ITF Not The Drama Seminar: Mapping Locales
Duration: 01:28:48; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 25.202; Saturation: 0.076; Lightness: 0.315; Volume: 0.209; Cuts per Minute: 0.597; Words per Minute: 80.830
This session asked the following questions: How do we make sense of the bewildering variety that Indian theatre displays? Where does theatre happen? Or, more critically, where does theatre matter? In what kinds of locales, in other words, does theatre making, and theatre going, become a need, a habit? What are the dynamics of different kinds of theatre in India? What role has amateur theatre played? What is the state of the commercial theatres? Do we have any professional theatre outside of the commercial? If not, why not? This session, apart from looking at the macro situation, also hopes to look at theatre in particular settings. One of these is theatre in Manipur. What is the context of Manipuri theatre? How have locational and political marginalities shaped this theatre? What has sustained this theatre? What problems does it face today? Where does it go in the future?
Presentations were made by Samik Bandhopadhyay and Shanta Gokhale, and responses offered by Koushik Sen, Sanjay Upadhyay and Channakeshava.
Organised 50 years after the original Drama Seminar in 1957, the Not the Drama Seminar (NTDS) brought together theatre practitioners from all across the country to convene at Ninasam, Heggodu in March 2008. This seminar meditated on the nature of theatre in India today, on how we got to where we are. The attempt was to understand 'Indian Theatre' in all its multiplicity and diversity, bringing these several faces of Indian theatre face to face, and problemetize the issues that arise therein. These ideas were exchanged through a series of presentations and discussions over five days, and each day ended with a performance.
And …these are the days engaged every year :
Shanta Gokhale: I'm going to go straight into the paper.
Where theatre happens is simple to make out. You go to a city or town, refer to the local form of communication, whatever it is – black boards placed at street corners, posters, handbills distributed in the park, bills pasted on walls or messages scribbled on walls, with chalk sometimes, vehicles roaming the roads with megaphones, amplifiers.
Shanta Gokhale: Whatever the form of communication, theatre has to announce its presence. At its most expensive, it advertises itself in newspapers. If you are an insider and wired, you are even better off.
Shanta Gokhale: You receive emails upon emails informing you about new plays happening, old plays, revived plays, children's plays. When none of this happens, when no friends call you and say, 'there's this play on at such and such a place and you simply have to see it', then you know that you're in a place where no theatre happens.
Shanta Gokhale: When I'm in Chennai, I know I'm in a place where no theatre happens. When I'm in Bangalore I know, today, I'm in a place where theatre happens – I shall come to the today later. When I'm in Imphal, I know I'm in a place where theatre happens.
Shanta Gokhale: And when I'm in Nagpur, Sholapur, Kohlapur, Kankowli, again I know that theatre happens. And in Mumbai and Pune, you cannot escape theatre. It's happening all around and there are plenty of choices.
Shanta Gokhale: Before I wrote my book I went to two places. Calcutta, where I saw a play everyday, because I wanted to get a sense of theatre in these two places before I launched on my book. In Bangalore I met Mr. Marulasidappa, scholar of theatre, who gave me his book on Kannada theatre, which I could not read. I asked him if I could see a play; he said there was nothing on.
Shanta Gokhale: I met Mrs Prema Karanth, who spoke about her theatre. I asked her if I could see a play, she said there was nothing on. I met Prakash Belawadi and said, "you are a young man of theatre, show me some theatre." He said, "we young people cannot still have theatre, because theatre here is still only Karnad, Kambar and B. Jayashree."
Shanta Gokhale: Years later, I was at Mahesh Dattani's place in Bangalore. We were going to have a comfortable chatty evening when a friend called up. "What are you doing?" "Just sitting around chatting." "Why don't you come and see a play?" I just shot out of my chair. A play in Bangalore, yeah, yeah yeah, whatever it is, I want to see it!
Shanta Gokhale: So we hopped into an auto and sped down to a hall, which I seem to remember was a wedding hall. And this was pure serendipity, because it was a brilliant production. The space was unbrilliant, to put it mildly. But, there was an audience. And this happened to be Girish Karnad's translation of Mahesh Elkunchwar's ………… directed by K M Chaitanya.
Shanta Gokhale: The question,the fact that there was this huge audience in this wedding hall suggested that there was an audience in Bangalore for theatre. So why was theatre not happening? This question was answered a few months after Ranga Shankara was inaugurated in 2004, when I began to receive regular monthly schedules.
Shanta Gokhale: Every day was booked, mostly by Kannada plays. And I remember that during the inauguration one had heard murmurs – about Ranga Shankara being so far away, about whether theatre audiences would be there, would come. Was it going to work? One didn't obviously have to wait too long to find out, because theatre began to happen. Plays happened, people came. And in this case, how it happened was also a kind of lesson.
Shanta Gokhale: Because the State, which normally should be kept at arms length from all cultural projects, had shown a lot of enlightenment in this case by giving a plot of land and then staying strictly off that plot of land.
Shanta Gokhale: Hutch also came in to underwrite some costs. And so it was a happy coming together of these two powerful agencies – the corporate and the government – and one woman with a vision and the spirit to make this thing happen, aided by a whole lot of like-minded people.
Shanta Gokhale: So now, I come to Maharashtra via Bangalore, and my very obvious proposition here is that, for theatre to happen – not sporadically, not because there are writers who are dying to write plays, not because there are actors who are dying to act, but in a sustained manner that results in theatre becoming part of the community life – then a dedicated space for theatre becomes essential.
Shanta Gokhale: If such a dedicated space exists, theatre happens, but for such a dedicated space to be created, a need for theatre must exist in the community in the first place. The community demonstrates this need when it turns up in large numbers in crummy halls, which double up for weddings and thread ceremonies and even fashion shows, and then it takes its chance with whatever is offered.
Shanta Gokhale: It shows its need when it is willing to make do with basic facilities, when it is willing to sit on floors, chairs, benches, anything; to twist, turn, crane its neck to catch the action on stage.
Shanta Gokhale: When the need to see theatre is paralleled by the need to do theatre, where actors will even go out onto the roads and into parks to rehearse because there are no rehearsal spaces available, then one can say, the ground is fully ready for theatre to happen.
Shanta Gokhale: There is an alternative of course to the fixed bricks and mortar indoor space. Theatre can happen and actors carry the stage on their backs, set it up wherever the community feels the need to see theatre and perform with available facilities. Tirugatha works that way; so does the Assamese mobile theatre, which is out on the road for 9 months of the year.
Shanta Gokhale: Achutlakar, its progenitor, saw that theatre had stagnated since the 60s, and decided to go to people's doorsteps with it. He built a stage of bamboo and wood that could be dismantled easily and began to roll through the countryside of Assam.
Shanta Gokhale: In time, other companies decided to emulate him, and soon they were carrying stages the size of 3500 square feet along with them in trucks. 10,000 people became involved in this theatre movement and they covered something like 60 centres all over Assam.
Shanta Gokhale: The people loved this theatre; they went to it, come rain come shine. And the theatre they got, which according to the critics was not really theatre art and had no contributions to make to the aesthetics of theatre … but it was the people's theatre.
Shanta Gokhale: And they got plays about dinosaurs, they got the whole of the Titanic complete with the iconic pose of the lover on the prow of the ship. Along with that they also got Othello and they got problem plays like burning brides.
Shanta Gokhale: So in this paper, I'm going to sidestep the third force of theatre, which is the playwrights, actors, directors, and concentrate on what makes a community feel the need for theatre, and what happens when it does not have a dedicated space for it to happen.
Shanta Gokhale: Before I return to Maharashtra, I must make a note of a short conversation that I was part of, recently, in Calcutta. The participants were Priya Adarkar, who has translated four of Tendulkar's plays, and Gowri Ramnarayan who has translated two, apart from writing four of her own.
Priya says to Gowri: "What is Tamil theatre like?"
Gowri says, "There isn't any"
Priya says, "How can that be? Theatre has to be there. It has to happen everywhere."
Gowri says, "No. It doesn't in Tamil Nadu."
So she said, "Why not?"
Shanta Gokhale: And then, there was a half hour conversation while Priya, the staunch Marathi, would just not let go of Gowri, and suggested various ways and means in which theatre could be made to happen in Chennai. Finally Gowri said, "if you can make dance happen in Maharashtra, I can make theatre happen in Tamil Nadu."
Shanta Gokhale: This was not just a case of one-upmanship, though it shut up Priya! We have to return to this thing about the need for a certain performing art in a community. In connection with this, I'd like to cite the fact that the Raja of Sangli, who was patron to the supposed first Marathi play, instructed his multi-talented courtier Vishnudas Bhave to create and present a refined version of the Bhagwad Mela performance which he had seen and been impressed by.
Shanta Gokhale: The refinement comprised of eliminating the dance element in the original. So it is to be noted that some historians of Marathi theatre who have denied the position of first play to Bhave's Sita Swayamvar and would rather press the claim for the plays written by the Maratha Rajas in Thanjavur, have failed to take note of the fact that the Thanjavur plays were full of dance and could never form a tradition in Maharashtra.
Shanta Gokhale: Theatre in Maharashtra has followed the same trajectory from its folk traditional roots to the refined middle-class Brahmanic tradition, as Bharatnatyam and Odissi have followed in those parts of the country.
Shanta Gokhale: Along the way its audience has changed drastically. So that, when I say that the Marathi community has demonstrated its need of theatre by the fact that the tradition of theatre has remained more or less unbroken over 165 years, I'm not talking about the same community at all.
Shanta Gokhale: Like the philosopher's shoe, the theatre-needing and theatre-going community has changed bit by bit and the theatre spaces that it has occupied has been at least partly responsible for this change.
Shanta Gokhale: So let's see how this has happened.
Shanta Gokhale: Vishnudas Bhave's first play, Sita Swayamvar is performed for the Raja of Sangli and his courtiers in the Sangli court. His play isn't much different in its aesthetics or narrative content from the Dashavatar or Bhagwad Mela that are happening outside in public spaces.
Shanta Gokhale: But, whereas the Dashavatar and Bhagwad Mela are tied to ritual and therefore to the temple precincts, Sita Swayamvar, despite its mythological narrative, is secular in the sense that it occupies a secular space.
Shanta Gokhale: The Temple is all-inclusive, the court is all-exclusive....
Shanta Gokhale: ...to the edifying as against the spectacularly entertaining.But Bhave, the practical man of theatre, gives this new kind of audience in this new kind of theatre, a new kind of experience.
Shanta Gokhale: The second result of Bhave's, and soon after that other playwrights' exposure to the proscenium stage is the idea of stage setting. The third is deployment of actors. When Bhave performed outdoors, it was on a natural or a built height with the audience sitting around. The movement of actors is governed by this arrangement, creating a direct dialogue between players and audience.
Shanta Gokhale: The dialogue on the proscenium stage could not happen in quite the same way, but it then gave rise to the theatrical convention of frontality: the player always fronting the audience. And this is a convention from which Marathi theatre has still not liberated itself.
Shanta Gokhale: In this connection I must recall the shocked gasp that went up in Ravindra Natya Mandir during the Moscow Art Theatre's production of Uncle Vanya. At one point, Uncle Vanya walks away towards the back, backing the audience, and with a very deft gesture throws his wine glass over his shoulder.
Shanta Gokhale: The convention of frontality, had become so ingrained in the audience that now, since it had nothing to do with theatrical validity, this particular gesture and his walk away from the audience was construed as a breaking of propriety. To turn your back on the audience was to insult it, and the gasp that went up was a response to that!
[Pravin tells Shanta she has 1 minute, so she goes over to last bit]
Shanta Gokhale: Twice during the history of Marathi theatre, the cry has gone up for a house for theatre. This is something Sudhanva referred to – I didn't realise that the cry had also gone up in Delhi during the Drama Seminar. But in Maharashtra, twice. Once during the 100th year of Marathi theatre at the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, which celebrated this centenary in a huge way.
Shanta Gokhale: That is when the organisation pledged that it would raise money and build an indoor space. And when it was built, it was like your favourite daughter's wedding happening, because there was all the fanfare, there was pomp, there was a kind of religious awe about this thing.
Shanta Gokhale: And there were politicians on the stage. Politicians have never been too far from Marathi theatre, right from the start, from the time of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. And here, this auditorium was inaugurated by Yashwant Rao Chavan.
Shanta Gokhale: Lastly, underlining the relationship between theatre space and theatre dependent community, is now the state of disuse into which this same Sahitya Sangh has fallen, because the Marathi speaker, who once lived in Girgaon, no longer lives there.
Shanta Gokhale: The Marathis have sold out their chawls, their tenements, to other communities and moved to the northern and eastern suburbs of Mumbai. The communities that have replaced them in Girgaon have no use for theatre spaces; they are more keen on places from where they can carry on their business.
Shanta Gokhale: Last point which has to be made, and which could be an action point for the Forum – please note that there is no such animal as an architect specializing in theatre architecture. If you go into theatres that are built today, and find out that the toilet is next door to the performance space, and every time the flush is pulled the actor has to interrupt his lines, then you know why.
Shanta Gokhale: So, I think really, we need to come down to the ground and decide that we have to have some way or the other, a course in theatre architecture in all the architectural schools in India so that we'll have better theatre spaces to work from. Thank you.
(applause...announcement of break)
Koushik Sen: I would like to quickly respond to what Samikbabu started saying, about the relationship between the performing body and the community body. And I would like to throw some light on the present situation in West Bengal, because we do our theatre there.
Koushik Sen: As Samikbabu had already mentioned, we are under a Left Government for the last 30 years. Bengali theatre always had a very strong Left inclination, the theatre which emerged from the famous Nabanna.
Koushik Sen: What happened after1977 – this is my personal feeling – that we, the theatre workers, after a particular point of time, we were very confused. We are going to speak against which party? Because the party which we supported, now it is in power. The entire 1980s was under this confusion.
Koushik Sen: Now what I can say, I don't want to imply the past, but to talk about the present.
Koushik Sen: After a long period of time, now in West Bengal, there is a very interesting kind of a situation. After what happened in Singur and Nandigram. The entire scenario has changed, and it has changed very quickly. Samikbabu was referring to that famous rally which came up, which was led by a poet.
Koushik Sen: Historically, after that Kolkata has see, West Bengal has seen, a lot of demonstrations, a lot of political upheaval. But very recently, after Nandigram issue, there was a huge rally. This was the first time we witnessed in Kolkata, in West Bengal …14th of November, a huge rally came out on the streets.
Koushik Sen: Actually I'm not talking about the rally, actually I am talking about a particular incidence … I'm referring to one of the leading poets of Bengal, Shankho Ghosh. Just before the day of this rally, he said that, "I'm not going to be part of this rally if I find a single political leader in the rally.
Koushik Sen: Even the Opposition." That demand of the poet, it spread, and almost all the theatre workers, intellectuals, poets, they stuck to this point. We appealed to all the Opposition political leaders, who are equally worthless for the last 30 years. We told them, "please don't come to this rally. This is our rally. We have to find our own way."
Koushik Sen: I was reading through Sudhanva's paper yesterday night, where in a particular space he says that "this is the same party that ushered in the emergency in 1975, and launched a semi-fascist terror in West Bengal which killed amongst others, Ashish Chatterjee of Theatre Unit in 1972 and Prabir Dutta of Silhouette in 1974."
Koushik Sen: Actually, I'm quoting these lines because, this is the same party which is tying up with the Left government and naturally ... how can you explain this to the people of West Bengal that the Communist Party is taking a particular stand in the Centre and a completely different stand in West Bengal?
Koushik Sen: And this is where, the performing body and the respondent body, there is a clash between these two completely different forces.
Koushik Sen: If you now go to Kolkata, you'll find that Kolkata has changed very fast. The Bengali middle-class audience has always given the maximum amount of patronage to this Bengali theatre. The middle-class is changing very fast.
Koushik Sen: The place where I stay in Bhowanipur – there are some areas called Shakharipada, Kasharipada – you'll find the old Calcutta there. And if you cross Elgin road, you'll find it has changed so fast. You'll find the shopping malls are there, you'll find the flyovers are there.
Koushik Sen: These are the things which … in using the word 'politics', if we want to know each other and if we want to really make a common forum, if we really need to know in what ways we are doing theatre in different parts of our country, we also have to be really clear about these things.
Koushik Sen: What we actually feel … I mean, there's no reason to keep politics aside, and we have to be clear about these things. What kind of a politics we believe in. That is a very important factor now because we want to know each other well.
Koushik Sen: It is not the question of, in what kind of a space we are doing theatre, in what kind of condition we are doing theatre, but in the ambience, in the total situation under which we are performing.
Koushik Sen: After a long time I find that the situation in Bengal has radically changed and that is making some effect on our theatre also. We want to do street plays now. We want to go to the people.
Koushik Sen: As one of my friends Vikram said, on behalf of Swapnasandhani we are performing in a particular space. A small space, not one of the major auditoriums of Calcutta. We are performing there every Saturday, and we are not giving insertions in any widely popular newspapers.
Koushik Sen: Even after 3 years, we find that its not enough; we have to do something more. This situation, the present situation in West Bengal, has given us this opportunity to think completely in a different way.
Koushik Sen: We have to improvise … this is a kind of a situation where I would love to know about your views, about what happened in West Bengal. Because what happened in West Bengal … I don't believe it will never happen again.
Koushik Sen: After Nandigram and Singur, the police attacked brutally on Left Front Allied, that is, the Forward Bloc. And still no Commission has been done. And what really is alarming is that, after the Nandigram issue, 14 people were arrested and none of them were punished. All of them were left.
