India-Art/Theatre/CultureNew Delhi, Dec 2013
The rich tradition of folk in Indian theatre. social reality in drama and creative story-telling are under spoilight at the country's biggest and the most lavish theatre festivals— the annual Bharat Rang Mahotsav 2014 of the National School of Drama —in the Indian capital from January 4-19. The festival will be spread out in multiple performances venues in New Delhi.
It will officially open Jan 4 with a quasi folk opera —Chhaya Shakuntalam (based on Kalidasa's epic
Abhigyan Shakuntalam) — directed by one of the heavyweights of Indian stage K.N. Panikkar. The drama school authority said "the production by the students' repertory company of NSD has been especially commissioned for the theatre festival". In the subsequent days, plays from Karnatka, West Bengal, Mumbai, Kerala and northeastern India will hold the centrestage.
The National School of Drama - the lone government institution for the study of theatrical arts in the country, was set up in 1959 to hone talent on the stage with a codified curriculum to bring the millennnia-old tradition of theatre in the country on par with the rest of the modern world. The school combines folk traditions, academic training, performance arts, dances and western stage formats to teach students core aspects of theatre and the arts associated with it. The school, for the last 15 years, has been hosting an annual theatre festival — inviting ensembles from across the country — with the dual purpose to entertain and raise academic awareness about theatre.
Announcing the festival at a media conference in the capital Dec 27, the National School of Drama authority said "it has brought 71 productions from 17 Indian states and across the world to showcase the trends on the stage and help theatre find a more meaningful toehold for itself on the canvas of arts - in the face of a cultural invasion by cinema in the country". The tradition of theatre in India goes back to the Vedic era — when itinerant preachers and story-tellers spread the gospel of Vedas and its ensuing religion with the tradition of storytelling or "katha"- partially chanting and enacting the texts. However, historians argue that performance as a genre of expression existed during the pre-Vedic times as well.
The National School of Drama said the "festival will feature a complete kaleidoscope of various theatre styles starting from classical, modern and western to culminate into a folk panorama that will host 11 popular folk forms of theatre from the four corners of the country. Of these, nine forms will be staged for the first time.
The foreign participants at the festival include repertories from Sri Lanka, Japan, Israel, China. Poland and Germany.
"The Bharat Rang Mahotsav is not only about urban thaetre, but it focuses on the rural and traditional theatres as well. As a parallel featival, the National School of Drama will take a mini-showcase of six plays to northeastern India- Imphal (the capital of Manipur) and Guwahati (the capital of Assam). The drama school has to reach out to the remote hinterland of the country as well, where theatre is still an important medium of communication," Waman Kendre, the director of the National School of Drama said.
eminent theatre personality Ratan Thiyam, chairperson of the National School of Drama said integrating theatre from all parts of the nation and taking it to the largest cross-section of the audience has been integral to the vision of NSD for the Bharat Rang Mahotsav.
Writing about theatre and seminars on topics like "local and global exchanges in theatre and 'use and abuse of traditions in theatre"— will bring a motley crowd of national and 12 noted international scholars to present their papers.
Veteran theatre personality mahesh dattani- writer and director- will release a book, "Me & My Plays" accompanied by readings. Four short films on the mobile theatre of Assam, Nautanki (a folk form), a workshop conducted by theatre scholar Grotowski and "The making of King Lear" adpated in Hindustani will be screened in a parallel theatre education segment.
Interactions with directors and actors of the plays staged at the festival will take place every morning on the drama school premises.
Divulging the growing popularity of festival, chairman of NSD Ratan Thiyam said he (along with the team) had to choose from 362 plays. The criteria were objectivity and quality. "Since the 1960s, Indian theatre had been trying to get its identity.The festival is the identity of Indian theatre coming up as a showcase. In India, profesisonalism in theatre has to be improved and that is why awareness is very important. We do not a national policy for theatre," Thiyam said.
Theatre is a laboratory process of exprimentation and hence it was important for the National School of Drama to support the process, the chairman added.
The drama school, which is in the process to setting five regional centres across the country, will retrsucture the process of the selection of productions for the festival next year. "We are training a dedicated Bharat Rang Mahotsav team that will work round the year for the festival. We will not depend on CD or video entries- members of our advisory council will visit the destinations of the origin of th plays — both in India and outside — to assess the performances for inclusion," Waman Kendre, director of the school said. The school will add several; new modules to its curriculum, including a open script-writing course.
Theatre has a new idiom, says Ratan Thiyam
Modern Indian theatre is developing a indigenous vernacular of its own in the last decade, assimilating from roots performance genres —and combining it with global idioms to create a language that relates to the young legions of theatre lovers, bred on universalism, post globalisation. Stage icon Ratan Thiyam, the theatre protagonist from Manipur, says"this medley of local vernacular and the movements on the global stage" has honed the essence of Indian theatre in post-colonial times.
Thiyam, who took over as the chairman of the National School of Drama Society, in NewDelhi, three years ago, said he had to choose from 362 entries sent to the dramna school for its annual festival of theatre — Bharat Rang Mahotsav 2014 beginning Jan 4-19.
"It was a tough job. But the works that found their way to the roster of the festival reflect a pronounced utilisation of traditions and pertaining art forms," Thiyam observed in an informal conversation in the capital Dec 27, 2013.
Theatre has matured with its own language, the 65-year-old regional theatre pioneer from Manipur in northeastern India, pointed out. "It is a time when we have a new cultural space— where actors' training is becoming very important to meet the challenges of new theatre," Thiyam said. In the last three decades- theatre in India has become a "comprehensive arts exprience" featuring coventional stage formats, story-telling, traditional body language, performances and technology in composite mosaic. "Technology has come up and it is very very speedy. This cultural space is completely new because technology has to be juxtaposed.The process requires a fine balance between the traditional and the contemporary," Thiyam said.
The theatre veteran believes in the democratisation of drama education — a subject that is still controlled by an apex institution in India.
"Theatre as a subject of study and awareness should be taken to the country's heartlands and remote posts across the states— but the onus of the task depends on the state government," Thiyam said.
Furnishing examples in contrasts, Thiyam said "take the case of Gujarat... it has an industrial base and can fall back on the corporate houses to support its culture". "But the northeastern states have a different kind of structure. Do you have a single factory and large industry in the region? No...The prospect of funding and resouce for theatre (and related arts) needs to be examined in all its scopes," Thiyam said, suggesting that "the state government has to show greater engagement with culture".
The chairman of the National School of Drama wants to develop the "insitution as a centre for advance studies and production". "We are planning some regional units of the school. The states have to create more repertory companies where the crews must train themselves as professionals to bring better quality of productions to the national stage".