ITF Not The Drama Seminar: Experiments - Presentations
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Sometimes, we have a strange idea of the 'experimental' -- anything that is serious, amateur, and outside of the commercial framework gets called 'experimental'. But what does 'experiment' mean in theatre? Can we begin to identify markers or landmarks in our theatre which we can genuinely call 'experimental'? Is such an enterprise possible, or even desirable? Do we need laboratories for theatre? What has been the experience of the laboratories that were set up? When does an experiment fructify enough to be shared with an audience? Should experiments be at all shared with an audience? What is a performer's perspective? Does s/he look at her/his work in terms of experimentation? How do new forms come into being? What is, or should be, the role of technology in all this? Do we have too little technology in our theatre -- or too much? What can training institutions do in this area? What should funding agencies do? What kinds of experiments is it useful to support? What is the current state of experimental theatre? Does such a creature really exist?
Some of these questions were contemplated in S. Ramanujan's and Sadanand Menon's presentations. For more, see http://theatreforum.in/itf/meeting/1/
(Look under Talks / Experiments to read responses to these presentations.)
Organised fifty 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. The attempt was to understand 'Indian Theatre' in all its multiplicity and diversity, and to problemetise the issues that arise therein.
Keval Arora: ...Designer and director of several plays... and he will...Let me just introduce them all right away, does Sadananad need any introduction? Does anybody want to raise your hand and say 'I don't know Sadanand?'
OK... the lady with the smile doesn't know Sadanand. Sadanand is .. well he's around all the time... (laughs)... I think all of us, at least from Delhi I know, we, we come with a very special memory of Sadananand, he is someone who tried to give Delhi a space for critical discourse through a newspaper, did it for some years, absolutely marvelously. And then when the paper started shutting that page down, it was with great sadness that we saw him go to another part of India. Sadanand also designs lights, and I think is one of the finest commentators on culture and cultural policy here in India. He is associated, for a longtime - 'associated' is not the right word, works closely with Chandralekha, the dancer.
KA: Ekbal Ahmad has been closely involved as a designer ... he is from Ninasam, has been closely involved as a designer at Bharat bhavan, and with Rangayana, what I read about him is the fine work he does with childrens' theatre. he runs a repertoire for children, but a repertoire of adult actors who perform for children. We were just talking about some of the experiments that he does actually are experiments driven by the children that he works with.
Amitesh Grover is the yongest for all of us. We start with the grey and balding and move into all kinds of youthfulness. Amitesh is today in Delhi, he is a graduate from NSD, and then from the Wimbeldon School of Art. He's currently involved in investigating theatre through site specific performances and with a certain... lets say extensive use of technology in theatre production.
KA: So I'll hand over the floor to Dramajun Jee
S Ramanujam: Friends, I should thank Mr. Pravin who is responsible for making my presence here, I was not aware of the Theare forum, some few days back he asked me to come here, I was not available to prepare a paper, but I'll share my ideas about the experiment here. I graduated from NSD in 1967 and straight away never returned to Delhi, only confining myself to to Gandhigram village and Kerala park. Only working there in theatre. We.. for us Sankarapillai is a great man in theatre in Kerela, he started the Kallari movement. Natyakallari movement in 1967. Theatre workshop ... the name experiment was added to the theatre not by the organizers but by the audience. They said "they are 'experimenting' in theatre." One simple thing was what they had done there, the first thing I helped Pillai in a production where I took the responsibility for lighting. I simply mounted the lighthing on the top and made some lighting design which I got from my guru
Dasguptajee, and with some indigenous material I conducted some fade-ins and fade-out. People said some very good experiment in lighting. It was new to them.
SR: Actually I experimented there not with the lighting design or something, but with the materials available there, no materials were available there, I tried to use water...dimmer other things...The next one, when you begin to teach.. What was happening at the time was... it is a kind of orientation given to theatres, orientation to the technicians, actors, and orientation to the audience also. That process is now... known as 'experimental theatre'. Because, even the audience begun to call it experimental, and then the producers started to give an apologetic tone, saying this is an experminental production you have to excuse us. It is a convenient thing to apologise in the know..Then slowly what happened... some important things happened. When Shrijandalnayar produced KALI
, for which Arivindan was in charge of set design, and I was in terms of lighting. It failed. It completely failed because SNayar tried to work with the regular actors who worked with the regular commercial troupe there. They were not able to cope up with things like movement,grouping, they were not able to cope up with this kind of things.
