I love the padam, I have included that too,” he adds. ,” he adds.

Tanashah, which premiered at Serendipity Festival in December 2018, has lighting and stage design by Anuj Chopra, costumes by Diwas Gill and photography by Anshuman Sen

Solo performance

Solo performance
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Often called the lone Sardar in the classical dance circuit, Navtej has many feathers in his cap. He trained in Bharatanatyam at Kalakshetra and also with Leela Samson at the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra in New Delhi. A Sangeet Natak Akademi award-winning Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer, he presently teaches at Ashoka University, Sonipat.

Navtej is also a yoga practitioner and has studied at the Department of Performance Studies, New York University. With several fellowships for his research over the years, he says “My journey has been good and fruitful; it has involved not only practice and performance but also research, writing, teaching and creating pedagogies. My work is primarily body-centric which makes it political. All this can extend to include ecology, language and poetry.”

As an LGBTQIA+ activist and petitioner, he has been instrumental in the reading down of Section 377. Do you believe society is gradually moving towards equality? “Change is always gradual, but once policies change, things also begin to change at the surface. In cities, at least, I feel things have changed quite considerably, I see more ease with queerness.”

Having visited the city many times, Navtej loves the Hyderabad audience. He says, ”It is one of my favourite cities to perform in, the others being Delhi and Kolkota. I also love the food and the mix of cultures here.”

His BARPS method aims to steer the focus of yoga practice from “doing” to “seeing.

Navtej Singh enacts Tanashah a solo performance at Rangbhoomi Spaces on September 23 and 24, 8pm and 7pm respectively. His BARPS method workshop at Goethe Zentrum on September 25 is from 10 am onwards. Tickets for Tanashah and the workshop are on

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By Dipak

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