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Nationalism, Modernity and Knowledge Production: Shaping the Terrain of Modern Theatre in Colonial India- Its beginning There are three fundamental ideas, nationalism, modernity and knowledge production and its processes which shaped the modern Indian theatre in the post colonial period. These three ideas are interconnected and functioned with mutual association in generating the sense of ‘Indian’ theatre in the complex cultural context governed by the different regional languages and cultures especially the strong performance cultures in different genres, along with the colonial and classical liabilities on English and Sanskrit. This paper will be focusing on the theatre initiatives happened in the first half of 20 th century which is in oblivion but which has made the foundation for the new departure under the canopy of post colonial. This is one of the areas falling under the major rubric of the title. Even in the colonial time itself the idea of theatre has been problematised and the colonial models were also questioned in order to establish a new culture of theatre by theatre enthusiasts to liberate theatre from the ongoing models of theatre practice in the colonial India. The idea of nation and nationalism- which is connected to the history and to be a subject to be problematised in Indian colonial context- and the necessity to instill the idea of modernity in different spheres of society and culture are the major terrains motivated for knowledge production in the field of theatre in the beginning of 20th century. In different junctures of history we could see that nation is an essential idea to articulate the idea of modernities and formulas for action in the concerned fields. ‘Nationalism was a response of individuals affected by dysfunctions of the society of orders- the traditional structure modern society replaced- to the sense of disorder they created. Many other responses were possible; the choice of nationalism was not inevitable, but contingent.’i Hence modernity and nationalism are essentially associated each other and functioned in a manner that mutually connected. This has been reflected in the different spheres of theatre. ‘A well ordered society, therefore requires a comprehensive mirror where the unit can detect their faults inter se and the effect of such faults on the beauty and symmetry of the group itself. That comprehensive mirror is the stage’ ii, the legendary actor Bellary Ragahava’s interventions in theatre in the first half of 20 th century demonstrates the synergy between nationalism, modernity and knowledge production in order to accelerate change not only the form and content of the theatre but even in its position in the society and its interwoven relationships. He quotes Sarojini Naidu in connection with women’s participation in theatre, ‘If you believe that the stage is meant for a simple and easily understandable interpretation of human emotions, human experiences; if you believe the stage is meant to reflect life as it is and try to forecast life as it should be; if you believe that the stage is meant for scientific analysis of the burning social problems of the day and their solutions; if you really believe (as you who pose as holding advance views, really profess to do) that the stage is a factor- an important factor- in an effective scheme of education to the masses I cannot understand why women should be denied a place in this system of education’.iii This exemplifies the idea of nationalism and its relationships with the terrains of modernity in the frame work of theatre. ‘Once chosen, nationalism accelerated the process of change, limited the possibilities of future development, and became a major factor in it. It thus both reflected and realized the grand transformation from the old order to modernity.’ iv It has been reflected in multiple ways and in diverse constituencies of theatre during the second and third decades of 20th century in theatre with specific focus in regions as well as evolving a perception of the national. According to Liah Greenfeld ‘…nationalism is viewed as a cultural and psychological function of the process of modernization, a superstructural product of its basic "objective" structures’,v which is reflected in the statement of Bellary Raghava on national theatre in his article on South Indian Stage; ‘Once again let me repeat my statement: let us be honest and true to ourselves. If we honestly believe that the stage is a potent factor in the scheme of our national education, let us fearlessly ask our rulers and leaders to budget as much money for the stage as for other educational places. I hope the members of the Mysore senate will take up this question for consideration… ‘vi ‘The designation, modern Indian theatre, refers to a new genre that developed between the late-eighteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries.’vii The idea of modern theatre in Indian context is constituted by different components with emphasis on text and staging. The dramatic structure of the newly written plays during the end of 19 th and 20th century was continuity to the literature/literature modernity. Elements of staging were a subsequent entry in connection with the complementary relationship with the text and performance. Until the middle of 20th century performance culture associated with modern dramatic texts were devoid of theatricality, where the referential meanings in a text is embodied in a performance. This has to be seen as part of the textual tradition. The available theatre models consumed by the wider public like Parsi theatre and its hybrid nature of theatrical form was seen as popular and non textual as it was away from the elite notions of textuality. ‘The influence of Western textual models produced a body of new “literary” drama and dramatic theory in several Indian languages, led to large-scale translations and adaptations of European as well as Indian canonical plays, and generated the first nationalist arguments about the cultural importance of a national theatre in India.’viii Here in Indian context during the beginning of playwriting and subsequently in the later period text became a cultural entity to invigorate the modernity project as there were initiatives to replace the canonical texts of coloniality and modernity by instilling units like Ibsen Society, literature circles etc. ‘The text is a good example of the complications that ensue when a genuine impulse toward modernity collides with