Halla Bol

The Death and Life of Safdar Hashmi

Sudhanva Deshpande


LeftWord Books, New Delhi, 2020

Language: English

(including 32 photos) 264 pages

5.5 x 8.5 inches

Price INR 350.00
Book Club Price INR 245.00

‘I was very fond of Safdar, but who wasn’t? We liked him for his charming personality, his easy laughter, sophisticated manners, effortless articulation, clear-cut views and tender human values.’ – Habib Tanvir


‘I was very fond of Safdar, but who wasn’t? We liked him for his charming personality, his easy laughter, sophisticated manners, effortless articulation, clear-cut views and tender human values.’ – Habib Tanvir

This is not a story of death. It is a story of life. The luminous life of Safdar Hashmi, extraordinary in all its ordinariness.

On New Year’s Day in 1989, Jana Natya Manch – Janam – the theatre group Safdar was a part of, and which he led, was attacked while performing a street play on the outskirts of Delhi. He was only thirty-four when he died from injuries sustained during this senseless attack.

Beginning with a record of the attack that killed him, this vivid memoir illuminates the life of Safdar Hashmi – artist, comrade, poet, writer, actor, activist, and a man everyone loved. But this is not a book about one man or one tragic incident. Halla Bol shows us, close up, how one man’s death and life are intertwined with the stories of many people.

For a generation that grew up without knowing Safdar Hashmi, Halla Bol renders his passion, humour and humanism into an intimate portrait. It also gives an understanding of resistance, and the strength to put it into practice. It shows the profound link between ideology and real-life struggle. The ideas that Safdar and his colleagues grappled with during a period of tumult and change in India are harbingers of the society we are today.

Halla Bol, the play Janam was performing in Jhandapur at the time of the attack, is included in English translation as an appendix to the book.

Read our blog posts on the writing of the book – The Journey of ‘Halla Bol: The Death and Life of Safdar Hashmi’

यह किताब हिंदी में भी उपलब्ध है।

Sudhanva Deshpande

Sudhanva Deshpande is a theatre director and actor. He joined Jana Natya Manch in 1987, and has acted in over 4,000 performances of over 80 plays. His articles and essays have appeared in The Drama Review, The Hindu, Frontline, Seminar, Economic and Political Weekly, Udbhavna, Samaj Prabodhan Patrika, among others. He has co-directed two films on the theatre legend Habib Tanvir and his company Naya Theatre. He is the editor of Theatre of the Streets: The Jana Natya Manch Experience (Janam 2007), and co-editor of Our Stage: Pleasures and Perils of Theatre Practice in India (Tulika 2008). He has held teaching positions at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Since 1998, he has been Managing Editor, LeftWord Books. He cycles around town.


Deshpande’s account is moving and straightforward by turns. Adding flesh and colour to the portrait are passages describing the creative choices that shaped each major play, the networks of talent that fed into Janam, the web of friendships that served as its scaffolding. Actors and writers will take particular delight in the details of how a particular text was fine-tuned, or how a show was salvaged from potential disaster.

Annie Zaidi, HuffPost

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. ... For me though, perhaps one of the most enjoyable, revelatory parts of Halla Bol are the intimate portraits we get of a host of personalities normally not written about in artistic and communist histories, with historiographies being so riddled with the cult of personality of great, charismatic men.

Shayoni Mitra, Economic & Political Weekly

Tightly packed and fast-paced in its intertwining narratives, Halla Bol is several things all at once. A vivid memoir of Safdar Hashmi, it is about intersections between cultural practice and working-class politics, and about lives lived at those intersections. Studded with details about the making of plays and the staging of them at street corners, the book’s nimble prose reads like a well-crafted play. A riveting read!

Aijaz Ahmad, Marxist scholar

Luminous. Halla Bol is about theatre, culture, politics, and hope, and more poignantly relevant today than at any other time in our county’s history.

Sanjna Kapoor, theatreperson

Halla Bol is unputdownable. It is fast-paced, vivid, action-packed, but you know only too well, with sinking heart, it is no fiction. It is the story of a man everyone loved – a comrade for whom humanity was ever greater than Party; an artist, poet, writer, actor, activist, never burdened by his own accomplishments. In short, a man so gifted that all the world could stand up and say: “This was our New Man.” And in Sudhanva, he now has his chronicler.

Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker