ITF 2nd Theatre Seminar: Concluding session - Rustom Bharucha and Shanta Gokhale
Duration: 01:08:11; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 24.695; Saturation: 0.127; Lightness: 0.189; Volume: 0.286; Cuts per Minute: 0.132; Words per Minute: 128.551
The 2nd national seminar held by the India Theatre Forum
intended to address the overall theme of "Spaces of Theatre, Spaces for Theatre" in a wider and holistic manner. It was held between 14 to 18 March 2012 in Ninasam, an extremely special theatre space in Heggodu village of Karnataka which has served as a community centre for over 50 years. The seminar intended to cover a gamut of related topics ranging from the relationship of performing "bodies" to space, to the actual physical spaces of performance, to the politics of the spaces in society , to the new virtual spaces opening up and to the future of Spaces. In other words, the seminar built on the understanding that the act of theatre is always more than simply an act of theatre. To think of theatre and its processes is, ipso facto, to think of its temporal and spatial specificities. However, the main approach of the seminar was not to develop an academic theory of the spaces of/for theatre but to sketch the contours of a "spaciology" of theatre as perceived by its practitioners.
In the concluding session of the Spaces Seminar, Rustom Bharucha offers a critique of the space of theatre while Shanta Gokhale epitomises space by talking of those who have made space their own in uncanny ways.
Transcribed by Anasuya Agarwala.
Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka
I remember the famous Tagore song. Tumar holo shuru amar holo shara. Somebody's end is someone else's beginning. Something ends and something else begins. A seminar ends and theatre work begins. Theory ends and practice begins. Probably when history ends, civilization begins.
We have two speakers who are doing the concluding remarks in this session. Rustom Bharucha and Shanta Gokhale. I'll very briefly introduce them.
Rustom Bharucha is a scholar, writer and a practitioner. Initially he was known worldwide as a major scholar in the field of interculturalism who then performed research. But personally for me, Rustom Bharucha is one of the only few people who have kept an organic connection with what's happening in theatre practice and also kept on writing about it. What he has written about Krishnattam, about his work with Chandralekha, even his essay on Ninasam are all, in the real sense of the word, a product of real free world.
He has worked with Ninasam, he has worked with Chandralekha. He has also, in a way, worked with Adishakti. And Kanhailal's group in Manipur. So he is one of us. We got to know, as a Ninasam member I got to know Rustom Bharucha...he came here for the first time as an evaluator on behalf of Ford Foundation. Our relationship with Ford Foundation did not last very long. But our relationship with Bharucha lasted. So he came back again, directed plays for our Tirugata and then for...first for the school, then for the Tirugata.
In 1988 he asked the question, what the hell are you doing on the first day. In 1998 he asked the same question about Tirugata and we had a meeting with him, Raghunandana and a few other friends. And we rethought Tirugata and we added what is known as the (?) Tirugata model and I welcome Rustom Bharucha to make his concluding remarks.
Rustom: Thanks very much. You know, Sadanand was joking with me, we just had a big lunch and he said, Kumbhakarna, this is a time for Kumbhakarna. Nimmi is over there and I don't know whether I'll be nodding off and snoring. But really it's been a terrific time but it's been a bit exhausting. It's that feeling of fatigue that you get at the end of a very arduous process. But out of the fatigue sometimes you can get a second wind. So hopefully there will be this second wind of energy.
I just jotted down a few notes and I'll try to be as short as possible. But it's difficult because it was a rich and, in the best sense of the word, a conflictual seminar. And I love conflict. I don't like things that are very smooth and easy and everybody is easy consensus, that's UN, you know. Nothing works there. It's better to be honest and share your views in a very forthright way.
Okay I'm going to jump a little bit. It's not going to be a very smooth presentation, just notes.
So I'm feeling the need for some kind of breathing space. I don't think we talked very much about breathing space. And breathing space is very important. Like you know you need breath to live, you need breath to act, and you need breath to think. And if there's no breathing space then your thoughts get kind of a little bit jammed.
Now many of you guys in the last session, Jehan in particular, which was...he mentioned this in the beginning - what am I going to take with me, you know. And Akshara also talked about beginnings, you know in every end there is a beginning. When the play ends, what begins? I think that's a fantastic, you know, very positive robust way of thinking about theatre. We shouldn't get into this Chekhovian mode of, you know, we've come to the end of the fourth act and it's so melancholic...No! Maybe there's a huge adventure that lies ahead of us in Sagar, who knows.
You know there's a very crucial question that is being forgotten here. The question is not simply what do you take with you at the end of the seminar, what have you left behind? What remains? So I think that's a very very crucial question. You know if you're talking about any kind of exchange, transportation of bodies from one location to another, it's not just a question of what you take and what begins but what remains. So Akshara tomorrow when Heggodu wakes up in the morning, and this room will be empty, and maybe it will be breathing a little more easily and you will have an extra hours sleep and maybe an extra paan, and, you know, everything will be a little more relaxed, what will remain of this particular seminar? What have we given to Heggodu? What have we given to Ninasam. I think this is something we have to always, you know, kind of keep in mind.
A lot of space in theatre is considered sacred. And I bring that up because I feel that wherever you are, you have to acknowledge where you are. So I'm here on this space. And once again why should this space be sacred? There's nothing religious about this space surely. Is there faith? Is there belief? Hardly. But it is sacred in a very very creative theatrical sense because it's charged with energy. It's charged with all the energy that you have brought on to this space and I'm imbibing that energy and in that sense it is sacred. So I choose to define the sacred in a sense for myself as charged.
But do we tend to over-valorise the sacredness or the specialness of theatre? Do we tend to over-privilege space in theatre? And I've been asking myself this question very very very strongly as I write my book on terror. I'm writing a book on terror at the moment, I hope you all get to read it when it's written. It's terrifyingly long. And why, I ask myself, am I so disturbed when I hear that theatres in Ramallah, Palestine are bombed? Why am I so upset when I hear that?
And you know, Sudhanva where are you...there, Sudhanva's done some amazing work through E-rang talking to us about the Freedom Theatre which was destroyed as you know. And we know many other theatres have been attacked by Israeli armed forces. And in our part of the world we also know well - maybe I don't know if theatres have been bombed and theatres have certainly been attacked but we certainly know that art galleries have been invaded by hoodlums and have been, you know, torn away. Why then when I hear about these things, there's a very particular kind of pain? And as a critic I have to see things in many different frames. And there are I saw very objectively in Ramallah, hospitals are attacked, schools are attacked, children are killed, homes are destroyed, then why should theatre be spared? Why? All of society is being attacked then why should theatre be given this sort of special privilege, you know?
And I would say, I am disturbed. And where does that disturbance come from? I think that disturbance comes from very very deeply internalised notion of theatre space which I don't believe we've really addressed in this seminar. The cardinal principle of theatre space, I think, for us in India and everywhere in the world. Theatre is fundamentally a protected space. Theatre is a space where you can do anything you want but you're not expected to be killed. You're not expected to die. In theatre we die on stage but then the actors get up and take a bow. That's the nature of theatre, okay. So you don't expect to be kind of killed.
Now where does this come from? Well, the Natyashastra. The opening chapter of the Natyashastra, many of you know - fabulous opening, really amazing opening. And it's taking place in the celestial realm, what Sundar probably would call, infinite space. So the first performance in our world, our cosmology, was the victory of gods over demons demons basically. And what was so audacious about this performance, to use your word, is that it was performed in the presence of Gods and Asuras, who are not exactly demons. Can you imagine that? Doing a play about your enemy and then inviting them over there. That's a stupid thing to do because the Asuras of course get pissed off, they invade the space, they beat the actors up, they hammer the shit out of them, they freeze them. And the worst thing possible for any actor, they forget their lines. So that is terror. You know, when you forget your lines on stage, that's the moment of death.
Well what happens...these wimps, Bharata's hundred sons go to the celestial censor Brahma and say, what do we do? And what does Brahma say? He says build a playhouse. So from infinite space we go into prescribed space basically. And he follows that up instantly by saying that each and every corner and inch of this, every corner, every single beam will be blessed by some god or the other so that Natya will never ever be interrupted in its history. Incredible story. I go back to that story all the time and I keep reading new things in it. But they were very clever. It's not that violence will disappear. Violence will be represented, of course with beauty, with artistry. But there won't be any real violence and Natya will continue and we'll be perfectly safe.
All over the world I think this principle works. And through the processes of secularisation, oddly enough, theatre is more of a protected space than ever before. The irony is that the more developed the theatres economy, in the United States, in Europe wherever, the more regimented that space is. Rules, regulations, fire laws, insurance policy, you can't do a damn thing in those spaces. You have to fight for your freedom in those spaces. We're damned lucky in this country, we don't have such a sophisticated theatre culture. We can get away with a lot.
But those rules and regulations basically create some kind of a civility in theatre. And I think for me civility can be another form of violence.
Now, there's another reason why we need a protected space, and this came up in the discussion. We need a protected space in order to preserve, enhance a particular aesthetic by resolutely preventing the interruptions of the real. And this came up a great deal. And I want to problematize this, first a bit conceptually, then a bit more examples drawn from Sudhanva.
I'll begin with Veenapani's very very precise conceptualisation where she called our attention to the category of hereness, you know. And that was debated at many levels. And my question will be is it possible to sustain hereness, is it possible to sustain this only in a sealed space? Or can this hereness coexist with interruption? in other words, can hereness be situated in a permeable space? A space where the world can come in and out. Or will hereness only be possible within, in a sense, a very closed sanctified space?