Koushik Sen: So theatre... everything affects this. Everything effects in our theatre. That's what my quick response is.
(announcement of break)
Channakeshava: Now I will present about active theatre spaces in Karnataka. In the 70s in Kannada, there was a lot of theatre movement because of the Emergency. Street plays by Samudaya and other theatre groups.
Channakeshava: They were all taking the street plays to all the villages and taluk centres of Karnataka. In the 80s Ninasam started its theatre institute and then Ninasam wanted to take the plays to the different places of Karnataka. Then Ninasam started Tirugatha. Tirugatha started taking the shows, different plays – one western, one Indian and one Kannada. Three plays.
Channakeshava: They started taking the plays to the rural places, taluk places, of Karnataka. We faced a different kind of problem then. The play was designed for a kind of proscenium theatre, and we used to carry our curtains and such things.
Channakeshava: But the places where we go, the rural places – the places will be very different from each other. Some places we have to give a show in a school, sometimes in a kalyana mandapa (where marriage happens) and sometime in the bus stand, sometimes in godowns, and in taluk offices, college quadrangles, like that.
Channakeshava: Then we started collecting information about the spaces where Tirugatha will happen. The actors will carry a questionnaire, and they used to fill up which place they are having the show – what is the measurement of that, and how much people will be coming to the play, etc. And after some years, we wanted to bring that data together.
Channakeshava: In 1991-92, Ninasam planned to make a theatre survey, and 20 Ninasam old students were sent to different places, and they have made a theatre survey. After that, we wanted to update that survey last year.
Channakeshava: And with our experience with Tirugatha, we made six categories of the spaces – Open air theatre, intimate spaces, open stage, proscenium theatre, multipurpose hall, and open stage. I will explain our understanding of these theatres.
Channakeshava: Open air theatre, where theatre will be like Greek theatre, with the auditorium. Intimate spaces will be halls. Open stage is just a stage with a shelter.
Channakeshava: Proscenium theatre – it is a proscenium like theatre with the curtain, side wings, green room etc. Multipurpose halls are where multiple activities happen, like political activities or cultural activities.
Channakeshava: And another is actually open space … Enclosed platform is with the shelter, open stage is just a platform.
Channakeshava: More than 20 students – we have given training to them to make a survey. We have trained them to measure the theatre space and to make the plan. To make the elevation drawing. And to collect the information about the equipment, about the green room, toilets, space available around the theatre, parking spaces, food availability, etc.
Channakeshava: We gave them 3 months time to survey in a particular district allotted to that student. And they went to each important space where performances will be taking place – active space.
Channakeshava: And all the information which was collected by the students, they have brought after three months and we have gone through a detailed discussion with the surveyor. Me and Akshara have interviewed them …
Channakeshava: I will now give you some statistical information. We have surveyed nearly 500 theatres, which are active theatres, all over Karnataka. Open air theatres, we have surveyed 21 total. Government theatres, 8.
Channakeshava: And private bodies, 12. In that we have rated the theatre with our practice. All the students who went there were trained in the Ninasam theatre institute so that they can judge the quality of the theatre space.
Channakeshava: So they have rated 'good', 'average', 'below average' and 'very good'. In the 21 theatres, there are only 4 'good' theatres. And 'below average' and 'average is 19. And only 4 theatres are engaged more than 100 days a year.
Channakeshava: In the intimate spaces, there are totally 12 spaces. Government bodies 4, private 8. 'Good' – 4 theatres, and these 4 theatres are in Bangalore. 'Average' and 'below average' – 8. Number of days engaged – 100 to 150 days, only 2. 150 to 200 – 3. 200 to 300 – 1. And 365 engaged, three active centres – that is in Bangalore. We have surveyed only theatre activities and cultural activities. Including dance, music.
[question from audience about the criterion for "good"]
Channakeshava: That is for the space, infrastructure and the maintenance of the space. We have rated for the equipment separately, and for overall maintenance and only for the space. Not for the activities.
[Seems to be answering someone from audience]
Channakeshava: Actually, interestingly, these open stages are very much active in North Karnataka. Open stage is just a platform – in the school centre or a taluk centre, or near a bus stand, near panchayat, like that. They used to have a temporary shelter, a temporary shamiana. Company dramas will be performed.
Channakeshava: This is the proscenium theatre. We have called it a proscenium-like theatre because we don't have full-fledged proscenium theatre. There are only 4 or 5 theatres in Karnataka that are fully equipped. In the 59 proscenium-like theatres, 29 are handled by government.
Channakeshava: And government has built a distinct theatre centre, which looks like a godown! They used to have a huge auditorium and a very small stage. With a small greenroom, which will be the office of the Culture Department.
Channakeshava: And one will be the godown of some PWD or something like that. No toilet. If there is a toilet, that will be the public toilet. In very bad condition. There are only 3 or 4 good government theatres – one is in Mysore, one is in Bagalkot …
Channakeshava: And this is a multipurpose hall. Very interestingly, most of the theatre activities will be held in this kind of multipurpose hall. That will be handled mostly by private bodies. They will maintain it very neatly, because they used to have marriage ceremonies … that will be paid spaces.
Channakeshava: And now some multipurpose halls, like the choultries – while building, they have a notion of making a kind of a proscenium choultry.
Channakeshava: Because marriage will be happening like a proscenium. Audience will be sitting here and marriage will be happening there. There will be two green rooms, given to the bridegroom and … And it was very helpful for the theatre people to have a show there.
Channakeshava: These are the enclosed platforms with a base stage / platform, and with a shelter. Actually, Culture Department have a kind of budget, that if you have a platform, they will provide you the railings for the curtain.
Channakeshava: They will give 25,000/- or something for that. They used to have that wing space, but those are all very bad …because most of that kind of platforms will be in the school campuses, that are used for the cultural activities of the school mainly.
Channakeshava: And it will be very unplanned. That will be around 20 feet by 15 feet. If you go after the 15 feet, you will be falling 6 feet down. That kind of spaces.
Channakeshava: The total ownership statistics is : the government is handling 128 theatre spaces and private is 178. And the total rating of all kinds of theatre space : there are only 8 'very good' spaces in Karnataka. 'Good' 69, 'average' 121 and 'below average' is 64.
Channakeshava: And some spaces are very interesting but there is no activity. And total number of engagement – 9 spaces are 'good' spaces, but there is no activity.
Channakeshava: I would like to show you our final database programme. This is actually an incomplete programme I am showing you. The final programme is better than this. In this homepage we had information about the survey, and about Ninasam, and methodology. And we have divided into three columns for the districts – A to B, C to H, and K to Z.
Channakeshava: We can go like this – if you go to Shimoga district, you will be having these kind of taluk centres. If you go to Sagar – theatre spaces of Sagar will be displayed here. You click on Shivarama Karantha Ranga Mandira, this kind of general information will be up here.
Channakeshava: In this, general information – type of theatre, the place and how to reach and number of days engaged, how many shows of theatre and other cultural activity, how much Kannada shows, other functions, management address, body address, renting details.
Channakeshava: Access before the show, maintenance details, what will be provided within the rent – electricity, generator, sound, equipment. The contact address for that. And the building details – the space around the building, total area of the campus. If there is any problem with the theatre – like a visibility problem or an acoustic problem, details about that.
Channakeshava: Kind of seating, capacity, auditorium kind – permanent or temporary. Foyer dimensions, green room dimensions, and other components like canteen, space for exhibition, green rooms, size of the green rooms, size of the toilets, number of toilets, and facilities in the green room and toilet.
Channakeshava: And building ______. And the stage details, stage dimensions, nature of floor, wings, length of wings, side wing spaces, equipment details – sound, lighting and other effects equipment. Floor plan – these are the plans drawn by the students who went. Drawings were brought and this is the recreated …
(slide: old campus plan)
Channakeshava: We can access by these kind of categories also. If you go to the proscenium theatre, all proscenium theatres of Karnataka will be appearing here.
Channakeshava: Actually, our website is not working because of some technical problem. That will be ready by this week. If you log into www.ninasamtheatresurvey.org
– you will be having this kind of theatre information of different spaces, and also notes about those spaces by our students.
Channakeshava: They have collected information about the groups involved in that space, and the kind of activities that will be happening in those spaces. And overall information about the taluk – how it is situated in the theatre …
Channakeshava: And interestingly, most of theatre activities is happening in the school and college campus, educational institution campus. Quadrangle, hall, seminar halls. Most of the amateur play is working with the help of local educational institution … they used to have rehearsals in that kind of halls, quadrangles, classrooms, and after the rehearsal, they used to have a performance in the district proscenium theatre built by Cultural Department or some other multipurpose hall.
Channakeshava: This is how most of the amateur troupes will be rehearsing in the rural places of Karnataka. But in Bangalore, we have a good proscenium theatre – 3, 4 – and other good theatre spaces also. But if we compare to the rural places of Karnataka, Bangalore is facing the problem of rehearsal. We don't have proper rehearsal spaces in Bangalore.
Channakeshava: But still some college is sharing with the local troupes, their spaces, like National College, Jainagar. But other amateur troupes are facing the problem of rehearsal spaces. In the rural spaces, I don't think they have a severe problem of rehearsal spaces.
Channakeshava: They will have the available spaces in the school. Because most of the villages have a primary school, and there'll be a classroom. And some schools used to give some rooms for the local troupes to keep their properties and costumes also. That is very interesting.
Ashutosh Poddar: They [the Government] have already decided that they will build ten theatre spaces throughout Karnataka. It is the Suvarna Karnataka, or something. Then I spoke with them, and I saw the plan – architectural plan, interiors of it.
Ashutosh Poddar: They are not very serious about it. Like PWD Department will build that, and they will take over the charge, and everything will be worked out. So here, Shanta Gokhale was just asking about the action plan … in what ways we can influence the government? And if we can.
Ashutosh Poddar: And also, what I found … suppose a place like Sadalga. If they are building a space there, there will be only one in one place. Throughout the history of that Sadalga. Because other space will not work there. Either private or any other. So what do you think? What is your experience?
Channakeshava: From past few years, Culture Department is building the zilla ranga mandira. That was supposed to be a multipurpose hall, but they built like a proscenium. The architects or the engineers, those who build the theatre, were usually builders of godowns.
Channakeshava: Like, they used to have a huge auditorium and a small stage. It is very difficult to have performances over there, and there will be a lot of acoustic problem. They used to have good equipment also, but no maintenance. But I feel that kind of space mainly is placed in a District Centre. But I feel activities are not only centred in the districts, but in the rural also.
Channakeshava: There are very small villages where we can see lot of theatre activities. Like Manchikeri, near Sirsi. It's a very small village. There is a theatre space, a multipurpose hall, which was built by a land army.
Channakeshava: And it is almost engaged the whole year. There will be two or three marriages. Other than that, there will be a lot of yakshagana, theatre activities, and other festivals also happening in there. Like that, lot of rural spaces is having this kind of theatre activities.
Channakeshava: I think, instead of building that kind of proscenium theatre, if we give more infrastructure to the schools or to the gram panchayat, that kind of space … government must give complete money to the gram panchayat, more money to the theatre activities …
Channakeshava: Now actually, they don't have that kind of cultural money in the gram panchayat. They have very small monies. If they have in gram panchayat, then that will be distributed to the local troupe.
Channakeshava: And if we provide more theatre facilities – like infrastructure, theatre space, lighting, that kind of equipment – to the school, then there will be lot of interaction between the local troupes and the school also. That will be very good because the school will maintain better than the Culture Department or zilla centre.
George Jose: It's actually a question to Channakeshava. Its taking off from what Aparna just said about the transportability of theatre. I was wondering, Channakeshava, in the kind of theatre that you did, is there a space also to ask what kind of theatre the audiences who go to the places that you surveyed – what kind of theatre do they aspire to see?
George Jose: Like the kind of audience that Aparna was, sitting in Delhi watching a Koushik Sen production – are there aspirations of that nature? To see a Bengali play, in Bagalkot. To see a Malayalam play, in Bangalore. Or to see a Gujarati play, in Heggodu. Is it … I was wondering whether …
George Jose: I think it's a very very interesting kind of possibility of looking at how locality, location, being rooted in a particular kind of space and our ability to imagine and aspire to … and of course, there is always the undermining problem of chamak involved here, but I was trying to figure out if there was a mirror opposite to that question.
Shiv: You see, I think there's a lot of navel gazing about theatre. I think we are too preoccupied with theatre without a sense of society. We began with a fascinating definition – the theatre deals with the body. But what happens when the body escapes the body politic?
Shiv: Because today the body that you are talking about has innovated in different directions. A____ is the world capital of surrogate babies. You got notions of organ trade in India which would be the envy of any world class smuggler.
Shiv: Today you are talking about a body which has escaped the body politic, and in fact, doesn't signify the notion of the community that we are talking about. What kind of theatre are we talking about?
Shiv: Because the old kind of body politic where the body regimented itself to the icons of the state – where the ambassador car represented the joint family, the Congress Party, and our notion of the body itself – I think is over.
Shiv: You are talking about a different kind of body. This body has exploded out. Now is theatre even responding to it? Or is theatre playing with an old notion of the body? Because it's a kind of navel gazing. Which is also a kind of body politic.
