10 Theatre: Architecture, Apparatus, Acting; Censorship and Spectatorship; Translations and Adaptations

Mr. Benil Biswas

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To be a painter one must know sculpture


To be an architect one must know dance


Dance is possible only through music


And poetry therefore is essential


(Part 2 of Vishnu Dharmottara Purana, an exchange between the sage Markandya and King Vajra)


Quite appropriately Theatre encompasses all the above mentions arts, which is vital for an individual and community’s overall development. India is known for its rich cultural heritage has harnessed the energy of theatrical forms since the inception of its civilization. A rich cultural heritage of almost 3000 years has been the nurturing ground for Theatre and its Folk forms. Emerging after Greek and Roman theatre, Sanskrit theatre closely associated with primordial rituals, is the earliest form of Indian Theatre. Ascribed to Bharat Muni, ‘Natya Sastra or Natyashastra’ is considered to be the initial and most elaborate treatise on dramaturgy and art of theatre in the world. It gives the detailed account of Indian theatre’s divine origin and expounds Rasa. This text becomes the basis of the classical Sanskrit theatre in India. Sanskrit Theatre was nourished by pre-eminent play-wrights like Bhasa, Kalidasa, Shudraka, Vishakadatta, Bhavabhuti and Harsha. This body of works which were sophisticated in its form and thematic content can be equaled in its range and influence with the dramatic yield of other prosperous theatre traditions of the world like ancient Greek theatre and Elizabethan theatre. Even the Sanskrit Theatre must have begun as a narrative form, with recitation, singing and dancing becoming its integral elements. This emphasis on narrative elements made our theatre essentially theatrical right from the beginning. That is why the theatre in India has encompassed all the other forms of literature and fine arts into its physical presentation: literature, mime, music, dance, movement, painting, sculpture and architecture – all amalgamated into one.


Not just the description of how various kind of plays to be written, in fact the Natyasastra, mentions elaborate every dimension of stagecraft from acting, stage design, to theatre architecture. It is from Natysastra that we get to know that the Sanskrit plays commenced with an elaborate ritual called Purva-Ranga. The Sutradhara (the narrator, stage manager and chief actor) enters the performance space and worship the presiding deity of theatre, in most cases, Nataraja, Shiva for the success of the performance and well-being of the actors and the audience. Then the Sutradhara summons the leading actress and start the play with a prologue or incantation. One might cogitate that the venues where plays were staged, were considered sacred and came to be known as ‘Rangmancha’, ‘Rangbhoomi. However, distinct absence of irrefutable living evidence of the performances of classical Sanskrit plays, based on the guidelines of the Natyashastra is a major impediment to consider that classical Sanskrit plays considered the Natyashastra as an instruction manual. To substantiate, Sanskrit dramas indicate towards things that appear to concur with portions of the Natyashastra, but numerous Sanskrit dramas also contain elements that the Natyashastra forbids. For example, perhaps Abhijnanashakuntalam, by Kalidasa is among the few plays that satisfy the definition of being a nataka, with the purvaranga and sutradhar mode of beginning of the play available in the text.


Moreover, no living traditions of performance continued since either the era of Sanskrit drama or the Natyashastra. Kutiyattam or Koodiyattam theatre may have originated in the eleventh century, and it probably has the strongest claim to continuing the tradition of Sanskrit dramas, but, ultimately, the existing performance repertoire represents a synthesis of Sanskrit classicism and reflects the local traditions of Kerala. Thus, we have only the text of the Natyashastra and the ephemeral implications of Sanskrit dramas in the local folk Bhasha traditions of performance.


Alternatively, the Natyashastra does provide us a significant and fascinating theory about theatrical performance that permeates South Asian aesthetics. Bharata’s understanding of how natya affects audiences, rooted in bhava and rasa, still irradiate and beacons us to think of what theatrical presentations can do and how it can be achieved. Nevertheless, as the book is written in Sanskrit, a basic knowledge of Indian historiography will lead one to interrogate the positionality of the book vis a vis ritual and social hierarchy. It will further lead a conscious scholar to ponder on the readership of such a text with inherent class structure and casteism. This reading will be further accentuated by figuring out that interest in the discourse is a recent one, namely 16th century onwards under the able guidance of mostly German Indologists.


By 11th century, with the initiation of the Mughal era the Sanskrit drama encountered a steady deterioration and it discontinued to be performed and was read only as literature. The theatrical requirements of the populaces were fulfilled by the traditional forms of theatre like folk theatre, and devotional performances etc., which varied from one Bhasha region to another and was the part and parcel of the masses. The Ramlila and Nautanki of North India, the Kirtaniya of Mithila, Jatra of Bengal, the Chhau of Odisha and Jharkhand, the folk plays of Tamilnadu like Satharam and Nallathangal, the Yakshagana of Karnataka, the Kathakali of Kerala, the Bhavai of Gujarat, all were the folk performance practices that developed a foundation for the portrayal of Indian theatre and a encouraging soul for the western theatrical tradition as well. It is these folk Bhasha sensibilities and performances which have to be taken into considerations while pondering in the evolution of theatre towards contemporary Indian Theatre scenario in terms of Architecture, Apparatus and Acting.


Theatre Architecture, Apparatus and Acting


Natyasastra bestows a detailed attention to the three ‘A’s of theatre – Architecture, Apparatus, and Acting. A comprehensive description of various types of theatre houses (Natyamandapa) is available in the second chapter of the Natyasastra. It provides detailed measurements and designs of types of theatres as well as information about the building of walls, columns, roof etc. The description of theatres is so minute, it could be difficult not to believe that such theatres used to be constructed at and before the time of Bharata, and that he must have been well-versed in the various facets of the science related to the construction of the theatre house. For example, it mentioned in Natyasastra that – Theatres are of three types depending on their shape. They are Oblong, Square and Triangular. Each type is subdivided into three according to their dimensions, as large, medium and small. The large theatre is 108 Hastas long, middle is 64 Hastas and the small theatre is 32 Hastas long. (1 hasta = equal to 1.5 foot). However, during the medieval period, theatre moved out of the natyamandapa and initiated new habitat in the streets, bringing about the notion of open performance spaces. The three-side open stages for Jatra of Bengal, Tamasha of Maharshatra and many other forms is reminiscence of that curious give and take between the Sanskrit theatre of theatre houses and folk theatrical space of mela/fair ground. Ramlila of Ramnagar, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, is yet another example such interesting transformation of performance spaces.


Of course, the impact of natysastra can been seen in Hindu temples designed after 10th century to include spaces for performing arts (for example, kuttampalams in all most all the large temples in Kerala), Natmandir (in temples at Kajuraho, Madhya pradesh)or prayer halls (for example, Namghar initiated by Shankardeva in Assam) that supported as dramatic arts stage, based on the square principle described in the Natyasastra, such as those in the peninsular and eastern states of India. Proscenium theatre made its entry into Indian bhasha imagination through the colonial encounters. In late 19th Century the English theatre houses in Calcutta and Bombay inspired the Marathi and Bengali Theatre Company to come with similar models. Parsi Theatre began using huge painted background drawing inspirations from Marathi Sangeet Natak stages and European proscenium.Gradually, these senses of elaborate stage design influenced the Bhasha theatres.


Quite a path breaking production in terms of acting, apparatus and stage setting was Nabanna by Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). Bijon Bhattacharya’s Nabanna (The New Harvest, Bengali, 1944), was a naturalistic play with an anti-imperialist message that was first produced by Sombhu Mitra on a revolving stage in Calcutta but then went on an extensive tour of both rural and urban areas in North India. It went on the tour, but not before much debate. Sombhu Mitra, refused to allow the play to be taken to the countryside on the ground that the high quality of the performance could not be maintained except on a revolving stage. Therefore, while IPTA wanted to go among the people in open spaces, but the colonial proscenium dependent sense of performance inhibited the process for quite some time. In fact, this also set the tone of entire Bengali theatre, which could not move out of the proscenium like many other Bhasha traditions of India. In post-colonial India, the colonial design sense is supplanted with sense of return to the roots i.e. Sanskrit theatre, in search for an ‘authentic’ Indian form and content.


In contemporary India, theatre artist like KN Panicker at Sopanam, Trivandrum, Veenapani Chawla at Adishakti, Pondicherry and Ratan Thiyam at Chorus repertory, Imphal have tried to recreate the spaces mentioned in Natyasastra. The architectural design of performance space at Sangeet Natak Akademi and the three auditoriums – namely Sammukh, Bahumkh and Abhimanch at National School of Drama, New Delhi are reminiscent of similar architectural spaces. Interestingly, Klara Gönc Moacanin in an elaborate essay on Natyamandapa ponders.


“[It] is a sacred space defined by sacred ritual; it represents a temple (lat. templum from Greek temenos) which means a cut off space, reffering to an enclosed area for a particular purpose such as the service of a god. The sacred space, marked by a religious building, ensures the isolation and thus the preservation both of the sacred inside and the profane outside it. I think that the wall that can be seen as the demarcation line between the sacred and the profane inside the hypothetic theatre … I see a sort of fence in the meaning of temenos – the sacred space of ranga is warded off from the profane public. Does it mean that ranga or a stage is sacred and auditorium profane? And why should ranga needed for profane art be a sacred space? Does it all have a deeper symbolical meaning and has nothing to do with reality of performing space?”


In fact, she brings in a debate central to the idea of theatre, i.e. the notion of sacred and profane. The Bhasha folk theatre which flourished during the medieval period definitely traversed between these two polarities. On these lines, Indian Bhasha folk performances can be broadly divided into two categories – sacred (religious) and profane (secular). This is the beginning of The Theatre of Religion and The theatre of Entertainment. The religious mythology oriented forms emerge as a result of the Bhakti movement in Medieval India. The profane or secular folk theatre form, which belonged to the Bhand Pather from Kashmir or Swang tradition from Haryana, becomes an epitome of folk entertainment with profane element. The two forms religious and secular, sacred and profane operated in tandem influencing each other.


Apparatus to Acting


While most of these theatrical forms have their own distinctive styles based on their local customs, differing from one another in terms of execution, stagecraft, costume, make-up and acting, even though there are certain basic parallels. The south Indian performances emphasize on dance forms like Kathakali and Krishnattam of Kerala, in fact can be suitable to be termed as dance dramas, while the north Indian forms like the Maach of Madhya Pradesh, the Nautanki of Uttar Pradesh, the Khyal of Rajasthan and the Swang of Punjab emphasize more on songs. The Tamasha of Maharashtra, the Jatra of Bengal, the Bhavai of Gujarat and the Bhand Pather of Kashmir stress on dialogues in their performance, the latter two focuses on comedy and satire. Puppet theatre also flourished at many places in India for example – Shadow puppets (Gombeyatta of Karnataka, Ravana Chhaya of Orissa), Glove puppets (Gopalila of Odisha, Pavai Koothu of Tamil Nadu), Doll puppets (Putul Naach of Bengal and Bommalattum of Tamil Nadu and the Mysore State, Karnataka) and String puppets (Sakhi Kundhei of Orissa and Kathputli of Rajasthan) are some of the popular forms.


Histrionics can also be found in certain solo forms of Indian classical dance traditions, like Bharat Natyam, Kathak, Odissi and Mohiniattam. Folk dances like the Gambhira and Purulia Chhau of Bengal, Seraikella Chhau of Jharkhand and Mayurbhanj Chhau of Orissa also have a theatrical narrative element in them. Dramatic content is even intertwined into the ritual ceremonies in some regions, particularly those of Kerala, with its Mudiyettu and Teyyam. Pabiji-ka-Phar of Rajasthan, Nupipala of Manipur and Padabali Kirtan of Bengal are ballad singing traditions. A similar apparatus of singing and narration is popular in Maharshtra known as Powada, which also has resemblances with Kirtan. These forms and apparatuses, coupled with western influences, reinvigorated the Bhasha theatre’s imagination, where actor, playwright like Utpal Dutt turned towards the traditional Jatra. In Maharashtra, Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghasiram Kotwal was a path-breaking specimen that exemplifies the give and take between tradition and modernity.


Acting – Abhinaya


If one has to map the presentation and acting styles, one would find an elaborate account of Rasa, Bhaba, Anubhaba and acting styles mentioned in Natyasastra. Bharata classifies the Rasa under eight categories (ashtarasa) and gives the corresponding Bhava which gives rise to the rasa. These are known as Sthayi Bhava or pervading stable emotion. They are rati(love), hasa(mirth), shoka(grief), krodha(anger), utsaha(heroism), bhaya(fear), jugupsa(disgust), and vismaya(wonder). The corresponding eight Rasa are sringara(amorous), hasya(humorous), karuna(pathetic), raudra(furious), vira(valorous), bhayanaka(horrific), bibhatsa(repugnant), and adbhuta(wondrous).5 There are three types of Bhava, namely, Sthayi (eight types), Vyabhichari (thirty three), and Satvika (eight), totaling to forty-nine. The Satvika bhava are the physical manifestation of intense emotion. They are sthamba (petrification), sveda (perspiration), romancha (horripilation), svarabheda (voice change), vepathu (trembling), vaivarnya (facial colour change), asru(weeping), and pralaya(fainting). The text explains the relationship between rasa and determinants, consequents, dominant states, transitory states and the temperamental states through an analogy: just as various ingredients such as vegetables and spices, when mixed, produce a flavour, so the combination of the ‘Dominant States (sthayibhava), when they come together with various other States (bhava) attain the quality of the Sentiment’. All the eight sentiments, the eight dominant states, the approaches to Acting, transitory states and the temperamental states are described in the Natyashastra in detail with reference to the determinants, the consequents and their relation to the sentiments.


The Natyashastra places much emphasis on the means of histrionic representation (abhinaya). They are the techniques used by the actor to portray the consequents: ‘From the point of view of the playwright or the character it is anubhava, and from that of the actor it is abhinaya.’ Four kinds of abhinaya are differentiated: gestures (angika), words (vacika), costume and make-up (aharya} and the representation of the temperament (sattvika). Thus, it was the period of total theatre, i.e. total acting, which incorporated, singing, dancing, mime, dialogues etc. As the plots of Sanskrit plays were generally based sources like the myth, epics and folk tales; thus, the audience was already aware of the story. Hence, the theatre required a visual presentation style through gestures, intonations and stylized movements. In contemporary times, one could experience that acting styles in the works of directors like KN Panicker, Veenapani Chawla who explored the styles in Natyasastra based local traditions like Kalaripayattu and Kutiyattam. On the other hand, stalwarts like Ratan Thiyam and Kanhailal in Manipur started to search for actor’s body within their local specific culture. It has to be noted that the renowned German playwright and director, Brecht, evolved his theory of ‘Epic Theatre’ and concept of ‘Alienation’ precisely from these sources, for example Sutradhar (narrator), who most of the time also played the Vidushak (Joker), could anytime come out of the enactment and engage in a conversation and address the audience directly.


It was only with the western influence, under the British rule, for the time in Indian theatre, the writing and practice of plays veered towards realistic or naturalistic presentation. Contemplative about the presentation styles, noted director Prof. Devendra Raj Ankur sum it up elegiacally,


“It is not as if realism or naturalism was totally absent in our tradition. It was always present as also envisaged in Natya Shastra through concepts of Lokdharmi, i.e., a style of presentation connected with day-to-day gestures and behaviour and Natyadharami, – i.e., a style more and more presentational and theatrical in nature. But the stories used were invariably from the same sources. In the modern theatre the story also changed its nature. Now it is no more woven around big heroes and gods, but has become a picture of common man.”


That common man was portrayed live on stage by legendary actors like Sishir Kumar Bhaduri, Sombhu Mitra from Bengal, Shree Ram Lagoo & Mohan Aghashe from Maharashtra, who paved the way for the era of naturalistic acting. One should also keep in mind though women regularly performed in Classical dance, but it was only in late 19th century, when women started to perform in theatre, but it was a difficult path as there was also a lot of stigma attached to women going to theatre as performer and audience. Actors like Binodini Dashi (Bengali), and Jyotsna Bhole (Marathi) defined the paths or others.


Censorship and Spectatorship


Drama about life and plight of the common man, the masses now began to flourish as a prised literary genre alongside the modern genre of fiction, also as a response to Western influence. The city based Parsi and Bengali (Bangla) Theatre were perhaps the precursor to the Bhasha movement into drama and theatre, followed by Marathi, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, Bhojpuri traditions. The revolt of 1857 happened and slowly Bhasha theatre began portray and sway public opinion regarding the oppression rendered the dictatorial British Government. It is late 19th century, slowly theatre became an apparatus of social change, “when dedicated patriots were committed to exposing social evils, some of which had resulted from British rule and some of which had plagued Hindu society for centuries. This period, marked by an unrestrained desire among Indian writers and producers to propagate independence, is also characterized by suppressive restrictions imposed by the colonial government on the publication and performance of plays.”


The first significant drama of social protest in India was Nildarpana (The Mirror of Indigo Planters) by Dinabandhu Mitra, published in 1860. The play dramatizes incidents drawn from the revolution of 1858 in which Bengali indigo cultivators were mercilessly persecuted by the British planters for refusing to sow their crops. The incident is usually cited as the first attempt of the Bengalis to harass the colonial rules.


Farley Richmond, vividly describes the entire episode in his significant essay- The Political Role of Theatre in India. He further goes on to theatrically pose a question to describe the government’s attitude,


“The popularity of Nildarpana and subsequent works of its kind raised serious questions for the colonial government. Should all plays, regardless of their content, be permitted public performance? And should the press be allowed to publish a play whatever sentiments it espoused?”


In 1876 Lord Northbrooke, then the viceroy of India, issued an ordinance as an emergency measure under the Government of India Act, giving the Government of Bengal full power to control dramatic performances until a new law could be enacted. On March 14, 1876, the Dramatic Performances Act No. XIX was submitted to the Supreme Legislative Council and soon it became a law. The Dramatic Performances Act, 1876 along with the Vernacular Press Act, 1878 were frequently used by the Government throughout the following decades to suppress dramatic performances and plays considered seditious. However, the urge for Indian independence had been unleashed and the government could only hope to slow down the process.


Exasperated by censorship, many theatre groups turned their efforts to exposing blatant social evils in Indian society in the late 19th Century, such as alcoholism, child marriage, enforced conversion by Christian missionaries, the need for women’s education, the purdah system and the right of widows to remarry. However, the force of freedom struggle, couldn’t keep the theatre wallah (a colloquial way to address the theatre people) away from the movement. In fact obliquely, the censorship act contributed to and raised the standards of spectatorship, as many playwrights started using ‘veiled allegories propagating nationalism and spreading disaffection among sympathetic spectators’. They often did so with great imagination by imbuing Hindu mythologies with allegorical significance were imbued into the plays with great precision. One of the best-known examples is Probhakar Khadilkar’s 1906 Marathi play “Kichakavadba” (The Killing of Keechaka), based on incidents from the Mahabharata. Villain Kichaka obviously represented the oppressive British ruler. After the partition of Bengal in 1905, Girish Chandra Ghosh wrote and performed three powerful allegories about historical luminaries, who fought against political oppression- “Sirajuddaulla”, “Mir Kasim”, and “Chatrapati Shivaji” (The Exploits of Shivaji)- all of which were banned by the British Government under the Dramatic Performances Act. Similar genres of plays and incidents of ban were reported from various parts of India, from Assam in the North east to Mysore in the South.