So hereness was problematized by Himanshu. Where is Himanshu? Ah, there you are Himanshu. And Himanshu tried to make us, just jogging your memory a little bit, what did he say...he said that hereness cannot just be limited to the energy of the actor, it has to extend to the audience. And the audience is also a part of this hereness and I think we all agreed to that thing. Now let me just throw out one sort of theoretical, critical concern I have as a writer. What's the least theorized category in theatre discourse? It's the spectator. The holy trinity of the playwright, the director and the actor have been flogged to death in my view. And we know very very little about the spectator.
But in Indian aesthetics, this is absolutely the reverse. Probably alone above all aesthetics, I'm not trying to be chauvinist about this, it's a fact that in our aesthetics the spectator, is as important as the actor. There is no hierarchy here. It's a level playing field here. And our spectators have to be as trained as actors. But we never go into that, you know. The training of the spectator, what could it be? You have this beautiful word for it in the Natya Shastra - Sahrdaya, Hridaya, heart. Sahrdaya, of the same heart. Sharing something, you know. But lets complicate this a little bit because is everybody entitled to become a Sahrdaya? Probably not, because there's a training involved. And that's where the very important questions raised by Pralayan and Mangaye, where are you?... there.
They raised issues of exclusion. Because it's all very well to say that something can happen in a space, you can get transformed and people can become one. But can they, would they be allowed to enter that space? I mean that's the really crucial question. And that's where exclusion. rights of entry become a very very crucial issue to deal with. And that's what takes us to I think Sadanand's very important construction of the hegemonic space.
I don't think any space can free itself entirely from a hegemony. And this hegemony comes with power. It comes with hierarchy. It comes with all kinds of assumptions of purity and caste taboos and so on. So for me space is never empty. It is always already filled with meaning and power.
So keeping these motifs in mind of hereness, spectatorship, exclusion and hegemony let us return to the proposition that aesthetic priorities and prejudices, which are more often than not modernist, at least in this seminar, underlie almost any consideration of space. That when we are saying certain things about space, there's an aesthetic prioritisation going on in your mind, even when you're not actually spelling it out. And I want to turn to Sudhanva here in his brilliant opening remarks. And I'll be more practical and more focused here.
I'll go straight to Chhabildas. That wonderful theatre in Dadar, Bombay. And we talked about the noise factor which Prakash had brought up. Where's Prakash?...Yeah, Prakash. And I think Sudhanva, if I jog your memory correctly, he was talking about a production of Medea where at a critical point, whatever that point is, he heard a bhajan coming in from outside. And for him there was something a bit kind of jarring about that moment, okay. And Prakash made a very passionate plea about noise pollution. And he says, how can we go on doing theatre like this. So obviously you need some kind of protection from all these extraneous elements. But obviously both Sudhanva and Prakash are thinking about a particular kind of aesthetic experience. Where you're not expected to have any sound interruption.
But supposing you're doing a different kind of play. As I was in 1987-1986 in Chhabildas, so I have a very direct personal investment.
I was directing Sulabha Deshpande in one of many adaptations of Franz Kroetz's Request Sponsored. And it's a very intimate play so I told the Chhabildas people that I don't want to do this division, I want to do the whole play on the stage. It was very difficult to persuade them to do that. And I just said, do you have any windows, in your theatre, on stage. They said there are no windows. They didn't know they had windows in their architecture because they blocked out the entire wall with flats and you know all that kind of stuff you have in the theatre. And I needed the ambience sound. So I'm just giving you a small little example that sometimes you need the interruption, you want the bhajan, you want the procession, because it's something you can't control. And it makes life and theatre at its interstices more exciting.
I'll give you another example. This was in Germany. I was watching some Prison theatre. I'm really interested in that as a form. It was a terrible production. Very squeaky clean, very top down, very perfect, you know. Perfectly costumed and very dead. And I felt insulted seeing that production. Because these were men, criminals some of them, who were being made to act like good boys, you know. Perfect costumes, perfect German, total elocution. I said what is this, I mean this is a real infantalisation of men. But while the play was going on, there was an actual brawl going on in the prison. People were going to kill each other in the next room. And that brawl was very exciting for me. And there were prisoners in the prison yard who were looking at the theatre and looking at the audience and yelling abuses at us. Now for me that was very much part of the theatre experience. And I would say that a prison theatre that actually negates that prison is not doing its job correctly.
Now, in your piece Sudhanva, you talk very powerfully about GPD's (GP Deshpande) wonderful experience of doing this play on Jyotiba Phule with the Safai Karmacharis. It's a completely different kind of organisation, different kind of experience and it was a very powerful, emotional experience. I wish G.P.D. were here. I would want to ask him why has it taken it so long, do you think, for your kind of play to actually, not just reach the working class, but to be enacted by the working class? Why has it taken so long? And you proceeded to say that the organisation is now thinking of doing this play in an Akhara, you know, which makes it even more moving given Jyotiba Phule's connection with the akhara.
Now, to just complicate the picture a little bit, Sunil Shanbag had said that his working class audience in Mumbai doesn't want to go to those plays. They want to go to an air-conditioned hall, right. So the working class indeed has different aspirations, different kinds of needs. From my point of view, the work that the air-conditioned hall, I don't want to judge why they should go or not, it's going to be a very expensive proposition. We know that. And I would urge all of us here, instead of thinking, well that's how Sudhanva ended his piece after giving us these examples, he threw out a hypothesis and he said, what if we have fifty different theatres all over Mumbai or wherever, fifty different black boxes, we have fifty different audiences and he built this hypothetical, rather utopian kind of picture. Look, that's one possibility.
But maybe, and this came from Jean Guy and other people, maybe there's another possibility for us in India. And that is to actively search, in an entrepreneurial way, for found spaces. Spaces that already exist in our culture and which are perhaps doing the job already. And I think we need to put more investment in to this. It could be community centres, you'd be surprised how many community centres actually exist all over Mumbai. But maybe they need to be refurbished etc. So I would suggest working from within. Working with what already exists. Which is what Iain Mackintosh had once said. Work with what is already, in a sense, there and do something from there. But that can only happen if there's a real relationship that you are able to build up with the audience. It's not a question of you coming in and saying that, you know, this is a space, you have to have a need for that particular space. Don't underestimate India's very vital public culture and public sphere. I mean that's one of our richest assets so why close those possibilities.
I want to turn to this space. This very space. And I want to focus on two things. One's a workshop I did in this space, I have a real memory of it. I was working with the Siddi community, these persons of African origin scattered in different parts of the country. Agricultural laboureres in this particular part of the country. As always Ninasam hosted it and has facilitated my research in a very very amazing way.
I want to focus on two motifs. Land and memory. Those were the two themes of the workshop but they're also two themes I think we need to think about a little bit. Now the problem is with theatre space, theatre space gets built on land. Once it's built on land we forget the land. And we only are concerned with the building. And indeed there's a huge problem, there's a huge urban ignorance and preoccupation with land which is more often than not equated with real estate. So land is an economic value. We don't have any other understanding of land. But if you go to any rural area and if you're father were alive, Akshara, I'm sure we'd get into a conversation right now and its also there in my book on Rajasthan and Oral History with Komal Kothari, there are a hundred of categories for land. Land is very diversified, it's very variegated, of all kinds of lands. There's agricultural land, there's stoney land, there's sandy land, there's land on which you can build, there's land that is common land, there's land for shrines etc., etc. And I think we need to, sort of, enhance our understanding of land and not just think of it in terms of property.
We build here in Heggodu and Akshara had thrown out a little, a very real fact that we have not dealt with and that's the agricultural economy that has sustained Ninasam essentially. This agricultural economy like other economies is going through major major shifts. There are some major problems. I've talked about three locals here because I've been here many times. They're all facing a major problem. What's the problem? No one wants to work on the land. Everybody is in the cities. So people who have inherited land, there's nobody to actually work on them. And labour is getting very expensive. Agricultural labourers in 1985, if I'm not mistaken, were paid 11 rupees a day - men, 9 rupees - women. Today it's a 150 rupees and above. You know that the kind of scale we're dealing with.
The Siddi I was working with live on forest land. And of course forest land is very ambiguous because the state owns that land but they live there. I wanted to work with the issue of memory. Now we know that actors need memory, you don't have a memory then you're gone on stage, you forget your lines. But memory is also a source of suffering and pain as Krishnamurthy has reminded us. Memory is a burden. And I think what Romi was trying to talk about is actually quite extraordinary and utopian in some way, the Tabula Rasa. That is arriving at a project in a sense without the burden of memory.
I wanted to question if the Siddi had a memory of Africa. Because they come from Africa and they came as slaves, and they came as pirates, and as guards and so as sailors and so on. This is not the place to tell you why, I don't think they had a memory of Africa except in their bodies. Let's just say that we enter this space, like all theatre people, we occupied it, we made it our own. It began to feel like home and at some point it became a second home. It began to smell, this rather formal space here was very lively.
Now, Akshara and Sudhanva had told me when I started the workshop, do you mind but the minister of Social Welfare from the state of Karnataka will be here attending your workshop. I said fine. Not very happy about it but okay. And I forgot about this minister. But like the inspector general in Gogol's play, who appears right at the end of the play, this minister also showed up at the end of the workshop. When I was taking a nap and beginning to relax and then there was this knock on the door and saying Minister! Minister! as if some terrible calamity had happened. And I entered from that space over there and where is Preethi? I want to see where Preethi is. Preethi had told us how she had made her entrance in the sabha. Ah there you are Preethi. And stopped dead in her tracks because there was work going on, there was disturbance going on. I stopped dead in my tracks right there because this chaos and mess of a space that was my home had been completely transformed. I couldn't recognise it. All the chairs had been settled. There was a table placed over here. There were two chairs, one for the minister, one for me. There were two glasses of water, there was a paper-weight and there was a bell which the minister would ring and his secretary behind would take notes. I realised we had entered the theatre of the state. And this very free space had suddenly become something else and I had no control over it.
And I want to tell you that while we go on valorising the notion of the in-between, and we think of the in-between as something very fluid, and something very creative, no! The in-between can be very torturous, the in-between can be very painful. If you are a refugee and you are in between two countries and states in a refugee camp, that's one condition. If you are a person, a woman trapped in a man's body, or a man trapped in a woman's body, that's another in-between and that's hell. So the in-between should not be overly valorised. And I found myself in between the minister, who was treating the Siddi as if they were ignorant nothings, the Siddi who from being actors became sullen labourers and Ninasam. This is Sudhanva sitting right there doing nothing. I had to go through that quandary. That was a very very difficult situation for me.
I found that Ninasam had facilitated the workshop but in a sense it had also facilitated the theatre of the state. So in a sense the hegemony of the space which I was not, you know, conscious of, suddenly reasserted itself. The power relations became really clear to me.
Anyway, the next day it was pretty depressing, humiliating. And then what can you do as a theatre person? You can do very little. Somebody today was talking about, I think, Sundar was talking about resistance. What can you do? What are your weapons? Imagination and cunning. So I told the Siddi, what happened was terrible, we all agreed. I said we're going to play back that scene. And I looked at the Siddi and pointed to one of the best actors and said that you will be the minister. You play the minister now. And let's see what happens.
And there was this explosive improvisation. I said the rest of you give him hell, you know. Just talk back to him. So there was one point where the minister, this Siddi minister was saying you're liars, you say this land belongs to you, where are your papers? And one of the women, wonderful actress, just said look, look at those trees, we planted those trees with our own hands twenty-thirty years ago. Those trees are our papers. Those trees are our documents. And I thought that was amazing. That kind of an insight coming, that they were countering the certification of the state with their own ecological kind of evidence.
But what I'm bringing, what I want to call attention to is that when that Siddi woman was here, look at those trees, the trees are there, you know. So this whole issue of what is real in theatre,you know. The trees are not there but you can create them. it's as simple as that. And that is indeed one of the amazing powers of theatre. It becomes very physical. It becomes very real.
After this workshop I felt that I had to take the process of networking Siddis forward. And I realised at that point that Ninasam could not help me because that is not part of Ninasam's agenda. And what I want to point out here is that any space comes with its limitations. Any institution comes with its limitations. You should inhabit that space so long as you feel your journey, your struggle can be sustained. But if you feel your journey cannot be sustained in that space, whether its Prithvi or whatever, get out. Don't stay behind. It doesn't mean that you sever your ties with the institution. It hasn't, I keep coming back. But you have to find another space. And this is where I want to introduce a rather difficult concept which you might not agree with.
I want to, everybody here is, I think there is a certain loyalism in the theatre. This loyalty to family, community, group. And I'm actually saying, a very essential part of creativity is betrayal. You have to betray the text if you want to create something. It's not betrayal in a mean sense. It's a betrayal that comes out of love. It's not mean. It's not Julius' (?) certainly. And there is a certain ethics of betrayal. This is a concept that has become very important to me, and I owe a lot here to Jean Genet. Because Genet also had this real horror of a certain kind of communitarianism. A certain kind of identity that comes and he always tried to fight it. I'm not saying I'm following that literally, I would like to betray Genet as well. But the point is that, yes, there's something to be said about betrayal and not loyalism.
Okay, the rural-urban link. Huge words. I think that this particular conference has perhaps over-prioritised the urban, okay, at the expense of the rural. We have not had any real representatives of rural performers or actors etc. and there may have been many reasons for that.
I will also acknowledge as Romi and others have given us rich evidence, and others too. These categories are no longer what they were in the '70's or the '60's. The rural and the urban have become complex categories. They have interpenetrated. They have hybridised, they have mutated, they have become blurred. And we have also had terrific evidence here that rural theatre is not necessarily deprived or theatre in rural areas is not necessarily economically deprived. Quite the opposite.
Kataikuttusangam and Hanna and Rajgopal are not here, they get more money from their rural audiences than they get from urban audience. My friend Ajay here has been telling me, and enthralling me, with these extraordinary descriptions of Chharipatti, and I didn't even know about this, this is some kind of subaltern entertainment, you know, very rough, robust, and I'm longing to see it in a jungle area which is also infested with naxalites, tough space. Their turnover is 25 crores for a season. Now, my dears, if we could even get 1 crore, we'd be absolutely in business, wouldn't we? 25 crores. So something is happening here that needs to be very very seriously investigated. You talk to Ajay. Ajay is the great...I'm longing to know more Vinay, it's...extremely.
However, even though I'm painting a kind of a, I'm reversing this notion of victimisation of the rural, I think it's very very wrong to simply go into this postmodern way of saying the rural no longer exists and that kind. Or the rural, there's no poverty in rural India. Come on. this is nonsense. And I think that we have to be careful, for example, when people say there's a first world in the third world and there's a third world in the first world. True. There are new pockets of poverty, there are new pockets of affluence. It doesn't mean that the first world and the third world don't exist. There are still those discriminations and disparities.
Now in the rural-urban, very quickly, just throwing it out, one of the early pioneers, Habib Tanvir. Of course Habib Tanvir did pioneering work, back from rather, creates this group, Chhatisgarh, it gets internationalised. Goes to Edinburgh. Peter Brooks sees Charandas Chor, there's tremendous...But I'd like to ask, what is the agency of the actors in creating their own companies and in sustaining their livelihoods? Habib Tanvir is no more with us. What about those actors, what's happening to them? Are they still going to be working under the specter in the mantle of Habib Tanvir? or have they, do they have the agency to create their own theatres?
Badal Sircar. Hugely important and not sufficiently emphasised in this symposium. Whatever you may say about the Sircar, you may like his work, not like his work, you cannot dispute the fact that this was the man who actually challenged the structured of the proscenium theatre. he broke the structure of the proscenium theatre by offering a very cogent model in the Aanganmanch. I happen to have seen Spartacus when it came out long time ago.
Now what was the problem here? 1977 with Oma (?) which was about rural deprivation and middle class urban indifference, Sircar was beginning to talk about the rural urban link. And he was thinking of moving his theatre from that space and going into the rural areas. This did not materialize. Why? And here we come to the issue that was raised, I think, once again by Sundar, and that's money. We don't really know how to engage with money. We crib about the fact that we don't have money. What was the problem? I think there was the middle-class moralistic attitude to money that Sircar found. Once again, individual choice to be respected. He really believed money was evil. He actually did. And he felt the only way theatre can survive, in a bid to get one rupee a ticket that it can be almost free. But if you follow that ethos, and you stay away from funding, you stay away from all those nasty capitalist forces corporate world, you know, what are you going to do? That basic money needed for transportation into the rural areas, to pay your actors will never materialize. So that never really happened.
And he retreated into the Aanganmanch and I feel that was a regression, after a point it made no sense.
1987 I was here in Ninasam. I was knocked out for all the reasons I think that Akshara has mentioned. Briefly, why was I knocked out? Why was I so excited? Here was I, a city person, nurtured from modernist theatre and coming to a village. Rural area, 1986 or whenever and they're doing Brecht, Shakespeare. I directed The Bundle. They were showing Marguerite Duras' Hiroshima mon amour, they were showing Alain Resnais' Night and Fog. And I said wow! They're working against the stereotype of the rural being associated with so-called traditional theatre which at that point in my time had a certain meaning. So I felt that I was, I felt that they were, Ninasam was breaking the conflation of the rural with traditional. And I thought that was very progressive. I'm not so sure about that today. I have a different perspective.
Today, very briefly, I would say I question very strongly the conflation of the modern, which is what is real in most of us, with the contemporary. For a long time, I assumed that if you're doing modern theatre, that's when you can deal with real, social and political issues. The traditional theatre I felt couldn't handle those issues. I think this is utter arrogance and insularity and stupidity in my part. I would like to believe that the contemporary exists in many different registers. And the traditional is very contemporary in its own right. And I am very grateful here to Adishakti for opening me to this through my work with Adishakti on the Ramayana project, where indeed we have been exposed to the, well there are a hundred and thirty versions of the Ramayana in India. And they're subversive, subaltern, irreverent and the works.
I'll give you a small example. What excited me about the Ramayana and the way we did it at Adishakti, it was the critical thinking of Rama in the Ramayana that didn't come from the likes of me, or Sadanand but from the gurus themselves. the traditional gurus are capable of contemporary critique. And this is something that you really have to take very seriously. Because we don't hear their critique. We don't hear their voices. How did that happen? I'll give you a small example.
There was a production of, a Telugu production of Sita's Svayamvaram where Sita was played by a male actor, impersonator, in a shimmering, sequined cabaret dress. And there were very awkward movements where this actor kept wiggling his shoulder and doing all kinds of strange movements which had all the women, contemporary dancers in squeals of laughter because it was very camp. It looked really really funny and sexy but also very ridiculous.