SR: Another import... another incident I'll remind here. You know, Karanth had done B...Bhishma(?) with Surabhi, from Andhra. I invited this troupe to Calicut, (?) will know... he was there in Calicut.. When it was presented.... was directed by Karanth. , written by Roy(?) Acted... the presentation was done by Surabhi... the traditional form of theatre in Andhra, famous theatre. Within 15 minutes... except few people everybody left the auditorium.
It's a sad tone... and ummm.. one person, some of the persons observed by that time these Kallari was in Kerela, and some of the in people were able to know something about theatre, something about the presentation everything, they saw good presentation also, because the first drama festival was done Ernakulam by that time. And they were able to see some of the important productions of India. Like Habib Tanvir, Karanth, and... all the great people they were presenting piece there. So.. Someother person came to Karanth and said, Karanthji, we expected more.
SR: Initially there was an interaction between the Karanth and the spectators there, and then Karanth said one word.. 'I like it' I think perhaps we can take it a kind of definition of what is experiment also there... Karanth began by saying 'I may be disappointed you, don't think I have cheated you.' It's a very good thing. I may be disappointed you, don't think I have cheated you. Its important thing. Any attempt with earnest mind and with an earnest approach without cheating is an experiment.That is a definition you can put there. It is true. Because.. as an experiment itself... There is only one group in India with more than 67 members, 33 are females, and that troupe is living by theatre alone, travelling from one drama to other gram. Putting some shows, collecting tickets, and looking within the group, they are inter-married, and have a whole family.
SR: And Karanth said we have to help these people, and try some... slowly they are deteriorating...(?) They are not able to live. Karanth tried to help them, but it was very difficult to make the people cope up with new approaches and other kind of things. Till now they still are some subsidy given by by government. I am sad to say when there was a performance in Hyderabad I went to see, there were 6 people including me.So Theatre is a space, where whatever you do it becomes an expermiment. Every production is an experiment. In between there was so many schemes came interacting with our traditional forms, and we began to use some of the devices, some of the elements techniques from the theatre forms and mixing... some good productions came, it came in a wave and went there.....but there were good theatrical elements discovered by in that moment... but unfortunately there was no further follow up work to collect these theatrical elements and make it a kind of pure theatrical element to be trained to our actors... we can evolve a good acting system out of our traditions.
SR: Now what happened there, some Kallaripayti is given in Kerela, from some thing Manipuri... and these people learn something here and mix it there, and that people learn something mix there and bring here, only some devices in each production there.But .. mingling these kind of forms and making strong exercises for the actors to develop themselves, for the modern theatre practice, this is the challenge, we have to fulfill this challenge. If we do this exercise... I think we have to collectively do this exercise, not independently. In the morning I liked this discussion, I liked him because he given me.. the body inside, the body in space, the body coming out of the (?) value.. why we have to find a common source of elements or way of expressions. Where we have to find a common source or elements or ways of expressing in which the theatre can come together and become a common experience to everybody. Otherwise, some regional devices can be put as the exhibitions, some of the regional devices are taken there and used only as 'exhibits', and people are very much pleased with exhibits and what is there.
SR: Experiments is something that is always going on here. It never ends there. Each and every production is an experiment, means that the director wants to make from the beginning, it means that theatre is a very difficult medium, there are so many sides, each technical aspect is a side itself, the actors, his dress and his make up, are three sides.
(end of tape)
SR: So, it's a good value, 'helping other people is a good value'. Another thing... an experiment, if I call it an experimient, we can call it an experiment which Iam going through now. For the past 7 yrs I'm going thorugh an experiment. The experiment is not an ordinary one. Usually we take traditional forms and use in modern production. That was an exercise done here. But this is a reverse one. When I went for a survey I came across a kind of art form, theatre form presented in a temple, performed once a year in front of a deity. When I went for a kind of research work, they had played a good theme, very revolutionary theme. An oppressed caste bhakka(?) Is giving moksha to a brahmin. That was a theme! But after this, my survey is over, one of the persons came and asked me. Sir you are a theatre person, this is a traditional form done by Devadasis, so, they asked me, can you do something for this. You say you are a modern theatre man, can you do something for this dying thing.
SR: Fortunately Anita (?) helped me. As a sponsor. So now, I am trying to reconstruct this thing, reconstruction of a traditional form. Now they are an audience! In modern production we find there is no audience. But here in temples there is plenty of audience to see a play, but there is no play for them, no good presentation for them. So I have been asked to take this challenge, this is the 8th year I am working on this...because using some device from traditional and use in modern is easy. But find out a proper theatre element, devices to a dead traditional theatre is very difficult, I cannot direct there. I can direct a modern play, but I can not be director in a traditional form. I can only evolve a kind of the form through all the traditional people there. Unfortunately the people available are completely out of touch with the thing, and some two ladies they are 80 and they are also gone, nothing there, again the construction problem again there... so I have to every year, even now this year, collecting something and putting there. Sir, people say this, can you see this, can you check this, he slowly giving one thing, and it is evolved there, added there..I'm happy! Some of the old men there said "good, it looks something which I had seen in my younger days."
SR: So I want to give some kind of examples my life.. in Tamil Nadu.. I can say one thing.. in one play.. Mutthaswamy's play... a man on the chair.. People said you can't present this on stage...then I took this to the village, but when I taken to the village, after the play they immediately said you are ridiculing politicians and the voting system. So... an experiment is an earnestness, an experiment is a challenge, an experiment is an everlasting one, and an experiment is a collection of disappointments, so let us meet disappointments, let us make disappointments, let us not lose the earnestness and the courage, I hope we'll gather together and conduct experiments, extra vision I do not want to present anything. But some interaction can may be happen....Thank you.
Keval Arora: Well think that SR has set the ball rolling in a perfect way, with sticking to 20 minutes... slightly less than 20 - You still had 2 minutes there.
(laughter and friendly exchange between KA and SR)
KA: In a sense what has happened here is that he's challenged the entire notion of experiment.Because in one sense, working in a space which is a cultural, creative field, there is always a problem on a daily basis - whether equipment is working or not, problem solving, etc etc.Is this what would be meant by 'experiment'? Or do we want to push the term harder and restrict it slightly more?
Two points that I think came up from here which maybe we could pick up later on. One is that he's factored in the idea of audience acceptance. And whether an audience is even going to be part of an experiment. Do we see an audiences as a factor when we need to look at our work, as practitioners? I think that's one of the questions in the the.. text box given by the organizers. Is that - When does and experiment get shown to an audience? I thought that's an interesting question.
KA: The other point that you raised, was this business of interface with tradition. And there's been a lot of that going on, whether its good or bad, or done with integrity or not; is that also what we mean by ... would we want to use experiment as a rubric over there?
The final point before I ask Sadanand to come on in, is - I know this is something I've heard very often in Delhi, I think you talked about that in effect, because when people walk out of a performance, or didn't like a performance and they still want to be kind, one of the kindest word they can find forit is to call it an experiment. 'yeh experiment tha'
. And that is such a damning kind of praise or description. One wonders what we were thinking of when we used this word. Just as a synonym for distate, alibi for failure, is that enough to think of when we talk about experiments? Sadanand?...
Sadanand Menon: Thanks Keval, and thanks Ramanujam sir for the very broad opening that you've given us. Frankly, I do feel that the word 'experimentation' is a very tricky word, it's a very slippery word, and has many connotations and many contexts. And obviously even for the people sitting in this room, I don't think there'll be many people who will accept it in a homogenous sense. There'll be many many takes on this, many versions on this. So id like to connect it instead to a question - an important question that Aejaz had raided prior to lunch, which I think in some way, in some peripheral way, will lead us into this question, into this discourse in a more profitable way. And if I were to paraphrase it, a few sentences he used, one was - You have to address questions, you have to ask questions as if things can change. And its a very important premise. To be able to look at anything, whether its in textusal work, whether its in physical work, whether its with work indoors, work outdoors, work with people, work with one's self..the constant daily engagement had to be with the idea of change, transforming, of coming to a new level, maybe travelling a journey and coming back to the same place, and knowing the same place for the first time, as Eliot said, and so on. Its almost an unstated responsibility that one sets out with, in any kind of work.
SM: And then, the other collorary to that question, that... if you take something out, what willl you put in its place. This also, is part of a conjoined responsibility, almost, which you can't run away from. One can be critical, one can be dismissive, one can topple something over. But also, in the process if something that can be replaced, is not being built, you are again creating a vacuum for something similar to replace it.
SM: ...And then the other question that that Aejaz had which I think is very profitable for us, for this session, which is we need to pose new kinds of questions - and in our specific context in an era where India is emerging as the heart of global reaction. Now this is a very slimy situation that you have put all of us into. Because, if India is at the heart of global reaction, then all of us are at the heart of global reaction. Most of our practice, relatively, if they are non-critical are at the heart of global reaction. And then what do you do with it? Is there a space for reistance, is there a space for bypassing this? Is there a space for going head on at it? Is there a space for replacing? Is there even a space to question? Is the space given for questioning, itself not a strategy, but with a global marketising process that has been unleashed where even the experimental, even the critical, even the political and in no time be subsumed into the cultural industry which was talked about earlier in the morning.
SM: So then, where is the space for engagement, resistance, etc. My preoccupation really then is not with the term 'experimentation'. It is useful, categoric... It comes to us from the realm of science in one sense, where in a laboratory you can put things together and play with things and see what comes out of it, maybe you don't have the answers. In one sense its like taking a risk. Some times you know where you are going, sometimes you really have to take the risk. And maybe an explosion happens, something goes completely wrong or maybe like Ramanujam said, people just walk out, you don't have anyone to address. Or sometimes even that becomes a reason why you continue to do the work that you want to do.
SM: Many of you might be familiar with a German dancer, choreographer called Susanna Linki - one of the world's great dancers and choreographers today, who has been to India several times, and conducted ...workshops in many cities in India. The first time she was invited, way back in 1984 at the East West Dance Encounter in Bombay which happened at NCPA - I think Shanta you were there - She had this very interesting thing that she said. She said - 'In the last 12 years I have only given 3 performances. But I work everyday. But in twelve years I've given only 3 performances. And she demonstrated like this - she had some difficulty speaking because she had a hearing impairment. She said, you see, when you work on the middle of stage - and she came like that - mddle of stage - this is very safe. Very safe. But you have to dance here, on the edge. Then what?
SM: There is a whole epistemolgoy to this idea of taking the work somewhere where there is risk involved. You know that there is risk involved. Its not an accident, you know jolly well where you're going. If that knowledge is not there, if that political conciousness is not there, then obviously it just becomes a gimmick. But otherwise, once you know the risk you're taking, then along with it, you're carrying a whole range of politics and political engagements and challenges. So for me, the question really is- what is it, or how is it, or when, does theatre or performance, renew itself? This is a concern of day to day. It is a concern that you cannot take for granted. There are no automatic answers, there are no prescriptive answers. I think I have to say, if this seminar is for example, being counterposed with the '56 The Drama Seminar, then we here in this room will also have to take great care not to get prescriptive ourselves.
SM: Because what the '56 Drama Seminar was very problematic...its entire problem...was its prescriptive tone. For example some of the very superior scholarship that was brought in by this aspect by Dr. V. Raghavan. I mean, the very first presentation of that '56 Drama Seminar was this great scholar from Chennai who knew seven different languages, and he knew all the classics and he knew all the Etihaasas
, and he had read the Vedas you name it...his presentation was of that tone. It was like Father Principle talking. The prescription set the tone. It set the tone for what the Sangeet Natak Akademy later,... what the departments of culture, what the government of India will 'support'. It would support (?) classical, it would of course support the urban, it would support certainly high form of the arts, so on and so forth.