the demands of a historical consciousness or of a culture based on the disciplines of history.’ix The establishment of Ibsen Society in Chennai in the year 1927, to translate the play of Ibsen to Indian languages to disseminate the social reformist ideologies of Ibsen has to be seen in this juncture along with the other efforts of translating plays from other non British modern literatures. The constituent elements of theatre and its grammar was an alien domain for Indian theatre practitioners because of not having any exposure to it. ‘The notion of modernity played out into multiple spheres of theatrical life, including venues of performance, theatre architecture, patronage, space, lighting, proscenium stages, the commercialization of theatre through the sale of tickets, and even shift from the actor manager to director.’x There may be points of departures from the ongoing practices towards evolving better models during the course of history but in this paper I would be primarily looking at the conscious efforts to instill a modernized practice of theatre through different efforts during the just more than two hundred years of history of Indian theatre specifically focusing the period from the beginning of 20th century. And the trends to invent a new modern theatre in the post colonial context as a counter to the colonial models and as a nationalist enterprise connecting to the tradition to bring in a tradition modernity continuity also will be discussed in the paper. Keeping in view that ‘Theatre’ emerged as a modern entity with western frameworks and notions in India there were several transformations and transmutations in its history intertwined with complex elements of anti colonialism, modernity, encounter with different models of tradition and multiplicity of languages cutting across the periods of colonial and post colonial in the contour of Indian culture. It paved ways to different manifestations in theatre in the form, text and performance audience relationships. Precisely the Indian theatre during colonial and post colonial period interwoven with elements of modernity in theatre as well as strongly imposed structures of tradition with a desire to be an original native theatre. Sometimes both are amalgamated and sometimes delineated to each other, but could be seen as multi linear stream under the rubric Indian theatre. Establishment of organizations and institutions has made significant contributions towards the modernization of Indian theatre in different directions. Especially the youngsters exposed to the non English literature and against far removed imitations of English stage took a lead in this direction. In 1930s there was an awakening among the literary people that the literature or art is not only English which they have exposed through the development in the west. During this time many non British but European works were accessible to them and it has broken the notion of British as the representation for European culture. It can be read as a reflection of anti colonialism also. Translations of many non English works happened in different Indian languages this time. Henrik Ibsen is one of the prominent writers who casted a strong influence in Indian literature and theatre among many others in this decade. In 1932 under the influence of new trends in world theatre and inspired by the new sensibilities a group of youngsters organized Natyamanvantar Ltd in Bombay, Maharashtra to break the ongoing formulas by giving attention to the constituent components of theatre like lighting, set design and overall presentation of the play in order to create meaning on the stage. Major objective of this group was to introduce modern intellectual drama of Europe to Marathi theatre.xi ‘There was an organized and active protest against the conventional style of acting, against theatricality, against declamation, against narrative soliloquies, against painted cloth curtains that rolled up and down at the end of scenes, against over-emphasis and exaggeration, against indiscriminate use of songs in the midst of dialogue, against start system, against play written for this or actor and against the atrocious practice of men playing women roles.’xii In 1933 Natyamanvanthar produced Andhalyaanchi Shaalaa (Blind School)- adaptation of a Norwegian play which has been considered as the first Marathi play with a female actor. The task was to stage a non conventional text and to introduce the meaningful use of space with set, properties, lights and music in compliance with quality/style of the play and through it to create a new theatrical sensibility among the audience. Bringing naturalistic set, acting, back ground music and lighting to create meaning on the stage was revolutionary in Marathi theatre. It had only four years of existence but it could inspire for such works later and works of Natyamanvantar has been as point of departure from the regular track of theatricality of that time. Shantaram see it as an effort to save the stage. ‘In the thirties, some frantic efforts were made to 'save the stage.' Some of these even tried to incorporate a bit of the film into the body of the drama and served merely to underline the helplessness of the stage. S. V. Vartak of Andhalyachi Shala fame, with a band of educated enthusiasts like himself, set about the task of ushering in a 'revolution' on the stage. He did succeed in modernizing the stage to an extent but he himself as a writer fell short of his noble ambition. With Vartak came modern lighting and the box-set. His introduction of actresses on the Marathi stage set a vogue for natural acting which was overdue.’xiii The performance models emerged during the nationalist movement was primarily directed by the political ideologies especially with a left lineage. Emancipation of India from the British through a series of cultural activities was the major motif behind this and towards it the Indian People’s Theatre association (IPTA) was thriving to explore the possibilities of finding out a new form of expression in theatre which should not be colonial in its nature. The dominant English performance models available in Calcutta and Bombay limited to small amount of elite audience and the commercial Parsi formulas were to be ideologically addressed as a task for the IPTA during that time. It was essential for them to emancipate the form of theatre on the background of Indian traditional expressions. IPTA was in need of inventing a non colonial form with a political rationale. IPTA has seen theatre