Rethinking Modernities And Modernisms From A Regional Perspective: Kannada Theatre since 1800
The basic hypothesis of my paper is that different regional cultures of India responded to the challenges of colonialism and post-colonialism in their own uniquely complex ways. This led to theories and practices of modernity and modernism reflected in their drama and theatre. In order to be very specific, my paper focuses on the emergence of modernity and modernism in drama and theatre of Karnataka, whose contribution to modern Indian theatre is invaluable. In an intellectual climate in which the impact of pan-world ideologies like Marxism did not play a crucial role, Kannada theatre from 19th century onwards had to chalk out its own distinct course of modernization and self-renewal, shaped by pan-national social philosophies like those of Gandhi, Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Lohaite model of democratic socialism as also by regional ideologies deriving from ancient and medieval sources. Though reformulations of national and sub-national identities were not free from Orientalist influences, the creative and critical responses were of a different nature in a caste-dominated theatre culture of Karnataka. These will be investigated in the light of the ideas and works of leading practitioners like Samsa, Adya Rangacharya, Lankesh and Kambar and that of theorist-practitioners like Shivaram Karanth and KV Subbanna as I also assume that it is important to look at the region-specific history of ideas to make sense of the evolution of theatre. Always swinging between the poles of modernization and nativization, Kannada theatre in the new millennium become a site of an uneasy conflict and compromise between vestiges of modernity, modernism and post-modernism, whose exact nature is radically different from what is known as post-modernism elsewhere. I would like to demonstrate this in the concluding section with examples.
'Emerging political sociabilities in the sub-continent:End of commonwealth or a newtheatrum mundi?'
This paper will have two parts. The first part will discuss the notion of ‘theatrum mundi’ (theatre of the world) as a correlate of the sociological generality ‘public sphere’. It will examine the historical sequence that produces this correlation. Shakespeare’s age, the new universalism of the French Revolution and the search for postcolonial purification of ‘impure’ colonial sovereignty will form parts of this sequence.
The second part of the paper will testify to the emergence of a singular response to the European dramatist Henrik Ibsen in contemporary Bangladesh. This testimony will be placed in relation to the possibility of a new theatrum mundus. A ‘ theatre-of-the-world’ which does not stand for a purified, universal and sovereign world-theatre but one which generates a certain political sociability, a specific public enthusiasm and a series of joyous artistic ‘impurifications’ that are as local and idiomatic as they are generic…
Between Past and Future: Representations of Contemporaneity in Bhartendu Harishchandra’s Dramatic Works
The nineteenth century saw the emergence of new literary genres in the modern vernaculars of India. During this period of literary renaissances in various vernaculars of India, Bhartendu Harishchandra of Banaras (1850-1885) made the most important contribution towards the development of modern literary genres in modern Hindi language. His creative output wasn’t limited to any particular genre as he wrote poetry, essays, dramas, travelogues, and newspaper articles. His most important contribution, however, has been in the field of Hindi drama. He created a repertoire of dramatic works in modern Hindi. The late nineteenth century was also a period when many regions of the country were engulfed by a wave of social reform and revivalist movements. The Hindi intellectuals, including Bhartendu Harishchandra, were acutely aware of these currents, and also of the fact of relative backwardness of their own region in this regard. These movements form the historical background for the dramatic works of Bhartendu Harishchandra.
In this paper I will focus on the representation of contemporaneity in the dramatic works of Bhartendu that include translations and adaptations from Sanskrit and Bangla dramas, half-complete works, and complete dramas. In a way, all literary works represent the contemporary, my attempt is to focus more narrowly on the efforts of the writer to grapple with the nature of the time itself. This is in a way a special privilege of the founding fathers as they take up the task of creating the new without precedent. At the same time they do grapple with the old in order to create the new. In this way, Bhartendu’s dramatic works are placed in a ‘‘gap’’ between past and future. I propose to treat the question of the representation of contemporaneity in Bhartendu’s dramas by analyzing the following issues: a.) The creative struggle of the author to create suitable literary form in new language that could represent the contemporary concerns by learning and borrowing the techniques and ideas from Sanskrit, Bangla, and European theatre. b.) References to the nature of ‘present time’ itself in Bhartendu’s works, as ‘dark times’ ’vikraal kaal’, ‘ mahaghor kaal’ etc. but also as times of new opportunities, and newness itself.
Regional Theatre Histories : A Research and Translation Project
This presentation will discuss the scope and methodological challenges of an ongoing collaborative project aiming to prepare for publication three volumes of selected translated primary materials, each pertaining to the social history of regional theatres in three Indian languages viz. Marathi, Kannada and Tamil, respectively.