SM: This prescriptive tone is a problematic tone and should really not creep into let's say the tone that we want to initiate here. Even though we want to be critical, the moment we let that criticism get overcast with prescription, i think you are already entering a very dicey area. Becasue we have this rather limiting notion of what ...I find the word 'theatre' itself very problematic. There are many people in this room who say 'we do theatre'...'when I did this, theatre happened'...and so on. I find it problematic. Because it has worked into a segmentation mode. So we can very easily say this is for example political theatre....this is social theatre... this is entertainment theatre...very easy pidgeon holes that have been devised which don't really lead you anywhere.
SM: Since Aejaz mentioned the September 11 event that happened in New York - the two planes with those 24 people going into the 2 World Trade Centres. The it became iconic thing. Across the world, everyone saw it on television screenings and some developed a pathology of it and some sort of...applauded it. I heard from a professor at Pratt, that when the new students come into that school, until that time, until that very day, when the new students entered the Pratt school for their 4 year program in architecture, the very first proposition that would be posed to these new students would be - Which building in New York would you want to demolish? Which is the ugliest building? - And 90 percent of the students would say World Trade Tower Centres. So ok let's get into an exercise to take it out. This was a steady exercise for almost 10 years, until Osama actually did it.
SM: So its quite possible that those plane boys can take some students from there! Anyway-
SM: The interesting thing is, about a week after this, far away in Hamburg, one of the great musicians composers, Franz Von Stockhausan was about to give a public concert which was attended by 2,500 people, a huge very very important public concert. And Stockhausan is known for being an extremely creative composer and conductor. At the appointed time with German efficiency, the orchestra came on stage.... And Stockhausan came and took his seat. He faced the orchestra and then in a few seconds he turned his seat - a rotating chair - he turned it around and faced the audience. For close to 10 minutes he just sat there very quiet. Pin drop silence in the auditorium, everybody is waiting for his music to begin. The conductor is sitting there with his hands down and his baton down.
SM: And then he stands up, he puts his baton down on the chair, and he says 'Ladies and gentlemen, we artists, we struggle and live all our lives, every moment, in order to produce affect. - That's a great word in German - 'affect' - the transformation that happens through being in the presence of a work of art, or in a work of art. We struggle to produce this effect, - affect. And now last week all of you saw on your television screens what happened - in one second they have managed to destroy all that I have been doing, struggling for the last 30 years. I don't think my music is relevant anymore. I think that visual has taken away the affect or anything else that art can give us anymore.' And he put hisbaton down and he walked out.
SM: Now this is the response of an artist to that event. And in one sense, it makes us think - there are things happening around us, there are events happening around us, that are getting larger than what art can do. ...Which are getting certainly more dramatic. A completely ...let's say... a newspaper on the side of international, multinational bourgeois capitalism at its highest stage is an Indian paper called the Economic Times. If you turn the Economic Times to page 2 everyday they have a slug line on top of page 2, which is called, 'The political theatre'. In fact, when it began, I used to work for that newspaper once upon a time, and when that page began, the slug line was- 'For the connoisseur of the Indian political theatre' - that was the entire slug line for that. They shortened it to 'The Indian political theatre' a little later. They understand this. The system understands what drama is all about. Like you said, what spectacle is all about.
SM: The spectacle economy is a very specific economy, that drags in everyting into its maws and then reconstruct and represent it as entertainment! While some people and lost their lives in the September 11....call it whatever you want...the attack on the World Trade Tower centres, for the rest of the world it has been converted into entertainment. Its iconic entertainment. You can't better it. You can't better the affect of it, as Stockhausan said. So its a thing to look at rather closely. And not to get stuck in this...segmentation of past, present, political, non-political...and so on. This whole urban, rural and those kinds of things that we get stuck in. I find that... I don't know whether Sudhu actually meant what he said in his opening address...I would take it with a pinch of salt - when he said 'What relevance does all that has happened in the past, whether its Natyashastra or anything else, what relevance does it have for anyone of us sitting here. We should look only at the last 200 years.' I think that's a position that ..maybe it was your excitement that brought you to it, but I don't think that's where you are.
