(Last Updated on : 17-09-2012)
Repertoire of Indian theatre
can be categorically divided into three distinctive elements: the use of songs; the depiction of social reform; and the use of allegorical and directly political themes. These three elements form a kind of sequence through which political concerns entered into the activity of the stage, and they will now be dealt with in turn.
In commercial theatre, the story was merely a series of excuses for introducing a song. The companies had on their pay-rolls songwriters conversant with classical and folk music who composed songs to suit popular tastes. The main work of the song-writer, known as vathiar (teacher), was to write songs and teach them to the actors. As the only person with some formal education in the company, the vathiar served as its antenna and the dramas reflected his reactions to the political event outside.
Another class of artistes who used songs for purposes of political propaganda were the pin-pattu (back-stage) singers. A pin-pattu artiste, playing on the harmonium and singing along with the actors on the stage, formed the backbone of a stage performance. He had to be familiar with all the songs and have a good command of music; during intervals in the play he gave solo performances as well. Soon songs acquired significance and these pin-pattu artistes were sought after for individual performances. Many of them took part in the direct political activities and this display of commitment increased the authenticity of their songs. The work of pin-pattu artistes brought in a new method of political campaign. These songs were sung from a political platform and during picketing they served to lend emotional support to the volunteers. Song-writers, unconnected with the stage, began to publish small booklets of nationalist songs, a kind of degenerate sub-literary poetry set to the kind of folk music that had been popularized by the stage.
The next development in the sequence was the introduction of political comments and symbols of nationalism into dramas. To begin with, in mythological plays, the sly references to specific political situations were introduced in the dialogue. For example, the scene in which people in the streets of Ayodhya comment on the royal order exiling Lord Rama
was used to make critical references to the repressive measures adopted by the British government following the 1919 movements, and Valli would drive away the flocks of birds that came to feed off the corn.