Born in the year 1933 at Fateh Kadal Srinagar, Moti Lal Kemmu was attracted to dancing in his early childhood. 'Dancing came to me naturally', says he. And because of this inclination towards dancing, the young Moti, (as he was fondly called by his parents), was introduced to stage at a very young age, where initially he would dance and latter was offered small roles too. 'The talented dancer of yester years late Gopi Nath from Anantnag , who was popularly called 'Gope Bache', had a tremendous influence on me', remembers he .
Parsi theatre was prevelant in Kashmir at that time and dramas that were being performed , particularly the Folk dramas like the Akanandun of Tarachand Bismil also influenced him.
'By the time I graduated in the year 1953 , I had developed a liking for painting as well. I even participated in a few exhibitions. This was the time when Cultural Congress Movement was very active in Kashmir.'
But despite this passion for the brush, young Kemmu wanted to be trained in Dance and drama. So after completing graduations, he got admissions at Baroda University to study drama and dance.
At Baroda Kemmu learnt drama and dance under the guidance of the great Guru Sh.Sunder Lal Gangani. It was the year 1957.However life at Baroda and back home was not smooth for him. He had to leave Baroda.
Back in Kashmir, he was overwhelmed by the desire to study. So he joined Hindi M.A.class after returning from Baroda. But had to leave University of Kashmir half way to fend for some livelihood.
'The job was more important than the studies as it guaranteed our sustenance, says he. It was 1958'. Kemmu moved from one department to another. Starting from a monthly salary of 60 odd rupees he earned about 250 per month within a span of two years.
A regular salary could not kill his passion for Dance and drama . With this inner haunt, he felt incomplete. Till he ultimately got a national scholarship and landed again at Baroda. 'The national scholarship changed the course of my life', says Kemmu with some satisfaction, looking back today.
Having studied drama and dance at Baroda with the legendary Gujarati playwright Chandravadan Mehta, he returned to Kashmir to study and experiment with the popular folk form of Kashmiri drama called 'Band Pather'.
Kemmu made 'band pather' ( Folk drama)his medium of narrative, where he combined the folk technique with the modern art form and used this synthesis to reflect the contemporary issues.
In the initial period Moti Lal Kemmu wrote in Hindi. "I wrote my first Drama at Baroda in the year 1962. It was called 'Darpan Antpur Ka.'" My second drama was titled 'Sandhya beeti'. My third play, that I wrote while I was at Baroda University was titled 'Nangee'. The Play 'Nangee' was staged and presented by the department of Drama in the early part of 1964."
'Back in Kashmir he shifted to kashmiri language and wrote his first Kashmiri plays 'Trinov' and then wrote 'Tshay' in the year 1965.In 1968 he wrote 'Manzil Nike' (Toddler in the cradle).Upto 1975, Kemmu had published four Drama collections. These are 'three one act plays', 'Trinov' , 'Lal be drayas lo-lare' and 'Tshay.'(Shadow).
Tshay (Shadow) written in 1972 was probably the first play that reputed him as a dramatist. The drama is based on human tragedy where in a human being loses his faith and all that he believes in. Kemmu sahib told me in an interview some time back that the idea of this drama occurred to him from the closure of Jammu Srinagar national highway. The passengers stranded at Banihal during winters gradually lose faith in the state administration and the Beacon that is unable to keep to keep the road open. Finally they even stop praying to God as they lose faith in the entire system.Kemmu synchronized this idea with the historical plot where the Kashmir king Lalitaditya met a horrible end.
He interlaced Lalitaditya's tragedy with the difficulties being faced by a common man in today's times. He depicted how faith is lost. When the king could just not do anything to save his soldiers, who while praising their master had termed his toe nails as the mirrors.
From history Kemmu moved to folk and wrote another drama woven through the thread of folk tale Hemaal Naegrai and Band Duhai. In Band Duhai the contemporary issue of militancy is tackled with sensitivity. This play is based on folk tale Aknandun. The drama depicts the helplessness of a common man is Kashmir. The story goes like this. A particular child is killed by militants . The mother does not mourn the killing, as she believes that the father who plays the character of a Jogi in the play Akanandun and brings back to life the killed Akanandun, will resurrect his own child as well. But the Jogi(The husband) explains to the lady that what he does in the drama is a piece of fiction. It is not possible in real life. The lady is shattered and becomes hysterical.She lectures the audience to convey how downtrodden people like the folk performers in Kashmir have suffered during militancy.
Other than writing dramas Kemmu sahib also contributed in establishing folk theatres Kashmir. In 1964, he along with Late Mohmad Subhan Bhagat established the Bhagat Theatre Akingam and Arnimal theatre, that is dedicated to the memory of great poetess Arnimal in her native village Palhalan .
With 18 full length drama books to his credit and the coveted Sangeet Natak Academy award and many state awards in his kitty, other than the just announced coveted Padma shree award, Sh. Kemmu today is a living legend.
This octogenarian dramatist has dedicated his entire life to folk theatre in Kashmir, both its writing as well as staging. His greatest contribution is that he writes in his native language Kashmiri that not only enriches the language and drama in it and preserves a tradition but also brings esteem for other writers of Kashmiri prose and poetry.
A trained graduate from the Baroda University, Sh Kemmu , who is in his late seventies, has dedicated his entire life to folk theater in Kashmir, both its writing.