The Nehru Festival performs a triple function. As a retrospective of post-independence theatre, it signals the emergence of a body of plays whose canonicity is virtually coincident with their first publication and major productions. As a selection of such classics, it provides a microcosmic view of some key features of the post-independence canon. As a selection based on a particular notion of significance, the recognition of a play as a valuable text and performance vehicle it offers criteria which can be extended to other works for a heuristic description of the larger domain of post-independence urban theatre.
More ironically, the Indian People's Theatre Association, IPTA appears subliminally at both ends of the program, in the work of playwright-directors who were associated with the organization at formative stages in their respective careers. Shombhu Mitra, Utpal Dutt, and Habib Tanvir were the three earliest practitioners to form long-lasting theatre groups after their departure from the IPTA, and their unquestionable significance to the post-independence tradition vindicates both that connection and its dissolution in the interests of artistic autonomy.
The conspicuous multilingualism of the Nehru Festival program embodies, an Indian theatre speaking in the languages of India. The fifteen performances in 1989 cover the classical language, Sanskrit language, and seven major modern Indian languages: Bengali, Marathi, Kannada, Hindi, Gujarati, Manipuri, and Urdu. There are four performances in India's majority language, Hindi, three each in Bengali and Marathi, two in Kannada, and one each in the four other languages. But this apparent linguistic balance is the result of some manoeuvring. If every play had been staged in the language of its original composition, Bengali would lead the tally with four performances, Marathi and Kannada would have three each, while Hindi would be reduced to two. The program would then reflect more accurately the theatrical dominance in actual practice of Bengali, Marathi, and Kannada over other major languages, especially Hindi - a historically determined relation that deviates markedly from the demographic status of Hindi as the national language and the others as regional languages. In terms of form and content, the fifteen plays are suggestively heterogeneous.
The use of formal and thematic range suggests that among contemporary Indian playwrights the engagement with myth, history, folklore, tradition, and indigenous performance genres is equal to, but not significantly greater than, the absorption in contemporary socio-political experience. In this respect, the variety evident in the Nehru Festival performances reproduces quite accurately the divergences within the larger domains of post-independence theatre theory and practice.
There are people like Vijaya Mehta - Marathi director-actress, and several other theatre personalities. The other directors on the Nehru Festival program are not playwrights (though some, like Kumar Roy, Shyamanand Jalan, Shreeram Lagoo, and Vijaya Mehta, are celebrated actors), but they stand in the same singularly influential relation to their respective theatre groups as the author-directors mentioned earlier.
With regard to both playwrights and directors, perhaps the most important relations are those between location, language, and theatre practice. Some directors, for instance, Shombhu Mitra, Arvind Deshpande, and K. V. Subbanna, maintain strong connections with a single city or region, theatre group, and language; others, such as Ebrahim Alkazi, Habib Tanvir, and Babukodi Venkataramana Karanth, are geographically mobile, maintain multiple associations and work in several languages.
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