Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune
University of California, Berkeley
Hayward & Redwood City, California
"Sultana Daku" depicts the exploits of Sultana, the notorious dacoit (thief) from early 20th century India who lived in the jungles of Uttar Pradesh with his gang of 300 robbers and his lover, Phulkanwar, and plagued the agents of a colonial government. Sultana was a Robinhood-like bandit who robbed the rich and helped the poor. He became a big symbol of local Indian resistance against British rule in northern India when he could not be caught by the British for many years. This Nautanki is a humorous tale of the cat and mouse chase between Sultana and the British superintendent of police—Freddie Young.
Voice of America Interview
Dr. Devendra Sharma introduced American audiences to Nautanki for the first time in 2008, when he was invited to direct and perform a Nautanki titled "Sultana Daku" by a San Francisco Bay Area theater organization called Naatak. Nautanki is an operatic theater tradition immensely popular in northern India that engenders community participation. The shows were covered internationally by BBC World News, Voice of America, Oakland Tribune, India West, India Currents, The Collegian, Siliconeer, Hindustan Times, "Aaj Tak," and many other newspapers and television channels in the United States and India. These performances gave a rare opportunity to the Indian diaspora living in the US to connect with their cultural roots. At the same time, the performances also exposed other communities in America to Indian culture. Dr. Sharma spent three months training professionals living in California—mostly engineers and doctors—to sing and perform Nautanki. Although most of them were originally from India, they were brought up in Indian and American cities, so they had no exposure to India's rural folk traditions. Through Nautanki, Dr. Sharma introduced them to indigenous Indian culture for the first time. Thus, Dr. Sharma's production was a metaphor for the immigrant experience.
After the immense success of the shows, Dr. Sharma was invited in 2009 by the University of California, Berkeley to give a campus-wide presentation on Indian folk performance traditions and their community-forming potential. In April 2011, Dr. Sharma was invited by Hindi Sangam, a community-based non-profit organization in Portland, Oregon, to give a lecture on Nautanki and direct and perform Sultana Daku in Portland with his California-based Nautanki troupe.
Most recently, Dr. Sharma was invited by the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in 2012 to teach a course on folk theater, culminating in a full-house performance of Nautanki "Sultana Daku" directed by Dr. Sharma and performed by the acting students at the institute.
Voice of America: