In the year 1835, even before Macaulay declared English language the medium for education for selected Indians, the Rev. Krishna Mohan Banerjee (1813-85) wrote the first play in English by an Indian: The Persecuted,, or Dramatic Scenes Illustrative of the Present State of Hindoo Society in Kolkata (1831)-a dramatized debate on the conflict between orthodox Hindu custom and new Western ideas. Local students, under the new system, predictably looked to English Literature for inspiration. Study of Shakespeare led to a spurt not only of translations and emulations of his work in the Indian languages, but also staging in English of scenes and, often, full plays by Shakespeare particularly among Indian collegians.
As only men had the privilege of going to school and colleges and attaining education, they too played the roles of women in theatres. British and Indian rarely participated in the same production. Some of the prominent faces of Bengal literature fraternity like Rabindranath Tagore and Madhusudan Dutt contributed in English plays as well. There was another bilingual author named T.P. Kailasam (1884-1946), who lived for some years in England, and applied his two languages discretely. And there were also people who used the English language form to merely tell the story through dialogue than as theatrical offerings. Aurobindo Ghose(1872-1950) and Harindranath Chattopadhyaya (1898-1990) left a large theatrical body chiefly on religious or mythical subjects.
After independence of India in 1947, there were around 200 plays that were written, though most of them are not performed and many not performable. Due to lack of stage opportunities, the writers were deprived of practical knowledge of learning the art. During the 1950s Shakespearean plays became quite significant role, led by Geoffrey and Laura Kendal whose productions of Shakespearean and other classics barnstorming through Indian cities and towns influenced potential and young theatre enthusiasts like Utpal Dutt.
During the 1960s the socio-political work of Asif Currimbhoy (1928-94) brought passion, power and complexity to original Indian-English Theatre in at least twelve significant plays on topical matters, but offended conservatives and traditionalists that led to a complete ban on The Doldrummers (1961). Somewhat similar luck befell on "A Touch of Brightness (1965), set in a Mumbai brothels by Partap Sharma, who has written four other plays.
A space for commercial English language theatre became possibility and reality in Mumbai after Adi Marzban (1914-87) directed his comedy Ah! Norman (1972, adapted from Norman, Is That You? by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick), a landmark hit leading to hundreds of performances.
The audiences for English theatre mainly consist of people from elite classes from metropolitan cities. Indian people have, somewhat, accepted English as their Indian tongue, but nowhere in India, apart from Delhiand Mumbai, is English theatre viable commercially. Amateur theatre groups, as it stands in present conditions, still rely largely on a Western repertoire to lure theatregoers.
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