SM: I think it is a self....what do you say.... decapitating moveto even imagine it. Because, to quote Lenin back to you, 'If you can't pay respect to your past, then you are negating your present'. By paying respect to the past, it doesn't mean worshipping it, it doesn't mean ...not...living with it under your pillow. But it does mean taking certain lessons from it. There are strands to be understood. For example, all origin myths, mythology plays a huge part in all our lives, whether we believe in religion or not - mythology is there everyday. Every single advertisement that is beamed at you is the sheer essence of mythology - eternal youth, to never have to face death, to never to be hungry - these are the messages that advertisments boom at you - how to be the most good looking person in the world, etc - but these are perennial myths. And these myths have travelled a long time in history. And we need to look at those myths, somewhat in the spirit of (?) where we historicise the myths and look at the political content of all those myths, and how we need to (?)
SM: For me for example, origin myths are very interesting. There is a very beautiful origin myth about Bharat Natyam, which many Bharat Natyam school teachers teach. Its not there in the Natyashastra
but its there in the teaching methodologies. Where they say, when after all the first dancer was Shiva, Nataraja on top of Kailasa. But when he danced, he was not alone. He didn't dance to an empty auditorium like Ramanujam said. There were people there, nobody walked out. And who were those people? There was Bharatamuni, who sat and laboriously wrote down the Natyashastra. There were other people. Who else was there... there was Panini, the grammarian who wrote his Vyakatashastra. There was Patanjali who wrote Yoga Sutra. There was Vyaghrapada, the inventor of (?)...the martial arts. All these distinguished persons were sitting there.
SM: Now even if one takes historic reductions, when was Yoga Sutra
, when was Vyakatashastra
written, etc, I think there is a gap of maybe 8 centuries between all this. But mythology puts it all together, which is fantastic, which means that even 2-3 thousand years ago, people were looking at the joineries, looking at those in-between spaces where you don't put theatre and music and body and performance separately, but you look at all of it together, including the space within which you perform and so on and so forth. And that unitary process, if one sort of gives up somewhere halfway, you only give it up with a sense of loss. Because if today the threat that is coming to us ...of global and culture industries which will fragment you, it will break you up - then why are we laos playing into that game?
SM: When are we going to find engines for these joineries? The point is to make those searches, to make those studies, to do that homework. Its ridiculous to be doing theatre in this country without doing that homework. Of course its very romantic to say 'if I have a voice, I have a body, I can do something. I can do a performance.' - Certainly. Or 'I can go to school and learn it.' But that is not enough. I think a different kind of homework needs to be initiated. That is something that the '56 Drama seminar never even spoke about, as to what the material base for, say, doing theatrical training will be all about. The need for this kind of daily testing of youself against certain kinds of yardsticks.
SM: Its become very peculiar today that the theatre community is hardly able to relate to poets, singers, dancers, choreographers, designers, artists...chhut-put
(*little bit) here and there yes...Anuradha Kapur, certainly very good example of someone who tries to bring these people together. So here and there, there are these activities going on. But howcome,... even when Indian visual art is kind of breaking out of all boundaries and crossing all borders, howcome visual artists are not present and contributing to theatre is a question that needs to be asked. How come cinema has gone...all kinds of directions, with all kinds of technologies... Howcome the technological work in theatre is so abysmal today? These are questions we need to ask ourselves. And...
SM: ...when these questions are posed, what is of the past is useless. I'm trying to say...I'm going to take Aejaz...remember the haqueem
who told you how to masticate 32 times before you swallow,... these are old ideas. And old ideas have very interesting new meanings. And those new meanings will be alert to... the point is, are we alert to it. Almost all the old texts in whichever tradition you take, whether its Hinudism, Buddhism, Islam, wherever, the specific training programs within it- the specific not training...how do you say,... the expressive forms within it, one great let's say historic baggage that has come down the ages is I think the ability to chant. You travel across this continent, very seldom you go to any pockets, any caste groups, any tribal groups where people don't know how to chant.