In post-Independence India, the Dramatic Performances Act, 1876 still continues to be part of the Indian Penal Code and several plays are censored every year on the basis on that law. Couple plays by Indian People’s Theatre Association were banned under this act. In recent times, Vijay Tendular’s Sakharam Binder was banned under same act.


Translation and Adaptations


During British colonial interregnum in 18th and 19th centuries, Indian theatre was reborn in form of dramatic literature. The stimulus ushered in from two sources: the rich legacy of classical Indian drama and the exposure to classics of Western dramatic tradition through English colonial theatres in cities like Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Translations started to appear simultaneously of Sanskrit masterpieces and classics of Western canon, particularly Shakespeare and other English language playwrights. Till now dramatic literature had not developed as a major literary genre in Indian languages or Bhashas. Describing the situation Rakesh H Solomon writes,


“During this period, while the Europeans were discovering ancient Indian culture, Indian elites were discovering modern European culture. Out of this encounter arose the new theatrical genre called the modern Indian theatre. Shaped by the imperatives of empire, nationalism, and nativism, this was a metropolitan genre, created by a bilingual high-caste bourgeoisie, who strategically adapted elements from a gallery of models that included the Sanskrit theatre, traditional theatre, and European theatre.”


For instance, the first Bengali play staged in Calcutta on 28 November, 1795, by a Russian Gerasim Stephanovich Lebedeff was “kalponik song badal”, a translation of the play, “the disguise.” If one tends to keep aside Bangla, Kannada and Marathi, even minor traditions like Gujarati, Malayalam and Telugu too has elaborate western and Sanskrit classic translation and adaptation. Hence, translation or adaptation is inseparable from the development of Bengali and other bhasha theatre. Nevertheless, there are contradictions and conflicts regarding the acceptance of plays, translated or adapted. Utpal Dutt, who himself has translated Shakespearean plays as well as modern European plays, critiques the very idea of mindless borrowing. In a lecture titled “Innovation and Experimentation in Theatre” Dutt says,


Experiment cannot mean a cavalier rejection of tradition— a new theatre cannot be born out of thin air. I have noticed this trend in parts of the Calcutta theatre world… To the cynical producers of this market, nothing is sacred in the culture of this country or of any other, for that matter… They find Shakespeare unintelligible and dull, and therefore adapt every modern European crime- thriller or rotten farce into an Indian language and perform it in the confidence that it will be the foundation of the hitherto non-existent Indian theatre.


Apart from western classics, translation of new dramatic texts only happened especially in Bengal and other parts of India with the emergence of group theatre. Sumanta Gangopadhyay and Somjit Halder in an interesting analysis inform us, “It is not before the 1960s, when group theatre had introduced on Kolkata stage plays by American dramatists. Many of the productions did not even acknowledge the original plays perhaps from the fear/anxiety that it could question the efficacy of the director or translator concerned.” Similar trajectories could be charted out in other bhasha traditions too. Institution of national importance like National School of Drama, Sahitya Akademi and Sangeet Akademi commissioned and facilitated translations and adaptations Aparna Dharwadkar corroborates.


In their formal recommendations to the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the participants at the 1956 Drama Seminar had suggested that “there should be a special programme of translations of well-known and stageable plays of the different languages of India into the regional languages enumerated in the Constitution,” and that “these plays should be made available at moderate prices.” This program of translations did not materialize, perhaps because it involved sixteen or more languages.


