(Last Updated on : 21/09/2012)
Religious folk theatre of north India mainly comprised of Ramlila
narratives. The Nautanki
groups of Uttar Pradesh
and some of the other groups composed of English speaking Indians and foreigners, tried their best to continue the exclusive practices of the former rulers, providing entertainment both on and off the stage for whoever felt he belonged; their productions were social events more than anything else. The average Indian, whoever he may be, was left out.
Only with the emergence and the vision and energy of directors like Habib Tanvir and Ebrahim Alkazi, and the foundation, of the National School of Drama, in 1959 (whose director Alkazi became in 1962), did a process of experimentation and professionalization start which has since changed the Indian theatrical scene altogether and is still going on. In this process, directors, actors and stage technicians as well as their audiences tried, among other things, to make themselves familiar with non-Indian theatrical traditions and practices.
As was to be expected, Western theatre was represented by classics such as ancient Greek tragedy, Shakespeare and Moliere. More than proportionate importance was given, at least in the initial stages, to European turn of the century illusionist drama perhaps because of some fundamental difficulties it presents to Indian students of theatre as opposed to their Western colleagues: it is a variety of drama which, in its theoretical concepts as well as their practical consequences, is quite contrary to Indian theatrical traditions.
Some of the most important Indian plays written and produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s were influence by, if not modelled after, Western illusionist drama. Again, it was for directors like Alkazi and Tanvir to show a way, if not the way out of this dilemma: it led out into the Indian countryside. While the urban theatre seemed to be passing through a phase of stagnation, its rural counterpart (until recently looked down upon by most of the city dwellers) was going strong as usual, as would appear natural in a country about four fifths of whose population live outside the cities.
In the course of the centuries, Indian folk theatre
, or traditional Indian theatre
, still attract large audiences in their respective regions, Yakshagana
in Indian state
in Uttar Pradesh
in West Bengal
, or, as a popular variety of religious folk theatre, the annual presentation of the Ramlila, the life and deeds of Lord Rama
, incarnation of the Lord Vishnu
, all over Northern India.
For quite some time now, such folk theatre forms have had a considerable influence on modern Indian theatre
, which has since brought forth a number of important plays in regional folk theatre styles such as Hayavadana by Girish Karnad
(whose first major play, Tughlaq and then plays adapted from William Shakespeare), Ghasiram Kotwal by Vijay Tendulkar
or Bakri by Sarveshwar Dayal Saksena.
Now, in retrospect, this large-scale borrowing appears to have been most natural, at least in the Indian context, where there has never been a sharp dividing line between classical and folk, elite and mass, popular and commercial forms of art, with the result that in the field of theatre, many of the principles and practices of classical Indian theatre have, as it were, hibernated in regional folk theatre and in the present century come to light even in mass media such as the commercial Hindi film.