But after the colonial government introduced formal censorship through the Dramatic Performances Control Act of 1876, Bengali theatre turned away from political issues and invested its energies in the performance of an imagined national identity that was rooted in Orientalist thinking but that could again supposedly challenge imperialism itself.
Indian People Theatre Association's strong ain to nationalise theatre was apparent in its rejection of existing nineteenth-century theatrical traditions. Replacing the older categories of viewer, reader and audience with this new collectiveness, the IPTA activists argued that twentieth-century events have compelled many sensitive writers and artists to realise, in varying degrees, that art and literature can have a future only if they become the authentic expressions and inspirations of the people's struggles for freedom and culture. In stating so, the IPTA was trying to respond to two basic aesthetic and political demands- first, to develop experimental forms outside the naturalistic confines of commercial theatre and second, to present real contemporary struggles against fascism, imperialism, and economic exploitation.
In theory, the organisation was committed to realizing these goals by drawing on India's "rich cultural heritage" and "traditional arts." From an ideological standpoint, it found that traditional, folk, and popular forms of theatre and performance had several self-evident advantages. The people's theatre encompasses numerous full length comparatively lowbrow vehicles that could be performed on a proscenium stage or in a variety of outdoor urban spaces as well as in small towns and villages.
The radical legacy of IPTA - its emphasis on theatre for the people; its efforts to revitalize wherever possible the traditional arts; its efforts to build a people's theatre movement under the political guidance, at least initially, from the Communist Party of India - continued to inspire street theatre of the Left. Most importantly, by placing theatre at the centre of a "national awakening," the IPTA resituated it in the national imaginary in a way that has been enabling for all subsequent practitioners, however detached they may be from the organization's objectives
The contrast between the activities of the IPTA in the 1940s is, simply, that between practice and theory - between a precise historical positioning in relation to colonialism, fascism, and immediate socioeconomic and political problems (such as the devastating Bengal famine of 1943) and a sentimental universalism that lacks a concrete understanding of the historical moment. The IPTA categorically rejected colonialism and colonial theatre, and was thus clearly in the vanguard of efforts in the 1940s to think about theatre in serious national terms; there are intrinsic as well as extrinsic reasons for its rapid decline after 1947 and for the widespread attitudes of negativity and ambivalence toward its achievements. Although it was launched as the cultural front of the Communist Party in 1943, the organization attracted large numbers of writers and intellectuals who saw it not as an expanding mass organization but as the only national-level forum for progressive art. In many respects, then, the IPTA proved to be not a "people's theatre" but an "urban-elite effort to bring art to the people". This urban and middle-class orientation also complicated the relation of its aesthetic to its political objectives.
(Last Updated on : 05-05-2012)
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