Samik: I'll try to answer quite a few of the questions. We don't have much time. But I'll start with Shiv's. Now, the way I look at it is, theatre has – right from the beginning, from whatever history we have, right from the Greeks to the Elizabetheans, etc etc – theatre has always made an attempt – not succeeded,
Samik: I'm not saying it has all been hunky-dory – but has made an attempt to take a position away from the power structure of the state, institutions, etc. A space of freedom. A space which has critiqued, challenged, at least questioned the rightness of the power system or the power structures, whatever it had been.
Samik: So, even as a body slips away, even as a body is taken away from us, the moment a performer comes on stage, he tries to create a body, he tries to bring a body into being. Out of his own experience, even out of the lost body.
Samik: And at the same time, new bodies are also created. In the last few years, we have seen performances where a body which we don't identify in the society outside, which is so standardised, which is so incorporated in larger structures, in larger institutions, we see the body in its nakedness, cut off from the structural disguises maybe?
Samik: And we discover the body, we recognise the body and the assertion of the body, the definition of the body on the stage itself – it becomes a critique of the way the body is being instrumentalised or being standardised. So that becomes a theatre act, where theatre comes to matter.
Samik: By challenging the matter which is taking over the body. That is one way that I look at this – still, theatre harping on the body, the performance harping on the body, the performance trying to make meaning out of the body.
Samik: That's the way I look at it. Maybe I am becoming too abstract. But that's how several theatre workers, theatre makers, have been trying to deal with this question.
(someone in audience asks for an example)
Samik: Even when we talk of Ratan … I was also going to answer that question. Now what happens there … I am taking on Keval's question and several other questions that have come up with Ratan's work. Now what happens, even that element of chamak, which grows out of, at one level, his attempt to survive.
Samik: Going into other places, the theatre that travels, the theatre that is transported as Aparna mentioned, it grows out of that – it's a survival strategy, the chamak.
Samik: But when I have watched a Ratan Thiyam performance in his own theatre – even the architecture of that space, the way that space is defined, it's a different architecture.
Samik: You walk into that space, you sit there, and you watch it with the audience. The local audience, the community body that identifies with the chamak, and finds … the general response has been, something that has been our material, it's our thing, but look how it has been given a different shape, a different form.
Samik: And theatre is all about that, ultimately. Its part of my body, but it needn't be just a re-presentation, or a reproduction of a certain bodily feature. It is given a new look, it is turned around, it is twisted about a little, and it gives that thrill.
Samik: So the chamak works for him with a sense of intimacy, with a sense of a feeling of the community body. That works there, in the case of Ratan Thiyam.
Samik: At the same time, I have the other problem. The problem of whenever we are transporting … of course, I'd like to sit in Kolkata. I can't travel throughout the country all the time, even though I wish to.
Samik: I don't have the resources, I don't have the time, I don't afford. I would like to see a Manipuri play in Kolkata, in very very alien surroundings and circumstances, with no understanding, no direct awareness, of the community body out of which this performance body creates and makes things.
Samik: Asserting itself, asserting the community also at the same time. But what I think is possible – and again, if theatre takes that position – is that we can understand the differences, we can appreciate the differences, we can respond to the differences.
Samik: We won't turn into a Manipuri community, but with our political sense, with our political understanding, refusing to be swamped by the propaganda of the media, by the structures of the media, we try to look at Manipur – its history, its historied body, the body of that community.
Samik: And I can relate so easily – the years of oppression of the Indian army and Kanhailal's Draupadi and the movements of the women in Manipur.
Samik: They become a seamless experience for me, and they work through theatre, into theatre – the body of the community working into the theatre.
Samik: The very simple fact that when Kanhailal stages Draupadi – again, you may call it a chamak – when Savitri strips herself to act Mahasweta's Draupadi, and it is criticised and attacked as anti-Manipuri by a section of the Manipuri "intelligentsia" – a few months later that becomes a political act.
Samik: A political act of protest. Where it is the body of the community with a long history of the women fighting, the women in the market places; the long history of the Nupi rebellion, that takes this natural extension into this act of theatre.
Samik: Taking on from the act of theatre, which takes on in its turn from Mahasweta's story. So all this is happening. So I don't accept the position that everything is lost and taken over.
Samik: These areas of assertion – asserting through the body, the performer's body. And the performer's body responding out of the body of the community. That is what theatre really means to me, and that's where theatre matters.
Pravin: I'm closing this session here because we've eaten into Aijaz Ahmad's time. And we will have to continue the discussions perhaps over lunch, one on one. Thank you. Sorry. Thank you, thank you all.