(Last Updated on : 26-12-2008)
The term Khyal is possibly derived from khel, or 'to play', in the sense of playing drama. This is actually a popular folk form of Rajasthani theatre influenced by Parsi theatre. This form is not very ancient, but it is only about a hundred years old. The three varieties of Khyal namely Alibuxi, Shekhawati, and Kuchamani are associated with three playwrights. The names can be mentioned as Alibux, Nainuram during 1823-1905, and Lacchiram respectively. They were near-contemporaries and great frequenters of Parsi companies. As they wrote for troupes travelling to villages, where halls were not available, they changed what they saw to suit their purpose, dispensing with the elaborate settings and other heavy trappings of Parsi theatre to make Khyal relatively simple.
The plays are usually performed in open spaces using wooden platforms. The name is takhat, which is easily available in every village. This is about 1 m high, with spectators sitting on three sides. In more elaborate multi-level shows, separate mahal i.e. palace or jharokha i.e. window platforms are erected. This is up to 6 m off the ground, representing different locales. There are no curtains, the actors enter in full view of the audience and, having performed their part, sit down beside the musicians. Subsequent entries are made from that very spot. Women's roles are played by men, one of the foremost female impersonators being Ugamraj Khilari. Music is extremely important. The dialogue, written in verse, is sung by the characters to the main accompaniment of nagarra or kettledrum and harmonium. The style of singing differs in many cases. Alibuxi Khyal mixes classical and folk, in Shekhawati the music is pure classical, and in Kuchamani it is folk.
Nearly all the plays have the same themes as those of Parsi theatre, such as the lives of Amar Singh Rathor, Raja Harishchandra, Jaidev Kankali, and Gopichand Bharathari. In Parsi theatre the dialogue was in a special metre and the last words of songs or speeches were emphasized, and often repeated by audience members. It also includes the prompting of the interaction of spectators and actors. Khyal is composed in similar style, except that it is in Rajasthani and there is very little use of prose as in the prototypical Parsi Urdu play. The example is Amanat's Indarsabha, where all the lines were in verse. In Khyal, too, the audience joins in on the last words, establishing interaction with the performers. The patronage to Khyal came from the people. When the troupe reached a village, the people took responsibility of its board and lodging, and gave money as appreciation to the artists in the course of the performance. Typically, a member of the audience raises his hand and shows a currency note. The actor steps out of his character, walks down to the person, takes the money, asks his name, and, coming back on stage, announces the person's name and places the money on the harmonium.
Alibuxi Khyal was founded by Alibux, Nawab of Mandawar in Mewat or Alwar. He was also a poet who wrote several plays, but his favourite was Krishna-lila i.e. 'Krishna's Lila. This depicts Krishna's life. As a religious form, Alibuxi Khyal wonderfully exemplifies India's secular culture. The poet and the singers were Muslims, yet great devotees of the Hindu deity, Krishna. Today, it is nearly extinct, with only some singers keeping up the musical traditions. Vulgarity has crept into Khyal, influenced by the electronic media and industry sponsorship of the performers as entertainers for tourists. Kuchamani Khyal, being rooted in folk music, remains popular with star actors like Pukhraj Gaud but Shekhawati Khyal is dying a slow death due to its highly classical base. Unfortunately, both the Shekhawati and Kuchamani varieties do not have any playwright to write on modern themes for present-day rural audiences.