Particularly within the Indian/colonial context, theatre’s historical importance derives from its position as a form of communication that precedes print but which, at a later date, remains an interface between print and cinema. While there is now rich repertoire of work, both, on the emergence of regional literary spheres around print in colonial India, as well on the space occupied by cinema in the popular Indian/regional imaginary, there has been very little work on theatre.
Ours is an exciting and significant intervention in the field of Indian cultural/theatre studies that will make available a pool of materials that have hitherto remained unknown and inaccessible to scholars working outside the primary linguistic field.
Comprising of three separate language teams headed by an eminent regional cultural historian/theatre scholar, our project seeks to recuperate and document, through translation, the complexity of regional theatre histories in the above-named language spheres, approximately for the period between 1850 and 1950. As we know, this is a critical period that saw theatre transiting from its pre-Independence form, when its popular and commercial character allowed it to function as a vehicle of mass social and political communication, to its post-Independence phase as an elite, amateur art form fostered in and through a range of state interventions.
Acknowledging the normative importance for theatrical activity of the early nineteenth century shift from a scribal to a print culture, and drawing upon the interface between print and the world of performance, each of the three volumes will present annotated primary materials relating to important aspects of regional theatrical activity, including its organization, circulation, reception, evaluation and political mobilization. Looking beyond play texts, our sources range from essays in theatre journals; writings on theatre in English and vernacular newspapers and literary periodicals; official records/interventions/regulations; letters, memoirs, biographies and self-narratives; publicity material such as handbills, adverts, notices; records, contracts, notebooks, scripts and letters pertaining to the internal organization of particular troupes etc.
Re-examining Theatrical Modernity : The Parsi Theatre, Shanta Gandhi and Ebrahim Alkazi
My paper will study the concept of multitude modernities as it realties to modern Indian theatre practice. My method will involve an examination of three sites of performance with varying institutional, aesthetic and ideological imperatives to gauge their mobilizations and understandings of the modern. These sites will include the strategies of performance and display deployed by the Parsi theatre in its final years, the 1930s;the dramatic and pedagogic contributions of Ebrahim Alkazi, and the work of the actor-dancer-pedagogue and political activist, Shanta Gandhi.
Traditions and Modernities: The Case of Sangit Natak in Maharashtra
The Sangit Natak ( Music-Drama) in Maharashtra during late nineteenth and early twentieth century offers significant ideas for understanding multiple and contesting strands in the field of ‘ modernity’, especially through theatre’s tryst with navin (new) sudharana (reform/refinement). Significantly, Sangit Natak shows the making of tradition and modernity as an on going process through which we can see the shifting grounds of these nomenclatures. Additionally, the archive of music, in the form of printed media and music recordings throw up significant methodological challenges for understanding the characteristics of tradition and modernity, as also for the making of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. The dominance of the practice of female impersonation in this theatre not only shows the unstable nature of gender identities, the music produced through this agency reveals the possibility of taking music as the primary site for theorizing about gender. Located within the new urban centers, Sangit Natak also reveals the making of the ‘classical’ art form through its negotiation with the ‘local’ forms. And finally, with the gradual culmination of the practice of female impersonation in the 1940s, Sangit Natak re-creates itself through new participants, but also lives on as the ‘tradition’ of a newer modernity. In my paper I will elaborate some of these characteristics with methodological challenges as the main focus of the paper.
Imagining the nation: Uday Shankar's 'Kalpana'
For a long while, the elite in India did not acknowledge the presence of dance as a part of their culture and existence—then came a stage when dance became the emblem of a rich and glorious history and tradition—an image that has stayed. Folk and tribal dances were part of the culture of the unrepresented few, good for showcasing the variety and the ‘ ethnic-ness’ of the Indian people, so they were required to be put in a special category where they were clearly part of the non-elite mass, good for exhibition-like circumstances of the republic day parade, or India Festivals abroad but never deemed good enough to be representative of ‘high’ Indian culture. The ‘pure’ form of dance came into existence almost through an elaborate engineering process, whence the grammar was systematically structured, the link to Natya Shastra both deliberately sought and established, and in most cases, even the name of the form invented. In this deliberate process of shaping dance history and geography, there was no place for people who did not want to be categorized into either of the two above mentioned categories: classical and folk.
In the post-Independence era, the dance history of India was narrated with a deliberate political agenda, that of establishing the hegemonizing dominant voice of the nation builders within the nation and for building an image of India in the context of the world as a significant regional entity with a formidable cultural heritage.
