The study of Indian political theatre is the study of a quest for identity on a grand scale. Political theatre in post-independence India is marked by the expression of conflicting social paradigms, whose complex interplay signifies a deep-seated confusion regarding the question What does it mean to be Indian? Such questions are uniquely poignant in the context of a postcolonial society whose expression of its complex national identity was long sidelined by anti-imperialist rhetoric. Indeed, since the turbulent experience of independence and partition in 1947, political theatre has been used as a forum for a variety of causes ranging from subaltern reform movements (especially those relating to gender, caste, and Hindu-Muslim tolerance), to a pan-Indian nationalism propagated in different ways by the influence of both the Congress party and the Communists, to the most recent development of a normative Hindutva nationalism propagated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
[...] Another example is that of Immortal India, an episodically structured ballet, whose episodes are held together not by an analysis of social or historical conditions, but rather by the desire of the narrator (an Indian worker) to see the Indian people unite in a movement that would ultimately lead to their freedom. Unfortunately, for the purpose of fostering a unified political front, IPTA's synthesis of folk, urban, and classical forms was nevertheless subsumed under a “notion of a pan-Indian cultural heritage, into which flowed the various regional forms, forming an unproblematic whole.” The upshot of the pre-independence period is that the indignities suffered under the British Raj led to the coalescence of political theatre around a fundamentally anti-colonial paradigm which subsumed genuine problems relating to Indian identity under the myth of a unified pan-Indian heritage. [...]
[...] The sense of rural disillusionment began to show its importance in the periods just before and after the strict censorship imposed by Indira Gandhi during Emergency”. Throughout this time period, a number of works highlighted subaltern issues and political corruption rampant in Indian politics. For instance, Shanta Gandhi's variation on Jasma Odan shifted the focus of the play away from the traditionally heroic aspect of Jasma's committing sati. Instead, the work focused on Jasma's personality as a working woman and desire to struggle for change on earth, rather than live in unchanging heaven. [...]
[...] The coalescence of the opposition to the Congress party around a sometimes militant version of Hindu nationalism may have, ironically, lent new urgency to progressive trends in political theatre and crystallized a debate about Indian identity nearly one hundred years in the making. As just one aspect of the emergent debate, Dalmia notes the vast number of works by female directors throughout the 1990s. As just one example among many, Kirti Jain drew attention to the trauma of those women who survived Partition through her dramatization of Urvashi Butalia's The Other Side of Silence. Even Zook, who highlights the tendency towards farce, has indicated a countertrend in Indian political theatre that critically questions and examines past traditions rather than merely evoking it in a blind attempt to relive it. Conclusion It is out of this vibrant and critical modern tradition that I draw my conclusion. [...]
[...] Zook, Farcical Mosaic: The Changing Masks of Political Theatre in Contemporary India”, Asian Theatre Journal: ATJ (Fall 2001): 177. Nandi Bhatia, Acts of Authority, Acts of Resistance: Theater and Politics in Colonial and Postcolonial India, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004: 25. Ibid Ibid Ibid Ibid Ibid, 92-3. Ibid Vasudha Dalmia, Poetics, Plays, and Performances: the Politics of Modern Indian Theatre, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006: 160; quoting Sudhi Pradhan Marxist Cultural Movement in India: Chronicles and Documents (1935-47), Calcutta, Mrs. [...]
[...] The work also criticizes a colonial judicial system that refused to take up the pleas of mistreated Indians, and whose corrupt complacency contributed to the civil unrest surrounding the mutiny of 1857. While Nil Durpan may not have been explicitly anti-colonial, it laid the groundwork for an important motif in pre-independence political theatre. That motif was the use of theatre as an anti-colonial used to reflect and focus attention on the systematic oppression and exploitative governance of the Raj. Two important following works, Chakar Durpan Tea Planter's Mirror”) and Gaekwar Durpan Mirror of Baroda”), capitalized on the motif in order to highlight the fact that colonial oppression was not only a problem with the then-defunct indigo plantations, but was in fact ubiquitous. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee