A Torrent of Images
An Approach to Gujarati theatre-
Hasmukh Baradi


Gujarat had a rich tradition of writing and performing Sanskrit plays till 14th century, when a folk singer of religious narrative stories Asait Thaker launched folk participatory theatre called Bhavai, using mythological and historical themes and characters, creating awareness in the audiences on the social issues. He is said to have written about 360 'veshas' (acts) which he performed all over Gujarati - speaking western India. This live interactive theatre tradition was however ignored by the Bombay Parsi enthusiasts and in mid-ninetieth century imitating the English theatre traditions by the then British masters, developed a typical Parsi theatre formula - in the improvised auditoria with Proscenium Arch, hanging curtains, drop - scenes etc. For this they mingled the Sanskrit and European dramaturgy.

The first such auditorium - "Royal Theatre" - was built by Jagannath Sheth in 1842; but by 1868, thirty such troupes were in existence in Bombay, owned both by so-called 'Hindus' and Parsis, led by K. Kabaraji, Adalji Khori, Dadabhai Thuthi etc., who attracted the middle and higher middle class Gujaratis and Parsis, with mythological plays and 'clever' adaptations of some plays by Shakespeare. Playwrights like Ranchhodbhai Udayram wrote original popular plays on mythological themes ("Harishchandra" etc.), preached social reforms in "Lalita Dukhdarshak" (Lalita's manifold Unhappiness), and established Mehtaji Natak Mandali.


First Theatre Troupes

Then entered three writer-owners desiring to initiate social reform - Dahyabhai Dholsaji, and (both brothers) Vaghji and Mulji Asharam Oza. They brought various new theatrical elements like the use of dance form - Garba, tableaux etc. and also some newer social themes. The theatre in those days was melodramatic, overacted with fashionable attire and painted two - dimensional curtains. But the fresh air started blowing when actors like Amrit Keshav Nayak and the actor - pair Bapulal Nayak and Jayshankar 'Sundri' came to the centre - stage with their typical acting styles and commendable under
standing of the medium.

The dramatists, now already neglected, again tried to assert their role in theatre, and attempted forming their own companies to avoid exploitation by owners. They were Phoolchand Master ("Malti Madhav", "Mudra Pratap" etc.), Narsinha Vibhakar ("Meghmalini", "Madhu Bansari" etc.) and Jaman ("Soneri Jal" - The Golden Net) who, not conversant with the "theatre economics" had finally to give in to the theatre owners, marking the final surrender of the dramatist for next
half a century.


Dramatists

Slowly, the role of ‘director’ was carved out by Bapulal Nayak, Mulchand Mama, Mulji Khushal etc., who directed great actors like Asharaf Khan, Anandji "Kabutar", Munnibai, Miss Motibai etc. in the plays by Raghunath Brahmabhatt ("Buddhadeva" etc.), Prabhulal Dwivedi ("Malavpati Munj" - Munj, the King of Malava; "Vadilo Na Vanke" -(For The Faults of Elders), Pragji Dosa ("Ghar No Divo" - The Lamp of the Family) etc. The music had already acquired very important position in making the theatre popular.

Theatre in late twenties, with cinema capturing the audiences, had two parallel trends, both independent and misguidedly opposing each other. For the so-called "old" (better known as "Parsi Theatre" outside Gujarat) professional theatre, this period was marked by money-investors owning or controlling theatre companies, where each element (including the script) was hired and sold to public. Performances generally continued to be caught in the old over-sentimental rut, finally leading to closure of many companies, and by fifties pushing the remaining troupes to travel in the small towns and villages for their sustenance. On the other hand, between the Quit India Movement and Independence, barefoot folklore research by Zaverchand Meghani, poetry by Umashankar Joshi and "Sundaram", novels by Pannalal Patel and short stories by Chunilal Madia etc. had provided a realistic base to the portrayal of rural Gujarat. Life in the state was generally full of sense of sacrifice and hope. Quit India was followed by the well-known naval revolt in Bombay. The old Gujarati
theatre had however remained blissfully unaffected.


Amateur Troupes

PParallel to this ran a movement of so- called "new" (amateur) theatre with missionary zeal. Individual actor/writers were by now forming their theatre groups - (Indian People's Theatre Association-IPTA (Bombay and Ahmedabad) ; Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Indian National Theatre-INT, Rangbhumi (Bombay); Rang Mandal, National Theatres, Roopak Sangh, Nat Mandal (Ahmedabad). This decade also saw the launching of three theatre teaching institutions (Natyavidya Mandir, Ahmedabad - 1949; Music College of Baroda University - 1950; Saurashtra Sangeet Natak Academy, Rajkot - 1956); publication of short-lived theatre-magazines ("Natak", "Nepathya", "Gujarati Natya"), beginning of State Drama competitions (1955) of the then bilingual Bombay State, and Centenary Celebrations of Gujarati Theatre (1953) - helping the spread of modern theatre consciousness.
However, the most important theatre event of the period was the performance of C. C. Mehta's biographical play "Revolutionary Poet Narmad" (1954) by Jashwant Thaker (IPTA).
This was followed by "Allabeli" (portraying the revolt by Mer community of Saurashtra against colonial rule) by Gunvantrai Acharya, directed by Jashwant Thaker. Playwright C. C. Mehta had already given a slogan that "actors also should be paid adequate remuneration", and "their troupes should have permanent performing places of their own". His vision of the rise of "New" Theatre was well delineated in his play "Dhara Gurjari" (The land of Gurjars) written in 1944, played in 1955.


The Rise of ‘Director’

This period was further marked by good one-act play writing but it did not create the "full- length" theatre. Only Chunilal Madia gave a full- length political satire in "Ramlo Robinhood" (1962, played in 1971 by Jashwant Thaker). Well- known actor Jayshankar "Sundri" after his retirement from his old company theatre, settled down in Ahmedabad during this period; and establishing the first theatre training school, and experimental troupe "Nat Mandal", he directed "Rai No Parvat" (1950), and then "Mena Gurjari" (1953) and also "Mithyabhiman" (1955) introducing the actor Pransukh Nayak - all of them were most important theatre events. Nat Mandal's academic approach inspired Rasiklal Parikh to write "Sharvilak" (1957), based on "Mrichchhakatikam" by Shudrak.
A beginning was thus made with original plays being performed, but the theatre troupes in Bombay soon turned to translations and adaptations - most performed of them were "Rangilo Rajja" (1954, by Dhansukhlal Mehta) and "Manu Ni Masi" (Charlie's Aunt, 1951). The annual State Drama Competitions in Bombay encouraged formation of many theatre troupes, which also later produced translations and adaptations mainly imported from Piccadilly/Broadway, via Marathi
stage.


Actor-Managers

The theatre troupes of the early sixties (Indian National Theatre-INT, Bahuroopi, Natya Sampada and Rangbhoomi etc.) threw up many actors and actor-managers like Vishnukumar Vyas, Pratap Oza, Madhukar Randeria, Damu Zaveri, Lalu Shah, Vanlata Mehta, Pravin Joshi, Kanti Madia etc. in Bombay, while troupes like Rangmandal, Roopak Sangh, Darpana and Javnika in Ahmedabad brought forward actors like Pransukh Nayak, Dhananjay Thaker, Kailash Pandya, Markand and Urmila Bhatt, Damini Mehta etc. Adi Marzban and Firoz Antia were very active in Parsi comedies, the community which has all through enriched Gujarati and Urdu theatres.
The "boxed action" on the lighted platform behind the proscenium arch with European theatre conventions and the "adapted" lifestyles had affected the live actor- audience relationship. The "old" stage rarely translated any play, while the "new" stage now only thrived on adaptations, after the initial zeal died down, with commercial interests
getting the upper hand.


The Parallel Theatre

Writers also soon realized this, and creative pens like Labhshankar Thaker began experimenting beyond absurd in "Vriksha" (The Tree- 1981) and "Mansukhlal Majithia" (1983), both fine studies of degenerated human values. Credit for this attitude to the language of theatre should go to Madhu Rye ("Koi Pan Ek Phool"-Name any flower, 1969), who had gathered some poets and playwrights in an informal self-training group- "Akanth Sabarmati" (1972). Rye’s next play "Kumar ni Agashi" (Kumar's Gallery- 1973) directed by Pravin Joshi, hit the headlines.
Newer voices of the period included Shrikant Shah ("Tirad", The Crack, 1972), Hasmukh Baradi ("Kalo Kamlo" The Black Blanket, 1975), Raghuvir Chaudhary ("Sikandar Sani, 1976), Chinu Modi ("Navalsha Hirji", 1977). The noticeable trend of this phase in the original writing for amateur theatre is towards stylization - specially in Labhshankar Thaker ("Pilun Gulab", The Yellow Rose, 1982), Sitanshu Yashashchandra ("Kaho Makanji"-Tell me, Makanji, 1985) and Hasmukh Baradi ("Janardan Joseph" and the full- length verse play "Jashumati", both 1981).
The contemporary trend in production style, except commercially "sold out" shows by "professional" theatre troupes, is also towards stylization; and a search for elements fresh from the performing traditions of the soil is going on. The rich heritage of performing folk-expressions like Bhavai, musical-dance form like Ras-Garba, story narrator form -Man Bhatt etc. had definitely contributed to it. Kailash Pandya, Bhadrakant Jhaveri and Janak Dave etc. extensively used folk elements in their productions.
In the magazine "Parab" of the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad, the critic Vinod Adhvaryu evaluated the decade of nineties as the "most notable decade of play writing". Earlier Niranjan Bhagat had forecast in his "Sahitya" quarterly that the "Gujarati play is emerging", while publishing plays by Labhshankar Thaker, Sitanshu, and Baradi.


The ninities

During this period, Bharat Dave, Nimesh Desai, Paresh Nayak etc. were active in Ahmedabad, performing original plays and some classics. Kapil Dev Shukla etc. adapted novel for stage, setting a notable exmaple.
The decade was also notable for two other trends: realizing that in the scheme of things of the professional - commercial theatre troupes in Bombay and their counterparts in the cities of Gujarat, there was no place for new or socially relevant writings, the playwrights themselves had to turn to performing (Madhu Rye and Labhshankar Thaker with "Darpana", Subhash Shah and Chinu Modi in "Visual Arts", Baradi in "Garage Studio Theatre". These efforts did benefit their search for theatre language.
Another remarkable trend of the decade is the emergence of street theatre movement (troupes like Samvedan, Garage and Lok Kala Manch in Ahmedabad, Parivartan in Baroda etc.), in their efforts to take theatre to people in streets, middle-class housing colonies or open public places.
Alongside this, the commercial theatres in Bombay performed mainly to "sold-out houses", contract shows arranged by their commission agents, ringing the final death-bell of the box office. They sell mystery, tears, jokes and even ideals in their high-speed rhetoric "thrown" by the smartly costumed actors, in the fashionable "flated" decor, in the plays proudly imported from abroad or Marathi.
Not that everything there is trash, but it is not Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, Anton Chekhov, neither Badal Sircar, Girish Karnad nor Mohan Rakesh. It is international allright, but neither Gujarati, nor Indian.
All this and the onslaught of TV have also affected the output of directors. The actor/directors now find fast buck and glamour in the electronic media, not realizing that it cuts both ways - the theatre loses and the television does not benefit. In the absence of even the semblance of research or the serious theatre criticism, most remarkable works get discouraged and go unnoticed.
Most important theatre event of recent past, having a singular effect in creating the right theatre consciousness are the efforts of Govardhan Panchal, doyen of Gujarati theatre, who, alongside researching in the classical theatre traditions, organised productions (himself as Sutradhar) of Sanskrit plays in the original Bharat Natyashashtra style, involving young actors like Raju Barot, Harikishan Varma etc. in "Dootvakyam" (1990) and "Prabuddha-Rauhineya"(1993).
The Central Sangeet Natak Academy scheme to encourage young directors also threw up, in last half a decade, talents like Aditi Desai, Janak Rawal, Manvita Baradi, Prabhakar Dabhade, P.S. Chari etc. National Festivals organised by Rajendra Bhagat, till recently almost every year, brought fresh air and a glimpse of newer experiments of the sister theatres. Let us hope all these will help create conducive

Three Kinds of Gujarati Theatre


There are, according to me, three distinct kinds of theatres in Gujarat commercial theatre in Bombay with Broadway adaptations, double meaning dialogues, contract shows, generally weekend viewership, with easy formulae - like Hindi films, from Hindi films.
The second is the amateur activity, generally centred in the cities like Ahmedabad, Baroda, Surat, Rajkot and a little in Bombay ('Chhabildas' movement, productions by Mahendra Joshi etc.). These groups mostly produce original plays, some follow method acting of Stanislavsky, others follow Bertold Brecht.
The third kind of theatre is people-oriented, socially relevant attempts by non-Govt. Organisations- NGOs and committed drama /theatre troupes like "Parivartan"(Baroda), "Garage Studio Theatre" etc. They conduct theatre workshops and perform thematic plays for social awareness; they are inspired by Badal Sircar of West Bengal, Augusto Boal of Brazil etc. in which the audience is allowed equal partnership. There is great hope in this movement in the atmosphere of present mass media hype.
An overview, however, makes one feel that no great drama evolved either from the non-violent palmful of salt or self-suffering fasts. The empty-bellied remained miles away from the thick walls of the theatre halls in the urban centres. Similarly, the division of the country, recurrent communal disharmony, long shadows of rising fundamentalism, child- labour, exploited class- relations also have NOT inspired any notable theatre expression. The untouchables are made "Harijans" (God's People); the "Trusteeship" principles, and now privatization efforts, have further corrupted the economic and cultural relations between classes; the disagreement with the establishment (for example, in 1974 reformatory "Navnirman Movement", etc.) has also been assimilated within the political system.
Yet, the road to relevant and vibrant theatre is very long : revival of box office - most of the theatre going is by "sold-out" shows; better actor-audience relationship - reflection of local and culture-specific themes; close ties between writers and theatre troupes - for stageable play-writing; re-organizing actors' troupes- for consistent meaningful theatre ; theatre troupes owning their performance places; useful theatre research; insightful theatre criticism; reach of theatre to wider audience who are facing an all-out onslaught of media, specially "open-sky" policy; and the emergence of a director who does not just direct "actors", but also directs "theatre" as a whole.
(written in 1995)

 

THEATRE BY THE PEOPLE,
FOR THE PEOPLE


A dozen people -double swari- some on motor-bikes, others on bicycles passing through half-dark lanes of Dariapur (the middle class residential area in walked Ahmedabad), the “guide-organiser” tumbling about the exact location : “There is our Kavi” Janak shouts, and alights-from his motor-bike with a torn carpet (used to define the Ground acting area)., Manvita holding an old signboard ‘Khado by Garage studio theatre’. Kiran carrying a dhotak.

“A place to perform and a hundred-watt bulb” is what we needed, and that is what we were provided. The troupe will go round the dusty dark lanes at around 8 p.m., bringing people out of their kitchens with songs and announcements, while Baradi will spread the carpet in the acting area and pick up sharp stones and broken glasses from the street so that they do not hurt the bare-foot actors. Soon amused children will gather around, carrying the word that “Street-players” have arrived... bedrooms will be lighted, galleries of higher blocks will be filled with the old and the handicapped, young girls and ladies come out of the houses, of course still keeping a little distance. And soon will arrive the troupe, singing and shouting ! And 300 to 400 people will witness an hour-long street-show on how a young man fell in the ditch and how they identified the situation as one of their own life-stories...in the present day socio-economic situation of Gujarat..

Be it Dariapur, Shahpur or Naroda (mill workers’ area of the city), be it Wadaj slums, Rambai Tekri-slums or be it middle-class “Housing Cooperative Societies” of Navrangpura, Ambawadi or Paldi... be it ‘Khado’ - a socio-political satire, be it ‘Falanabhai Dhikanabhai’, a play on communal harmony, or be it ‘Shikshan Urfe Yahoo’ - a film folk-tuned, singing dancing burlesque - it is always a similar story - people throng to witness street-players in the lighted circle at many places and occasions - even “sacrificing” their most-liked TV serials. They accept simple body gestures or typical sounds and imagine characters - a hypocrite religious saint, a lecherous leader, an exploited youth, a tuition class manager. Sometimes a small piece of costume or a hand property will be enough - and the audience will shout, ‘Yes, it is Kirtanlal, the ‘politician’...
The reason is simple - the ‘common man’ in the centre, the ‘common man’ in the circle. It is an all round view of each other in 360o view. The actor going round and addressing “them” (or “him”); one-to-one dialogue with the crowd. Direct. unpretentious, simple and symbolised. Episodes, songs, dances, compositions, satire, farce, even burlesque..

In the thick-walled urban theatres of most of our cities in Gujarat the actor performs on the high-lighted platform, while the audiences relax in their push-back chairs, listening to double-meaning dialogues, watching rapes, tears being shed or irrelevant “who-dun-its.” For most actors it is 50-100 rupees “cover”. For most audiences it is a social function of their caste/class-club to search for bridegrooms for their “arangetraled” and “beauty-parloured” daughters. For their “relaxation and entertainment”. So they patronise Bombay -based film-infected story lines, smart and accented dialogue-delivery and so-called “clean”, efficient productions as connoisseurs of performing art.

We, at the Garage, were in search of new audiences. Untouched, not untouchables. Those who have hardly visited the theatre. They could have watched films, TV, and they also should have seen some kind of a Madari-play or puppeteers.

We wanted to catch them at their door step in their courtyards performing “live” the theme they would hardly expect on socio-economic system, manipulative power politics, an expose of exploitative forces again dealt in totality – 360o view.

Now I hope you would realize that there is relation between the performing space and the communication. In a situation where an actor performs in 360o view, he has to be communicating on the socially relevant concerns. Because you are surrounded by people, hardly two feet away, looking straight in your eyes. It is a challenge - (also a luxury) for the actor, but a greater challenge for the audience. They also cannot escape... because you are reminding them of their exploiters. It is a two-way dialogue. Interactive, participative, affective and effective. Both are simultaneously producers and products of their milieu.
“So the finer, subtle feelings or symbolised presentations are not possible in street !” Some may argue. They should come and see our play ‘Khado’ (Pit) and ‘Falanabhai Dhikanabhai’ (Somebody Anybody). The portrayal of a young man in the pit, (ably done by Janak Rawal) has stirred many a young heart. Or the exploiter in Falanabhai Dhiknabhai well delineated by Kiran Trivedi) has created a deep hatred for the villain.
“So you have to be “episodic” in the street. you can not tell a story which people enjoy !” others may come forward. They should have seen “Vanzar ni Vat” (maiden compositions by Manvita Baradi & Janak Rawal). It is a story of how justice was denied to a woman, based on Brecht’s play “Exception and the Rule”.

“But you have to be shouting dialogues all the time at the people”, many actors complain. They should have seen ‘Shikshan Urfe Yahoo’ (directed by Kiran Trivedi) and witnessed the pin drop silence. Hillarious laughters, and heated discussions afterwards. It deals with our corrupted education system with tuition classes, guide publishers, talent evenings, school managers, sharebroker-teachers, degree auctions, educational politicians. The whole burlesque farce is richly composed with songs, dances, acrobatics, Garbas, Kathas, filmi-tunes, advertising jingles and Bai-bai-Charni - (“pass the buck”). The education system has to change, “they” shout, not actors !

It will soon be 15 years, that we are in this business. A business of playing in the street. Averaging 50/60 shows per production. Actors have come and gone but audiences hardly forget us. At every show we perform we have to commit for a couple more shows in nearest future. There are no tickets, but we never return empty-handed. The actors are committed - spending their evenings for a socially relevant communication. Usually the transport charges and occasional remuneration for their participation are paid from what the troupe receives as voluntary collection from “common man in the circle.”

The most important thing however of the street theatre is that it is people-oriented and people-centred. An effort is made to wipe out the line between the player and the watcher, the actor and the spectators. As against formal, frontal, partial (i.e. 180o exposure of the ‘proscenium theatre’) the actor-audience relationship in the street is intimate, immediate, urgent ! No “social” masks allowed under the pretext of “aesthetic distance”. No class distinction, no seat-division according to ticket-purchasing-capacity, no purchaser-performer formality.

It is a ‘folk theatre’. Not like Bhavai, as the imperialists termed our 500 years old rural theatre tradition. The street theatre is folk - in a sense that it has possibility to represent, portray, symbolise, preserve the present life “theatrically”. It’s form is mobile taking whatever shape the audience desires, it is really “happening” before their eyes.

Is it only a daily newspaper ? Or at most a weekly, or a monthly magazine ? Yes, I fear, it could degenerate into one, presenting only transitory problems. But the street theatre has also a possibility of permanence of a book. Like our folk tales, Akhyan stories of poet Premenand, Panchtantra, Manbhatt, cartoon strips, TV serials.

But the most important aspect of its popularity would be that it could develop as a mass-based activity. The Bhavai is losing its roots, it is misunderstood, and also it is exploited for propaganda purposes. Actually, it had a different function, objective scope. It’s “elements” are important, though. They could be employed with contemporary theatrical elements of mass media - for better work in the streets.

Should the street tackle only the political themes ? It cannot escape politics as we soon start discussing politics in our normal day-to-day interactions. It cannot escape contemporary opinions also. Neutrality and objectivity are only myths in this sense. But then, what is required here is a “visionary writer director” who can steer the movement, lead it for creating “platform for debating, politicisation” rather than petty “mundane” politics. It can then provide perspective as against monopoly of TV and radio, commercilisation of film, and sensationalism of professional “proscenium theatre”.

The professional - commercial theatre today in Gujarat is divorced from the mainstream of popular cultural life. It is a theatre by the few, for the few. Who knows it may have its own function, let the few have their way also.

But if the theatrical experience of “live performance” is also to be provided to our silent majority population - both rural and urban - then the answer could be found in the street-playing. We may require different breed of writer-director-actor, it may be all three functionaries together: may be different kind of theatre training, may be different kind of “theatrical literacy” in the audiences.
And if we can have “party-plots”, “community halls”, and open spaces for marriage functions, why cannot we have at least a space dedicated to community affairs like local debates. musical talents, theatre, camps etc ?
We have allowed Bhavai to wither away, old, new theatre to commercialise, TV to politicise, radio/newspapers to serve minority. But could we afford really stopping the emergence of street-theatre movement ? We in the “circle” (i.e. actors) perceive its necessary function today. Will “we” in the outer circle (i.e. audience) perceive the real function of this most “democratic form of theatre ?

(Published in Indian Express, 24-03-90)

 