More recently, this narrative has been reinforced by the works of government institutions, and their funding agencies and archival sources—privileging only those dance forms, which can be linked, to the ‘sanskritized’ history. The result is the creation of a Museum-like image of a high cultural practice unchangeable, rare and exclusive.
In the process of stream-lining the heritage of dance in India, the whole question of modernity was subverted time and again. In the re-visiting of dance history, an important task therefore is to first record the multi layered and multi phased attempts at modernity by the parallel individual or community/ group agencies – as in all other forms of performance – and thereafter set off a discourse on a new historiography of colonial and post colonial encounters in dance in India.
In this paper, I take up the Case Study of KALPANA, a 122 minutes film that Uday Shankar wrote, directed, and starred in, completed in the year 1948 – a film which of course was made with a concrete aim to document Uday’s creative endeavours in dance, but also was a structured , if not cohesive, narrative putting together several important , conflicting and often contested issues of anti- colonial, nationalistic and progressive agenda of that time. The Film KALPANA remains one of the first and only documents of parallel modernistic endeavour of that time.
Shankar began his dance by presenting the ‘orient’ to the west but developed into making a journey of self discovering, and experiencing movements essentially belonging to an Indian tradition. His philosophy of choreography never remained contained by borders between the east and the west, the folk and the classical, or the rural and the urban, and constantly moved across and beyond binaries, to incorporate a variety of ideas and images. His film KALPANA (meaning literally ‘Imagination’), showcased many of his ideas, his views on life, and a lot of his choreography, and remains a document of his creative ability to transcend borders—even though his dance still continues to be described as hybrid.
The issues of local versus global, regional diversity, statehood, critiques of policies and trends , importance of ideological and artistic freedom, political as well as activist intervention, were dealt with, not from within the structure of nationalistic discourse in this movie, but from outside, as Uday Remained a protagonist, who never was seen as “one of their own” by the nationalists in their process of building the modern India.
Rewriting the ‘revolution’ through popular form
The paper will look at a crucial phase of post independent theatre, which initiated an intense dialogue between the city theater space and the ‘jatra’. The jatra as a theatrical performative culture industry of Bengal and Eastern India, has been labeled both as the folk traditional genre of the region as well as emulating the colonial theatre model and clinging on to its colonial legacy for sheer commercial profitability. The historical trend of non urban dislocations and relocating to the theatre district and the city of Calcutta, the central nodal point of colonial knowledge dissemination has subjected the form to various negotiations and a diminishing of its so called ‘folk’ character.
The crucial phase I am referring to is the seventies decade where there was a political momentum leading to an interaction between the jatra and a section the progressive theatre movement in the country. The decade witnessed within the jatra serious explorations of a post nationalist and post colonial critique and a criticality which successfully displaced a number of colonial norms and Institutional politics of the state and the nation. It interacted in complex ways with issues of politics, ‘public’ and people’s theatre.
In this context two productions of the jatra in 1971 will be the case studies. One dealing directly with the issues of independence and the inner conflicts between armed opposition and Gandhian visions of ‘non violence’ and the other written in a Brechtian epic style relating to an ancient historical period of Indian culture often termed as the ‘golden age of the Hindus’. The plays and performance were positioned as a critique to the nation’s project of constructing a new history of the nation and incorporating within an ‘official’ educational policy’.
Incorporating this phase within the history of the ‘jatra’ makes radical intervention in the historiography of post independent theatre. It opens up a number of methodological and theoretical frames and lenses which can critique the overarching histories of Nation, the post colonial theatre and a post modern view of the world.
A New Left Intervention in Bengali Theatre, with Brecht and Mueller
Brecht’s entry into Bengali Theatre in 1965-1975 was part of a critique of the pragmatic acquiescence of the Left in a slow but clearly charted process of a purportedly democratic building up of capitalism. A theatre committed to a Left alternative had found itself in a no man’s land with its political cause, conceived in terms of a linear narrative of progression/progressivism, ruptured from within; Brecht offering a redefinition of the cause, in a theatric disorientation/reorientation, only to be subsumed into retrograde cultural practices/strategies. The Emergency of 1975 brought the project to an end, allowing for yet another intervention, through Mueller, to be killed once again by facile formalism; and a rediscovery of political theatre in more historical- analytic terms.
Documentation as research:
Documenting the "REAL"
Three key word govern a large part of the viewing, patronage and audience perception of dance genres: Tradition, Identity, and Heritage. Keeping these three words and their often problematized meanings in mind - the documented material on Nachni, Jogti and Maibi women in/and their performance will be looked at – in search of the documented “real”.