Punjabi drama and theatre from 1980 onward passed through most difficult times. In this period, the people of Punjab
suffered the most painful conditions of reckless killings and tensions between the two major religious groups of Punjabi, Hindus and Sikhs. There was an atmosphere of total darkness and dissolution, with ever increasing terrorist activity of looting and killings and fake police encounters, with women widowed and children orphaned.
On this pretext, most of the theatre groups concentrated on the Punjab problem and churned out scripts and staged plays on this problem. Gursharan Singh, the most notable of the artists, took his crisp, message oriented plays from village to village and, in a loud voice, warned the masses of the dangers of religious fundamentalism. His plays written and enacted during this period were repeatedly applauded, enjoyed, and re-enjoyed by the common people. Ik Kursi, Ik Morcha te Hawa vich Latke Lok (A Chair, an Agitation and People Hanging in Midair), Curfew, Hitlist, Baba Bolda Hai (The Old Man Speaks), Bhai Manna Singh, Chandigarh Puare di jarh (Chandigarh, The Root Cause of Discord), and others were being staged at every corner of the state, and people in large numbers would witness these plays.
There was no artistic quality in them, nothing that would make them a good example of professional theatre, yet they had a sway on the people. Gursharan Singh himself does not boast of their finesse, but he measures his success in terms of their delivery of a message. He represents the Janvadi (the people`s) movement in Punjabi theatre. Other theatre artists, such as Atamjit, took a different position. They do recognize the importance of a message, but for them theatre is a unique art: it must be conceived in terms of dramatic metaphor, it must be transformed into a metaphorical mode of existence, and these metaphors should unfold meaning in a future-oriented movement of time. Therefore, there must be a significant experiment in form. His Seenan (Stitches) and Ajit Ram are not just tear-jerkers; they are mature pieces of new experimentation in form. Even his Rishtiyan da Ki Rakhiye Nan (How to Name the Kinship Relationships), staged by a number of theatre groups, is found to be relevant to the communally charged atmosphere of the 1980s and early 1990s. An adaptation of Saadat Hassan Manto`s short story, Toba Tek Singh, is presents in spectacle the story of the country`s partition in an ironic mode.
Sonal Mann Singh, Atamjit, Charan Das Sidhu (Delhi) Kewal Dhaliwal, Navnindra Behal and a host of other directors and producers are engaged in widening the vision. But still, drama and theatre remain the weakest link in twentieth century Punjabi literature
. Punjabi theatre is still not flourishing due to paucity of scripts, and very few playwrights write good scripts. In their absence, the theatre has to depend on adaptations and translations from other languages. There is no doubt that the new interest in theatre in Punjab is here to stay, yet there is much to be done to improve the future of Punjabi theatre