With time the continuous efforts by performing groups and playwrights themselves engaging in the act potent translations and adaptations expedited the exchange of ideas locked away in the treasure trove of the individual bhashas. For illustration, “Kanyasulkam” (1892) by Gurazada Venkata Apparao in Telugu, has been translated into other Indian languages and also into English. It is a powerful social drama couched in regional dialect, mercilessly attacking imposture of any type. Similarly, Vijay Tendulkar is also considered an important translator in Marathi, having rendered nine novels and two biographies into the language, as well as five plays, among which are Mohan Rakesh’s Adhe adhure (Hindi), Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq (Kannada), and Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire (English). Likewise, Habib Tanvir’s Mitti ki Gadi, based on Sanskrit play “Mrichhkatikam” and “Kam Dev ka Apna, Basant Ritu ka Sapna”, adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” are classic instances of a creative impetus between translation, adaptation and indigenization. Two significant experimental adaptations of “Macbeth” which are product of such fruitful cross fertilizations are “Barnam Van”, directed by BV Karanth and “Stage of Blood”, directed by Lokendra Arambam.


However, if one considers the technicalities of translation and adaptions, it will lead one to recognize that there is no standardized estimation concerning the approval and acceptance of any translation or adaptation. There has always been a dialectic amongst the translators, directors or theatre personalities as which to favour in the context of transplacing a play— translation, adaptation and indigenization. Still, it’s very difficult to unanimously uphold any of them as reception has always been diverse and dependent on several socio-politico-economic factors. Nonetheless, long before translation and translation studies became fashionable discourse in the western academia; Indian theatre had a thriving legacy of translation. Sudhanva Deshpande provides us with an appropriate illustration;


“Playwrights like Mohan Rakesh, Tendulkar, Badal Sircar, Girish Karnad were translated into several Indian languages almost simultaneously. To take one spectacular example: Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana was directed by Satyadev Dubey in Hindi in Bombay, by BV Karanth in Hindi in Delhi and Kannada in Bangalore, by Rajinder Nath in Hindi in Delhi, all in 1972, and by Vijaya Mehta in Marathi in Bombay the following year. In fact, some important plays have been performed in translation before they appeared in the original language of composition – both Girish Karnad’s Agni Mattu Male and Govind Deshpande’s Chanakya Vishnugupta were first done in Hindi, rather than Kannada or Marathi.”


Furthermore, the Bhasha theatre wanted to reconcile the gap between the text based theatrical tradition and the improvisational folk performative practices. Therefore, during the 1970’s there were attempts to look beyond mere translation and adaptation. There were attempt to improvise a performance first and then create the text out of it, which too would have the immediacy of the performance and would be available to be read as dramatic literature. Rustom Bharucha in his incisive work –‘Theatre of Kanhailal’, for the first time glosses over this genre and calls it ‘Performance text.’ Pebet, based on local folktale is a classic example for such a performance text, created and performed by Kalakshetra Manipur, under the guidance of Kanhailal . Likewise, Bansi Kaul’s group Rang Vidushak at Bhopal and Veenapani Chawla’s group Adishakti, to name a few, improvise and develop their own scripts, rather than depending on a playwright. Recently, ‘Not the Drama Seminar’ organised by India Theatre Forum at Ninasam, Heggodu brought together practitioners from all across the country, to meditate on the nature of theatre in India today, on how we got to where we are. “The attempt was to understand ‘Indian Theatre’ in all its multiplicity and diversity, bringing these several faces of Indian theatre face to face, and problematize the issues that arise therein.” It was organised almost 50 years after the original Drama Seminar in 1956. As mentioned earlier, it is this seminar, organised by Sangeet Natak Akademi which set the tone and vision of Indian Theatre “basically advocated decolonizing Indian theatre and promoting indigenous forms in a newly independent country.” Recognising the historical significance of the seminar, Ashis Sengupta emphasizes that though the government took “into cognizance the reality of a multilingual/regional Indian theatre, it eventually sought to showcase and institutionalize ‘national’ culture in tune with the hegemonic state narrative of nationhood.” Ever since then Bhasha theatre have been trying to create their own narrative and expressions, enriching theatre as a whole in the process. The ITF’s ‘Not the Drama Seminar’ of 2008 underscored the need to ‘de-construct (sic) the whole ’56 discourse and [ . . . ] build our own completely from our own experiences.’ As a continuation, the ITF seminar of 2012 insisted on creating a performance aesthetic by pluralizing the very concept of theatre space.




The active exchange between classical and the folk at one level, tradition and modernity on another level, Native and West on yet another level, interaction between varied cultures specific to diverse bhashas and finally the inherent multilingualism, have not just enriched the corpus of Theatre, but of Life itself. Aparna Dharwadkar sums it up quite poetically, “For both authors and audiences, the total effect of active multilingualism and circulation has thus been to create at least four distinct levels for the dissemination and reception of contemporary Indian plays–the local, the regional, the national, and the international. But multilingualism is a collective activity, another possible casualty of the strategies of insularity and in communication.” Therefore, to save us from insularity and in-communication, and to celebrate the jubilation of dialogue, one should assemble regularly at last possible venue of human congregation – Theatre.

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  • Dutt, Utpal. On Theatre. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2009. Print.
  • Goswamy, BN. Painting for the theatreNissar. Allana, Painted Sceneries: Backdrops of the 19th Century Marathi Sangeet Natak, New Delhi: Theatre and Television Associates, 2008. Print.
  • India Country Guide, Volume 1, Strategic Information and Developments. Washington DC: IBP USA, 2012.
  • Bhattacharya, Malini. “The I.PT.A. in Bengal”, Creative Arts in Modem India: Essays in Comparative Criticism, Vote. I & II, Ratan Parimoo and I. Sharma, , (Ed.) Books and Books, New Delhi 1995 (originally published in the Journal of Arts and Ideas, No. 2, New Delhi January-March 1983) pp.250.
  • Meyer-Dinkgrafem, Daniel. Approaches to Acting Past and Present. London & New York:Continuum, 2001, Print. pp. 94-122.
  • Mukherjee, Sujit. Translation as discovery and other essays on Indian literature in English translation. New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1981.
  • Munsi, Urmimala Sarkar. and Dutt, Bishnupriya. Engendering Performance: Indian Women Performers in Search of an Identity. New Delhi: SAGE, 2010. Print.
  • NTDS, ITF http://theatreforum.in/m/itf-core/?tab=meetings#synopsis (Accessed on 20.05.2016)
  • PEBET http://raiot.in/pebet-a-play-by-late-heisnam-kanhailal/ (Accessed on 20.05.2016)
  • Ram A. Janaki. “Telugu Drama” In Indian Literature, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Apr.—Sept. 1958), New Delhi: Sahitya Akdemi, pp. 133-139
  • Richmond, Farley. The Political Role of Theatre in India. Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Oct., 1973), pp. 318-334
  • Sengupta, Ashis. (Eds.) Mapping South Asia through Contemporary Theatre: Essays on the Theatres of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. pp.19. also pp.18-24
  • Sethi, Rajeev. Past Forward: The future of India’s creativity, 2006. pp-9-10
  • Solomon, R. H., “Towards a Genealogy of Indian Theatre Historiography”, in Modern Indian Theatre : A Reader, ed., Nandi Bhatia, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2009, p.16.
  • Sumanta Gangopadhyay and Somjit Halder: Cross Cultural Encounters, Muse India, ISSUE 58 http://www.museindia.com/viewarticle.asp?myr=2014&issid=58&id=5341
  • Vatsyayan, Kapila. Traditional Indian Theatre: Multiple Streams. New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1980. Print
  • Khajuraho Group of Temples. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/240 (Accessed on 24.10.2016)
  • Koodiyattam, Kutiyattam, UNESCO intangible heritage dossier http://www.unesco.org/archives/multimedia/?s=films_details&pg=33&id=1746 (Accessed on 21.10.2015)
  • For illustrations, please visit http://www.bharatiyadrama.org/theatreacc.htm ( Accessed on 24.10.2016)
  • http://www.shadjamadhyam.com/rasa_theory_with_reference_to_bharatas_natyashastra http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090201/spectrum/art.htm (Accessed on 15.05.2016);
  • For filmed version of Sakharam Binder, please visit, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIMIgL-OLXc (Accessed on 23.10.2016)