SM: Chanting has become something like a part of the breathing system. And its fascinating how its transmitted from generation to generation, or certain communities who practice it as a (?). How come this doesn't come into theatre practice? Its a very very poerful tool. I think we need to always be able to borrow that which is of use and power to many of these... When the seminar began yesterday, the very first act that happened was the Tirugata group sitting here and Vidya leading them with 'Aalikam gholum yasya' (*some chant) So why are you chanting that? What is the relevance of that to the next 200 years let's say? I think its extremely relevant to be able to see Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Satvika all together in our times. It cannot be insularly separated, or surgically put aside as if one will deal with this first and then we'll go to that. Its not going to happen. I think that's a methodological mistake that we often tend to do.
SM: I remember seeing the fantastic production of G. Shankar Pillai's play called 'Kunti' in Bombay directed by no less than Kumar Shahane who is a film maker, he's not a theatre director. But Kumar Shahane had for his actress Alaknanda Samarth. Alaknanda Samarth unfortunately lives in London and teaches at the Royal School of Drama and is lost to theatre artists in this country. But if there is one thing that Alaknanda Samarth teaches, it is how to use your recitative voice. And in that production, the way she used that ...its a line from the play, it was translated from Malayalam into Hindi, just that word pratha
- that way it opens out....everybody felt this electricity going through their bodies, because it touches you, it catches you. And I think its very important to recover those voices.
SM: We have for example in Tamil Nadu the entire (?)Dravid, the dalit community, which almost one can say has lost its voice. But they have compensated by recovering their percussion, by recovering rythm. You cannot have a more extraordinary rythmic form anywhere across the length and breadth of this country, than that gaana
style that they use. The extraordinary vigour, the pulse-beating vigour of that drumming - it has not come into theatre practice. But its there in every single box office, chart busting film tamil film song today. That's the biggest hit and its not just here, its in Japan, in Germany - last year for the Berlin film festival they were singing to gaana
songs from Tamil films. Its unbelievable. And ,i>bhangra...bhangra from there is...disco bhangra.
SM: What I'm trying to say is that these are elements that are very important. And to continue on that line, obviously theatre has been poached upon, ...its one of the mid....ruptures that happened somewhere in the 1950s where uptil a point, theatre seemed to be on a terrific high where on the high crest or peak, theatre was seen to be in different parts of the subcontinent, opening out and going to be able to do differen things. And suddenly you find that there's a shutters-down. And that's because at one given juncture a large number - over a 100 people - people whose names mattered, whose words mattered, suddenly one fine day vacated theatre and went into cinema. That's an extraordinary story of how that happened. The gain of cinema, has been the loss of theatre.
SM: I've not been able to see a single theatre production in India which can be ....let alone remembered, but even re-invent the lighting techniques for example that V. K. Murthi the cinematographer used in all those Guru Dutt films. How do ... more simple techniques?
Which theatre seminar in India has invited V. K. Murthi for a presentation...for having a demonstration on lighting technology? No, not yet. Which theatre seminar ever thought of inviting Bansi Chandragupta, the great set designer for Satyajit Ray to tell us how he created those villages and those town streets for Ray?
SM: So this segmentry insolarity that crept in has created enormous losses for potentialities in Indian theatre. Maybe this is a stage where we need to travel that road back a little, make some new connections - that's the most distinguishing feature of the past 8 or 9 years, since Prithvi Theatre has started this initiative, has been this need to connect. Need to speak as a collective. Need to find new hand-holding strategies, and I think this circle then needs to expand outside of theatre going to mainstream spaces where much more than experimentation, in fact strong creative work has been done in several other disciplines - and build this whole thing together.
I'll just take 2 minutes more...
SM: I just want to make this final concluding point, that often some of the most interesting and diverse things happen at the junctures of overlapping ecosystems, like at an estuary where a river is meeting a sea, or a lake is going into a river, and so on and so forth. You will find some of the most extraordinary diversity of creativity, natural creativity. And in a large sense, it seems to happen like that also in cultural work. There are some fairly historic moments where these kinds of things happen. But I don't have time to expand on that. I just take a couple of examples...
