(Last Updated on : 02-04-2012)
Role of women in Indian theatre
has been immense. And women authors in India, like elsewhere, have preferred to write fiction or poetry rather than plays. Bearing in mind their priceless input to the arts in general, women contributed to Indian dram in a significant manner. Women's playwriting makes apparent deeper and long-suppressed dimensions of life, in a way that, only they know and can write about. Their plays are candid, reflexive, often disturbing. It seems as though these texts demand articulation so that the drama of women's lives that remained subliminal and/or behind closed doors for so long could come into the open. They do not seek to resolve issues, nor end with author-defined conclusions. Rather, they invite the receptors' participation in dealing with the raw emotions evoked, the otherness of everyday beings, and the questioning of stereotypes. Indian women contributed to regional theatre in India
from the late nineteenth century, though not in a major way, reflecting the dual influence of European drama and indigenous performance traditions. Nevertheless, women's contributions have been ignored, trivialized or hidden from history. It gained in significance with time and profoundly affected the landscape of social inequities, and rewriting of the country's cultural history.
In this context one must note the trailblazing but largely forgotten efforts in the early twentieth century of Balamani Ammal, a former devadasi who led her own troupe consisting only of women who needed shelter, that travelled all over the Indian state
of Tamil Nadu
. The director and male impersonator - R. Nagarathnamma followed suit, forming an all-female Kannada company in 1958. The earliest plays by women were composed in Bengali language
, Urdu language
, and Marathi language
. Swarnakumari Devi (1855-1932) and Rasheed Jahan (1905-52) highlighted social evils through their Urdu and Bengali plays
respectively. The pioneer lawyer, Cornelia Sorabji (1866- 1954), wrote the first drama in English by an Indian woman, Gold Mohur Time (1930), a parable play that she succeeded in publishing from London. Bharati Sarabhai's socialistic The Well of the People (in verse, 1943) and Two Women (prose, 1952) followed.
The numbers increased appreciatively after Independence. The issues raised amaze by their range with regard to women's experiences. Important women dramatists include Mahasweta Devi
, Nabaneeta Dev Sen
, and Saoli Mitra (Bengali theatre
); Dhiruben Patel and Varsha Adalja (Gujarati theatre
); Mannu Bhandari, Kusum Kumar, Mridula Garg, Shanti Mehrotra, and Mrinal Pande (Hindi theatre
); Malatibai Bedekar, Mukta Dikshit, Tara Vanrase, Jyoti Mhapsekar, Sushma Deshpande, and Prema Kantak (Marathi); Manjit Pal Kaur (Punjabi theatre
); Ambai and Mangai (Tamil theatre
); Volga and Vinodini (Telugu theatre
); Jameela Nishat (Urdu theatre
). Dina Mehta is among the best known of those writing in English, addressing various themes on Mythmakers; Tiger, Tiger; Sister Like You; When One plus One Makes Nine; and the most celebrated, Brides Are Not for Burning and Getting Away with Murder. In 1989, Bilkiz Alladin dramatized the historical romance of the British Resident in Hyderabad
, James Kirkpatrick, with the beautiful Khairunnissa as For the Love of a Begum, which revealed the interface of the Raj and harem politics.
The new millennium opened with great promise. Manjula Padmanabhan shot to fame with her award-winning Harvest, followed by Lights Out, Hidden Fires, and Mating Season. Poile Sengupta wrote some fascinating plays, like Mangalam and Keats Was a Tuber Hardly a domain of life is left untouched by these playwrights, who offer a variety of analyses of the position of women, exploration of female subjectivity, and different strategies that need adoption to negotiate social change. Their work and voice ask for reformulation of conventional paradigms and meaningful social intervention, the reconsideration of historical knowledge and the re-examination of the basic premises of traditionally organized systems of knowledge about social and literary dynamics. In doing so, they shape a new dramaturgy-a feminist theory of theatre that finds unacceptable the notions of Aristotelian catharsis and Bharata's rasa as the feelings aroused in viewers. The plays upset the equilibrium, provoke, and demand response from an audience that will not expect entertainment but will participate in the dialectics since the issues concerning women and children are of the kind that have invariably been and continue to be sidestepped and neglected by society.
Happily, the emergence of women directors as individual cultural producers with gendered perception, innovative semiotics, and sensitive treatment of social issues, has opened up the field to accommodate women's experiences and viewpoints as well as re-present, with gender- sensitive treatment, texts by male playwrights. This is of utmost importance as far as the impact and consolidation of women-centred theatre in India is concerned because theatre as a patriarchal hegemony is quite capable of absorbing female texts, nullifying their cutting edge, and even turning "feminine concerns" into new commodities for male consumption. Dina Gandhi-Pathak, Shanta Gandhi, Sheila Bhatia, Vijaya Mehta, Rekha Jain, and Joy Michael were the pioneering directors, succeeded by such innovative creators as Kirti Jain, Anuradha Kapur, Amal Allana, Neelam Man Singh Chowdhry, Usha Ganguli
, Sohag Sen, Tripurari Sharma, Anamika Haksar, Anjana Puri, B. Jayashree, Maya Rao, Rati Bartholomew, Nadira Zaheer Babbar, and Vinapani Chawla. Younger talents like Robijita Gogoi, Shailaja J., and Jayati Bose, to name a few, are forging new idioms.