(Last Updated on : 17-09-2012)
Nationalism in south Indian theatre has resulted in awakening of the masses. One of the inherent characteristics of the stage is its use as a pulpit from where ideas and value systems are disseminated, even though the audience looks upon it mainly as a recreational form. Playwrights like Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht and political groups like the Nazis have made use of this property of the stage. In south India, the stage was used as an instrument of propaganda by the nationalists from 1919 right up to 1945. The popular theatre, in the process of helping the nationalist movement, assumed a political character and emerged as a popular political theatre.
The role of popular Indian theatre
in southern part of the country arose out of an interaction between the stage and the society. Though the tradition of drama goes back to the third and fourth centuries AD, modern drama as it is known today, with divisions of acts and scenes, scenography
of painted settings and a concealed orchestra, is not more than a century old in south India. Classical drama, staged in dance form in temples during festivals, was not commercially organized and therefore never reached a sizeable section of the community. But modern theatre run on commercial lines is open to everyone without any barrier of class or caste. Thus it has all the characteristics of a mass medium and may serve as a reflector of existing social norms. Such a function of the Indian drama
deserves notice and can be understood only in terms of the interrelationship with the rest of society of popular stage. When popular, commercial drama appeared on the cultural scene in South India at the end of the nineteenth century, there was no radio or cinema to compete with it in the realm of mass communication. It appeared in an age when the dissemination of ideas and information was crucial to the emergence of nationalism and it soon came to be used as an instrument in the nation's struggle for liberation.
While the press and formal political organizations might influence the literate, for the bulk of the people popular theatre served as the only means of mass communication. In a society where the people and their culture were mainly oriented to the spoken word, the appearance of a medium, which packaged ideas of nationalism and social reform with the main ingredients of traditional entertainment such as music and themes with mythological plays
, was bound to have a significant impact. Such a stage not only serves as an entertainment form, but does something more to the community. It is likely that the members of an audience watching a drama are not merely escaping from the pressures of their day-to-day life, but are also escaping into a kind of understanding of their own society, an understanding that is necessary for them to participate in society in a meaningful way. By watching a drama, they may be learning how to react to certain new factors that they have to encounter as society gets more and more complex, and how to anticipate what is most appropriate for social behaviour in the changing circumstances. Every society requires a cultural mechanism through which social and political conflicts are analysed, and it is in this sense that the popular drama assumed a political dimension in south India.