SM: One great example is the dancer and choreographer Uday Shankar. All of you are familiar with the name Uday Shankar. I'm sure there will be many who are not familiar ...that's also a sign of the times, that Uday Shankar will not mean anything in a theatre seminar. Well so be it. But Uday Shankar, when he stopped his performing tours in Europe, returned to India and set up a training centre in Almora. He did not call it a dance training centre. He called it a training centre where there was everybody - there was people from Kathak, from Kathakali, from Bharatnatyam, from theatre, from scene-writing, from set-making, everybody was there - his idea was to make a pan India form. A very romantic, very idealistic idea. Within 4 years, a lot of ruptures, a lot of friction and the whole experiment had to be abandoned.
SM: Around 1946 someone told him 'Why are you struggling and breaking your bones like this trying to make a thatrical production? It is so much easier in the modern cinematic form. Why don't you make a film out of it?' He migrated with his family to Chennai, bought a house there, which currently happens to be the headquarters of the CPI there...(laughter)...started working in Gemini studios making this film called 'Kalpana'. Took 2 and a half years, made 3 and a half hours of unbearably bad film...you can't sit through it! But if you are able to sit through it, there are terrific gems in it, fantastic moments when things happen. As a cinema it failed, bombed. It finished him financially. All those things happened. However, and this is very important, those 2 and a half years he spent at Gemini studios in Chennai became the foundational moment, the birth of the extraordinary dancers you see on the commercial film screens today.
SM: That very same year he finished 'Kalpana', I think in April or May of 1948. In November 1948 a huge film called 'Chandralekha' is released with this fantastic dance sequence of 58 drums and 400 dancers dancing on top of the drums. Tamil cinema has never moved back. South Indian cinema has never looked back on that moment where that entire contribution of dance to a screen was Uday Shankar's. And that's a juncture. We need to look at that. We need to understand how these things happen. This dance was lost to stage.
SM: I feel so terrible when I see an actor move from this end of the stage to that end of the stage...I feel terrible. Why do they have to walk? Why is it so difficult in this country to learn how to walk? There are 50 different gattis
and 60 different Chaalis
and so on. Why can't you learn it? What is so difficult? Naturalism is not being natural. Naturalism is a form. If one doesn't know how to attain that, then you are in too serious trouble?
SM: So basically my point, the other extraordianry moment that happened with chanting and with song was with Kanhaiyalal's (?) which I'm sure many of you know. The way he used just the sounds, the singing voices of people of Manipur to create this fantastic manifesto against colonialism. And till date it remains a unique kind of a work of its kind. It was not an experiment. It was a work with full knowledge of what it was doing.
SM: So I think I'll just quickly list the 8 overlapping moments and then finish. So these overlapping ecosystems that I have kind of very closely worked out - its not a theory, its just a thing ..an engine to help us reflect and think.
1 is the moment between the meeting of Hinduism and Buddhism way back, which led to a whole lot of fantastic plays. All the great Sanskrit and Pali plays of that period which have never been replicated or bettered. I think this will remain a cache of the good work that goes on.
SM: (2) The meeting, the overlap between Hinduism and Islam that led to Sufi and Bhakti...and which again, largely is a sentiment that is being brought on stage once in a way, but essentially, the spate of it has not been explored. Only when there seems to be a moment of communal tension, then you say 'oooh Sufi sufi, bhakti bhakti...' This needs to be looked at a little more seriously.
SM: (3) The meeting between the juncture betwen the feudal and the colonial, which we normally hold in our reforms. Reforms that have really not been looked at in theatre. (4) The meeting of the juncture between the colonial and the national, which certainly inaugurated an era of nationalist plays, anti-imperialist plays. (5) Then the meeting between the traditional and the modern, which is in the 20th century which released a whole bunch of what we call today 'counterfeit identities'. Something like what Suddhu also indicated in his paper, the SNA experiments and the Ford experiments and so on. A whole counterfeit identity is coming through theatre.
SM: (6) The meeting between the folk and the contemporary, or the rural and the urban, which today has become the brand for commoditisation. This is going to be the export product that India is going to send out. And finally, and for me the most important, which I think the panel in the morning kind of raised, but hasn't been sufficiently discussed - the juncture between acting and the body. Theatre is all about acting. It has very little to do with the body. I'm sorry to say, the body has been evacuated from the stage. Acting has come in. Once we understand how to negotiate this, that's when we enter... theatre and politics.