Theatre - A Culture-
Specific Phenomenon


The act of theatre is a live, interactive process. It is now and here. A 'happening', both for actors and audience; an act of co-creation. Not 'at the audiences' but 'with the audiences'. The rhythm, the composition, the movement; the colours, the shapes, the dimensions---all create a 'temporal space' and a 'special time'. For the actor, it is the magic of being 'someone else'; and for the audience, it is the wonder of witnessing this 'metamorphosis'. It is concrete, touchable, 'most humane action', a part of societal processes, from the times immemorial.
Be it the amphitheatre of the Greeks, the 'Natyamandampas' of Bharat, the present-day proscenium-arch theatres or the traditional (folk) popular theatre-forms, including the street performances. The crucial everywhere is the special relation, for communication by, and amongst actors, across the footlights, with the audiences beyond theatre walls, with the societies and their cultures.
These special relations are culture-specific. Greeks and Romans needed, and therefore created, bowl-shaped theatres in the open, on the hills, for large audiences, with circular arena in the centre for a performance by a few actors and big choruses. Bharat's Natya-mandapas indicate its feudal patrons, expressed in the "frontal special relations" between actors and audiences. The foldforms seated the spectators all around the acting area ---pointing to the free, democratic, two-way give, and take in its initial post-Mogul pre-British phase.
Theatre conventions are also culture-specific. Bharat's natyamandapas were built for an intimate and interactive situation, for expounding the Rasas created out of an expressive "theatre language" base on the four abhinayas (angika, Vachika, Aharya, Satvika). The symbolism and the abstractions achieved here, as also in China and Japan, are typically oriental. The communication of meaning ('abhi' - towards, 'naya'-to carry) in performance was decided by the text, which was affected by the space provided for performance, according tothe conventions prevalent in the specific time/space-bound culture, which was expressed, at the outset, in the given text for communication. A full circle. Theatre thus was both the producer and the product of a culture.
'Space is not neutral', notes Darco Suvin, an authority on German Playwright-theoritician Bertolt Brecht, in his essay on "Topoanalysis". Given the type of space all relationships get coloured, "within its limits", he added.
But being culture-specific, space does not exist in isolation. Spaces are contextual. It is the same space where the ghost of Hamlet's father descends, where Godot is waited upon, where Dushyant forgets Shakuntala, and Shakar kills Vasentsena...
Space also provides a possibility of 'being together' a possibility of syncronic relationships between social agents---actors, spectators---and the universe.
The space is coloured with what use it is put to, that what is created on it. ('A chair on the stage is theatrical property', remember ?) Human relations are translated here in special relations. In the context of the text (characters, story-line, Rasa, conflict, denouement), and the performance (composition), movement, rhythm, pitch, volume, silences) expressive spaces are created on the stage by actors, and between actors, when they confront each other, and confront the characters they perform ! The reality portrayed is 'selected' and 'arranged' through an artistic process. The spaces here thus become representative of the reality beyond even that particular performance. If it is 'at the audience' (as in the proscenium theatres), the meaning communicated provides an understanding of a deeper and intrinsic reality of the spaces 'narrated' on the stage. If it is 'with the audiences' (as in arena or the streets) the identification is greater.
The spaces in the auditorium, for and between each member of the audience, as also the 'distance' and 'angel' of the view of the spaces created on the stage, affect the meaning 'exchaged' between the actors and the spectators. In the prosecnium-arch theatres, the fixed class-conscious seating arrangement (according to the ticket purchasing capacity) may provide less variety of the points view, and hence limited exchange of meaning. On the other hand, the participatory, interactive, mobile viewing conditions in folk or street theatres have a greater possibility for a variety of meanings, in the 360 degree exchange situation (both for actors and audiences).
This arena (street or traditional folk) theatre is 'essentially' democratic; the communicator and the communicated are 'together' on the 'same physical level', creating a new space-value. The 'act' of creation is in full view, almost in equal lighting condition. This also affects the 'sense of time', and merging of theatre/real time takes place, for 'both creators' here participate equally.
Whatever the communication-situation (proscenium, 'with' or 'at' the audiences, or arena) the audiences, based on the culture- accepted and convention-created body of theatre-ideom, participate imaginatively with the artistic endeavour of the actors in creating new space/time, beyond the physical reality (of characters, story, locale, historicity etc.), granting it a universal significance.
The theatre is sensually concrete show-visual and auditory. This sensual concreteness (of movements, compositions, tableaux and finally Rasas) is experienced by the spactors, who translate them into the senses of touch, smell and taste. The act of communication on the part of actor culminates as an act of theatre, thus, with the participation of the audiences.
Many feel to-day that the imported proscenium-arch theatre building (dividing co-creators with a curtain) is culturally alien, while the future-spaces of traditional (folk) theatres of various regions (Bhavai, Khayal, Ramlila of Ramnagar etc.) are vibarnt and partiapative. Actor here acts all around in 360 degrees, 'in' and 'out' of his character.
Also many theatre-workers feel that in modern terms, theatre-spaces (including the sheet or enviornmental) could be a platform for a democratic exchange of experiences, views, opinions. The experiments in this direction to assimilate 'elements' of folk theatre-expression have already created a body of dramatic-work and some performance-conventions which are culture-specific enriching both participants of the creation.
Herein I see the direction Indian theatres (in plural) can, and will, take in future, not affected in the least by any amount of trans-national mass media explosions. Theatre is a 'local phenomenon', and will remain so.
(written in 2003)


 

MARU NATYA LEKHAN (2004)
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MAUT AA PAHUNCHI HAI MUJH TAK (1988)
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