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Indian Theatre Culture
by Eguaogie Eghosa Nov 24, 2022 Views (2.3K)
The majority of us would name the movies, internet, television, online streaming, and other forms of entertainment that were available to us in the 20th century. Only a limited few people will be able to recall mentioning theater as a kind of entertainment. Even though most campuses have theater clubs, the theatrical arts are sadly fading. India has had theater in one form or another for many years.

A Brief History of Indian Theatre

Indian theater has existed for almost 5000 years. Sanskrit theater, which first appeared some time in the second century BC, was the earliest type of Indian theater. The first to the eleventh century saw its height of prosperity. Soon after, theatre was outlawed and disallowed as a result of Islamic conquests. Later, village theater was promoted all throughout the subcontinent in an effort to reaffirm indigenous values and ideals. From the 15th to the 19th century, it developed in a vast number of regional languages. During the time of British control, modern Indian theater began to emerge. The classical period, the traditional period, and the modern period are the three distinct eras of Indian theater.

The renowned treatise "Natyashastra" by Bharat Muni is one of the first pieces of evidence we have for the existence of theater in India. This literary work originated between the year 2000 BC and the fourth century CE. The Sanskrit text describes the various kinds of plays as well as everything a performer should remember when giving a performance, whether it be music, dance, or theater.



Even today, painters are taught about the "Nav Rasa" idea that was first established in "Natyashastra." As it covers everything relating to drama and theater, including acting, architecture, costuming, make-up, and props, "Natyashastra" is hailed as the most comprehensive work in the field. Because of the treatise's thoroughness, it has been feasible to analyze and comprehend the real theater practices that might have occurred at that time.

Bhasa is one of the most renowned and ancient Indian playwrights. He was only known via references in the works of other poets and playwrights because his plays were lost for centuries. He is credited with writing 13 Sanskrit plays, and the manuscripts for his works were discovered in the first decades of the 20th century. It would be a pity to discuss Indian theater's past without bringing up Kalidasa. Few details about the man who is regarded as one of the greatest playwrights in history are known.

We can infer what we know about him from his plays and poetry. Malavikaagnimitra, Abhigyanshakuntalam, and Vikramorvashiyam are his three most notable works. The play "Abhigyanshakuntalam" by Kalidasa, which narrates the tale of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, is one of the first Sanskrit works to be translated into English and is widely recognized as a masterpiece. The scholar from the eighth century known as Bhavbhuti is praised for his Sanskrit plays and poems and is sometimes compared to Kalidasa.

Developments Within Indian Theatre

As time went on, India observed a shift in the way people thought about theater. What was formerly seen as an exclusive hobby has suddenly become popular. Theater transcended the Sanskrit language barrier and was performed in a variety of vernacular languages that were developing at the time. Now, it was normal to see musical and theatrical performances presented in any open area that was accessible. Different areas of the nation saw the development of cultural theatre. Indian theater evolved in a variety of forms, including folk songs, folk dance, puppetry, and shadow theater.

Folk theater genres that originated in the medieval era and are still practiced include Bhavai (a form from Gujarat), Swang (a popular form from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and the Malwa region), Yakshagana (a popular form from Karnataka), and Bhaona and Ankiya Nats (from Assam). A type of dance-drama that originated in Kerala in the 17th century is even Kathakali. It is important to highlight that the majority of the folk theater genres that evolved centuries ago continue to exist in India in some capacity.



With the British, modern-day theater made its way to India. The tale and plot base are a key distinction between Indian theater's present era and earlier periods. Heroic figures or mythological characters were central to the plots of ancient and medieval theater forms; these plays were retellings of already-existing folktales and myths. The prevalent Indian social theater and Western theater formats have combined to create modern Indian theater.

The notion of realism was introduced to the already-existing Indian theater throughout the contemporary era of theater. The struggles of the average man's life were a major theme in the narratives of many plays that emerged during this time. Girish Chandra Ghosh's "Nil Darpan" chronicled the tragedy of indigo farming in rural Bengal and was a key contributor to the farmers' indigo uprising. In his groundbreaking modern plays, Rabindranath Tagore examined concepts such as nationalism, identity, spiritualism, and interpersonal relationships. He is best known for the dramas "Dakghar," "Chitra," and "Raja."

The theater we see today is contemporary or post-Independence Indian theater. The theater is used to promote social consciousness and criticize the government in addition to providing amusement. Vijay Tendulkar's plays "Sakharam Binder" and "Ghashiram Kotwal," which were performed in 1972, nearly incited a riot. "Ghashiram Kotwal" was a political satire that addressed political violence, while "Sakhram Binder" dealt with the physical and emotional dominance men exercise over women.

Modern Changes in Indian Theatre

With the development of novel genres like improv theater, mobile theater, and street theater, even modern Indian theater is undergoing undercurrents of change. In modern India, street theater is often referred to as "street plays" or "nukkad natak." These plays are extremely important in raising social consciousness among the general public. Because there are no microphones or speakers present, street theater is thought to be the most natural style of performance.



There are currently only a handful of commercially successful theaters in India's cities. The theater community in Delhi is active. The city's theater scene is always active because it is home to the National School of Drama and numerous theater events. Mumbai and Maharashtra both have thriving Marathi theater scenes. Plays in Hindi, Gujarati, and other languages are also performed in Mumbai. The renowned Prithvi Theatre is revered by local theater enthusiasts. The theater culture in other places like Chennai, Bangalore, and Kolkata is thriving with new talent.

Sadly, the rise of Indian cinema cannot be compared to that of the theater. Instead, it is frequently noted that the decline of theater in India is mostly due to the rise in popularity of cinema. Nowadays, it is rare to find actors who focus completely on theater. Since pursuing a profession in theater alone is not financially realistic, one cannot blame them either. Theater actors must therefore maintain some sort of connection to the cinema or pursue theater as a side job or hobby.

Shabana Azmi, Manoj Bajpai, Shahrukh Khan, and Naseeruddin Shah are a few well-known individuals who started their careers in theatre before transitioning gradually to the film industry. A few of them are able to maintain their connection to the stage and give back to the theater.

A Final Word:

The extensive history of Indian theater reveals the truth that theater has always played a significant role in the country's rich tradition and culture. To meet the modern demands of Indian society, Indian theater has recently embraced some contemporary characteristics.

India has a thriving and diverse theater tradition. It is closely related to many other Indian art styles. It is up to us to make an effort to keep this historically and culturally important art alive.

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