In the discussion, I asked the guru, what do you think about Rama, the god Rama? He said, he's not a god, Rama is not a god. Rama is not even a king. Rama doesn't know how to rule. And it was a total dismissal of Rama. Absolutely clear. And I must say, my god! That's kind of radical or irreverent or what but then some feminists in the audience somewhere said, you know, you have this attitude towards Rama which seems very progressive, why do you represent Sita in that way? Why is she represented in that sexist manner?... yet to find words for it. Why is she represented like that?
And the guru stayed quiet and said, you know we haven't really worked that out. And they took it a step further, they said not only do we not know how to represent her on stage but we even extend this problem off stage. So the actor playing Sita is also subjected to ridicule and derision in everyday life. Now if this is not politics of gender, I don't know what is. And its coming from a traditional guru. So lets be open to this thing.
My recommendations, three. I think ITF's diversity is not diverse enough. Very simply. There is diversity in the room. I think you have to actively work beyond your comfort zones and in this take active support of traditional performers, folk performers, people from the tribal sector, street performers, and transgendered community who are doing some amazing work in this country. You have to open your diversity, you have to make diversity a little more uncomfortable.
I don't believe this has to be tokenistic, to use your word Akshara. It can be tokenistic if you do not invest in the relationship. But if you invest in the relationship, which means a lot of prior work, it indeed doesn't have to be tokenistic.
I would say make space for critical thinking and dialogue across languages. The one thing, definitely Mangaye what was missing here, we spoke in English and the one instance say, in the conference where language had to be used, translation could have been handled more sensitively. Translation is a deeply complex process. We live in a massively multi-lingual country. There is no justification here for us speaking only in one language. There is no justification for this. And it should not happen again, if i may be a little peremptory. Some real attempt has to be made to hear different languages, for which I do believe translation and modalities of translation have to be figured out.
And I do believe that our concepts can no longer come from the English language and from your American theatrical traditions. We can draw when its necessary. Our concepts have got to come from our own languages. And we haven't even begun to tap them. And we got some sense of that I think in Sundar's presentation, which might have been a better in the beginning.
I do not agree with Samik Banerjee when in his comments he said that pluralism, I don't believe that pluralism has to be neutral. I think that that kind of neutral pluralism is what the state would like to promote. We are not the emissaries of the state. And our pluralism I feel has to be conflictual, and it has to involve a negotiation of differences. And these differences are embedded in diversities themselves at multiple levels. So I think that pluralism is not something neutral.
Two. I would simply say that in terms of practices, definitely look forward, and I liked what Satish had to say about how applied theatre can be used in many ingenious ways, I learnt a lot from him. Very fine example of very pragmatic but subversive in very interesting ways of working within the institution and applying applied thatre. This is a massive field. Take it seriously. It is massive today. The most important theorization and the most exciting practices in the world today are taking place in this domain of applied theatre which is taking place in prisons, which is taking place in hospitals, which is taking place in remand homes.
Now all of us here have a certain aversion to instrumentalism, didactism, preaching, etc. Applied theatre doesn't have to work in this way at all. Some of the most exciting work I see, aesthetically has taken place in prisons. And I tell you prisoners are the best actors I've seen. They are amazing.
So I feel that we have to engage with this for a pragmatic reason, there was a question that came there. (Interruption in video)
This is important. Applied theatre also offers employment possibilities. Because there are multiple fumblers for these applied theatre pratices. They can be linked to different ministries and they can be linked to different kinds of funding agencies and programmes.
So lets think about the employment also. There are ways in which you can earn a living as an actor. But perhaps this is not going to come within the framework of what we used to call group theatre.
My final point concerns failure. I want to think of failure positively. And the worst kind of failure I would say is the failure of success, you know. When you've reached the top and you feel, boy, I've got it all. You know that. That's a killer, you know. When you've succeeded. there's nothing, no...that for me is failure. The failure of success. I would like to invoke here that great great playwright, Samuel Beckett, who advocated failure. And he always said, you know, I can't go on...I'll go on. And what does he advice? He says fail, fail and fail again. But he added, fail better. Can you fail better?
So I think Sadanand might have mentioned that ideas are sparked by crisis. And I had mentioned earlier that I don't think the problem is crisis, the problem could be crisis management. The problem is not chaos, chaos can be very creative. Keep in mind there's an order within chaos. I think it's chaos management. The problem for me is not terror per se. The problem is the war on terror. It's when people try to discipline. It's counter-terror that would be more dangerous.
So while I don't close the search for solutions, I think we need to keep the solutions. I think we also have to keep the struggle alive. So if you fail, fail and you fail better, go for it. Thank you.
Akshara: Thank you Rustom. For the delegates who are leaving today, I am chairing this session to ensure that you can board the train (laughter). We will now have Shanta ji for her concluding remarks. She has worked for a long time as an art critic for a major newspaper. Art critic is something...for the younger generation, it is an endangered profession. Many people really don't know what an art critic is, going by what comes as reviews. Most of the time, what we write in our brochures comes back as reviews. She has been involved with Marathi theatre for a long time. Her major book is on Marathi theatre published by Seagull. Her other book is on Dubey, and another important book that is coming out is on Adishakti. I look forward to that very much because I know Adishakti as a group and I really want to see that book. Again, like Rustom Bharucha, Shanta Gokhale is also a practitioner - she was the playwright of what we saw three days ago (Sex, Morality and Censorship); so she is very much into the world of theatre and like Rustom Bharucha, she is a bridge between the world of theory and the world of practice. Shantaji...
Shanta: I am not given to speech and when the time is up, I like to go. I don't like to stretch things. I was lucky to have a father who gave me a book to read. He was a busy journalist and when I finished reading, he would say to me - okay, in two lines, what did you think? (laughter)
As it happens, we've had three concluding sessions. So a whole lot of things that I very studiously put down this morning sitting out on the terrace of the restaurant have been said and if there's one thing I don't like to do, it is to repeat, to waste time. So I shan't talk about all those things which I had put down, but like everyone else loves to tell stories, I also love to tell stories. And I am going to indulge myself. I have two wonderful stories to tell you about the disempowered empowering themselves and capturing spaces that don't belong to them - supposed not to belong to them.
We have an extremely sweet-sweet, pretty-pretty marriage hall next door. Over the years, it has grown from being practically a thatched space to becoming not quite state-of-the-art, but an extremely well-equipped space. But more than that, over the years, it has become the most prestigious space for the middle-class to get married in. A dear Dalit friend decided - this is where I am going to get married; come what may, I shall get married in this space. So he goes; there's a registrar who has lists - booked for three years and no date! So my friend says to him, "Let me look at your register." So he points to a blank and he says, "What about that?" So the registrar says, "But that is not booked because it is inauspicious. You can't get married on that date!" So, after much silent (?), finally, my friend said, "I am inauspicious. And I will get married here on that date. And I'll return in twenty years with my happy wife and my happy children to show you how auspicious it has been for us." That's one story.
The other comes from Dalit writer Daya Pawar who writes in his book Baluta
, which is about jobs that are parcelled out in the (?) system to various communities. So the Mahar community, amongst other things, is invited to play at weddings. All upper-caste weddings are accompanied by shehnai and pasha (?) played by Mahars. They sit outside the space that is not to be desecrated - the sacred space. They sit outside and they play. And when the host comes out, there is a certain manner of speaking that the Brahmin has towards the person who is playing shehnai. So he speaks of how one such uppity Brahmin host said something extremely rude and went his way. Then they played a tune on the shehnai and the whole group of musicians burst out laughing. It was music but it was a code and that code was three of the worst cuss words anybody could give anybody. And those words floated over the sacred space and destroyed the sanctity.
So there are a whole lot of ways in which I have particularly been engaged in this seminar with this question of the powered and the disempowered. Finally, I'd like to say - I think a whole lot of people were at the performance of Talamaddale
and Vali representing the tribals engaged in argument with Rama. And of the hour-and-a-half that the dialogue continued - it wasn't a dialogue at all - it was an hour-long monologue by Vali, who, throughout, one after the other, questions Rama why he was shot. Not just that, why he (Rama) hid behind a tree and shot him, being such a brave man. And, of course, why he kept using a phrase from Julius Caesar - but Rama is an honourable man! One sensed Rama's discomfiture. It was very difficult to answer these charges because they were so patently true. His contention was - you are the king of Ayodhya. You don't have any right over our space. This is our space. I am not your enemy. I have done nothing to you which should provoke you into shooting me. So, why? Just a simple question - why?
Rama was unable to answer, because the only way in which he could deal with it was by pulling rank, by saying - the shastras say this.
Vali is perfectly nonchalant. He says, "Your system is your system; it's not ours. So you still have to answer my question! You're not answering it!" Ultimately, of course, the hypocrisy that comes from all po (?) people, where he says, "See, tarkik satya
is not the real satya
. You are asking me questions you expect logical answers to.
Shastra is the logic for all action and taking recourse to the shastras, I have done what is right. A whole lot of this kind of very convoluted argument followed. And I was thinking - this argument is not convincing anybody. Everybody is saying - Vali ne usko shendi lagali
(Valu outsmarted him). But at the end of this performance, Vali folds his hands and says to Rama - you are great! You can see that as a sarcastic remark, but it wasn't. It is a way of - having had your say, having got an entire audience on your side, you then submit to the larger narrative. Thank you.
Sanjna - Vote of thanks.