as a site of political and cultural autonomy with a new form as a counter to the colonial forms of expressions focusing the performance cultures of the soil drawing performative resources from the folk traditions seeing folk as the grass root expressions of the common people and rural India. But this never prevented the IPTA abandoned the western theatrical notions. It was impossible for them as the modern theatre was an offshoot of westernization with it s secular nature and contemporanitiy. ‘The IPTA’s attacks on colonial structures did not mean that it was cut off from European theatrical traditions. British rulers attempt to co-opt the Indian bourgeoisie from time to time (even though it was done to make British control stronger) had led to the circulation of British and European drama and an increasing awareness of Western dramatic theories and conventions. These included the use of box sets, footlights and proscenium stages.’xiv The modern education and English studies also enhanced the understanding and diffusion of Western notions of theatre practice and dramatics. The ideas of theatre and notions of staging practiced historically in India including its context and patronage differ from the paradigms of modern theatre practice. Political motif of IPTA was to adapt the structure of western form of theatre and infuse it with traditional elements of performativity manifested mainly in folk performing arts. ‘The most important contribution of the IPTA is that it has awakened people from all levels of society to the fact that India can and should develop a modern indigenous form of drama.’xvThe effort to develop a modern indigenous drama culminated in to the exploration of new performative idioms inherent in the folk forms of different regions. It had been seen as a means to reach out to the masses as ‘IPTA turned to indigenous popular traditions of different regions such as the Jatra of Bengal, tamasha of Maharshtra and burrakatha of Andhra Pradesh.’xvi Though the ideological position of the communist party dominated the activities of the IPTA with its’ anti fascist stand and anti imperial positions with the wider participation of the middle class intellectuals and writes it has disseminated the form of theatre with contemporary issues contained with global perspectives and assimilated with indigenous performance structures. ‘…the IPTA was at once the first national-level theatre movement in India, and, as the cultural front (at least initially) of the Communist Party of India, an organization linked to antifascist and anti-imperialist movements on a worldwide scale. Its international models were the Paris-based International Association of Writers for the Defence of Culture against Fascism, the Little Theatre groups in Britain, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Federal Theater Project in the United States, and the Moscow Art Theatre; in India it paralleled the Progressive Writers’ Association, a national organization of novelists and poets launched in 1936. The IPTA posed the first concerted challenge to “the ‘cheap commercial glamour,’ ‘pseudo-aesthetic posturing,’ and ‘sobstuff,’ of the contemporary theater” (Bharucha, Rehearsals, 40), and developed the first serious program for “revitalizing the stage and the traditional arts” as important vehicles for the “people’s” struggle for political, cultural, and economic justice.’xvii The regional units of IPTA spread across the country could attract many artists belongs to music, dance, literature and drama to the theatrical activities of the movement and reached to the masses without a commercial motif and through it could instill the means of theatre to the masses as a meaningful medium connected to their life. The use of tradition in the productions was an extrapolation of tradition without any revivalist agenda. And it was a model widely practiced across the country as a form of Indian theatre especially with a nationalist motif and used the folk tradition in a new context alien to its natural context which was marginalized under the Indian cast system. Conventionally these forms were considered as sacred within the religious frame work by the respective communities and IPTA could bring it out a secular context with a new political function. Later the ideas of IPTA became the reference point in the post colonial nation building process as part of the new nationhood but devoid of its historical past and acknowledgements to the initiatives. The new nationhood has kept the movements and initiatives which created the domain of Indian theatre in interaction with the concepts of nationalism, modernity and knowledge production in the oblivion and generated a new history for the field of theater devoid of acknowledging the foundations laid down by these efforts. To conclude let me quote P C Joshis Statement: ‘Thus the cultural renaissance and the anti-colonial national struggle had the same historical genesis and both were expressions of people's search for a national identity. The cultural workers of the pre-independence period did not live and work in a social vacuum or in ivory towers. They were deeply involved in the social problems and challenges of their times. They did not believe in the philosophy of art for arts sake. The anti-colonial struggle at its best assumed the form of a cultural movement and the cultural movement grew as an anti-colonial mobilization in the realm of consciousness.’xviii i Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism and Modernity ii iii iv v Vol. 99, No. 2, Theory in Humanistic Studies (Spring, 1970) Bellary Raghava, The South Indian stage, 5 Bellary Ragahava- 20 Liah Greenfeld P-10 Liah Greenfeld P-7 vi Bellary Raghava, The South Indian stage, 32 vii Rakesh Soloman viii Aparna Dharwarkar 4/3 ix PAUL DE MAN, Literary History and Literary Modernity, Vol. 99, No. 2, Theory in Humanistic Studies (Spring, 1970), pp. 384-404 x Nandi Bhatia,2009 xi Kamalesh OCIT-307 Marathi theatre xiii Shantaram, Marathi DramaAuthor(s): ShantaramSource: Indian Literature, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Apr.—Sept. 1958), pp. 112-117Published by: Sahitya AkademiStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23329300 .Accessed: 20 xiv Sudhi pradhan/quoted Nandi Bhatia xv 35 xvi Abbas indias anti fascist theatre; asia and the Americas, dec52 711 xvii Ad 25/26 xii xviii P. C. Joshi, Culture and Cultural Planning in India, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 18, No. 50 (Dec. 10, 1983), pp. 2128-2131-p 2128.