ITF Not The Drama Seminar: Conversation - Sunder Sarukkai & Gopal Guru
Duration: 00:24:06; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 14.813; Saturation: 0.191; Lightness: 0.341; Volume: 0.254; Words per Minute: 148.714
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.
Conversation - Sunder Sarukkai & Gopal Guru
SS: Gopal, I think now we have spent 3 days here and I think yesterday was in interesting session we had, certain discussions on Locales, notions of experiments and so on. So we are right in a sense in the middle of what's happening, and its always good to take a perspective from the middle. So what are the important themes that you think have arisen over the last 2 days? Both of us are in some sense outside theatre, but we are also interested in theatre and the philosophy and the sociology of it. So in your sense, what are the immediate concerns?
GG: I think first of all I must say that this is a welcome initiative in as much as it really raises some points about the relevance of theatre. As I can see this concern was raised from the very beginning at the Keynote address, t hat theatre is facing some problems in the age of globalisation. Other forms of communication are taking over and over-shadowing theatre. To that extent I agree with them and I share their concerns. There is a need to revive theatre as a form of, say for example, intervention, going into explorations of the different forms that contain some academic strength and all. To that extent I would go with this.
But then mapping and locales- mapping itself is a very very egalitarian act. And those who are doing mapping, they need to be very sensitive. They have to see that everything is captured into that mapping. Mapping has to be very broad. It shouldn't exclude some forms of theatre.
SS: Do you think in what has happened, have there been any specific exclusions?
GG: There have been, to my mind, some exclusions which are very prominent. For example there was marginal mention of Feminist theatre, but there is absolutely, till today, there is no mention of other forms of theatre- the Tribal, the Dalit,...other such excluded marginalised groups. It doesn't mean that they are not doing anything. For example, Dalit theatre in Maharashtra has been very very active- not today, but they have been ver yactive during the 70s and the 80s. But there is no mention of these. And I'm not asking for any kind of accomodation of it, but if you are doing some kind of very democratic mapping of theaotre, you have to be aware of these things.
SS: So what, I'm sure this is a question which is part of our discussion as a larger country today- When you say 'Dalit' t heatre are you trying to emphasise speicifc characteristics of it?
GG: Yeah. As we are discussing in informal conversation, theatre by itself is not a particularistic act, it has a universal promise. In the sense that like intellectuals, actors also are universal. Their role is universal. That's why I think we can't claim that they are doing something particular. By definition, their very engagement, the concern, the graphs, - in theory that is supposed to be universal.
SS: Let me just clarify- what you mean by universal is the fact that every role which is there in a particular production can be done by anybody?
GG: A role can be done by anybody, but there is a condition to it. I would say, is it necessary to be a dalit for performing about dalit company? Likewise. But your claim to act on (?) of somebody is not automatically established. It has to be proved through a commitment to 2 things: one is truth and the meaning to be drawn from that truth. To give an example, if globalisation is a truth,- farmer suicide and poverty and inequality is a truth at least by globalisation. Though whoever captures this truth, it doesn't matter from which caste, gender, religion he or she belongs to. And the meaning to be drawn from this truth is what kind of situation is to be produced through this truth.
SS: But Gopal, for me the only problem is that sometimes this whole notion of 'truth' becomes very problematic. Particularly when talking about societies and human experience. How do I capture truth? If we use the model from natural science about truth and so on- some notion of correspondence with the world- is one way of looking at it. Now if your looking at social truth and social fact, who really access to that truth? Or whatever, let's say a Dalit experience, or a woman experience...
GG: Ya, there is an adrological- sorry to make use of this word- the truth is always relative. But ultimately there are relational truths.
SS: OK. So truth is relative. You could say truth is contextual- I'm not pushing the relative part. But let's say context-..
GG: Then I would say the truth which is ontologically tracing, suppose because of globalisation and poverty, I am the most badly affected person, then I would really think that globalisation is something which is producing these conditions of poverty and that's the truth. And the meaning is that we have some kind of new imperialism. That's one way of putting it.
GG: To that extent, I would be in a position to access that truth. Because I am ontologically immediately affected by that truth.
SS: OK. So let's assume- this is as have also been writing a lot about it earlier, in a larger context about who has a right to talk about something- if you leave that question aside because that's a very large issue- Even if I grant you the fact that there is something called 'truth', and only certain agents have the capacity to access that truth, it still leads us to a more difficult problem, which is that theatre, or art in general, is not interested in representing truth. Its primary purpose is not to capture truth. You could say for example, even in documentary films and fictional films- you could say that in documentary films, if you think they are able to refute this also,... Well let's say in documentary they supposedly capture the real state of affairs in the world, in that case I can understand. But suppose art, which wants to take a position, that it has to have the autonomy and the freedom to speak about anything, because it says: I'm not interested in the truth, I'm not interested in telling you 'this is what happened', its for you to do whatever it is- I am just, let's say one model, is I'm just expressing and I'm just responding to it. So how does one...
GG: The thing is I will then have to qualify this. There is a purpose to arts, to films, to painting, to theatre. And that purpose is actually to intervene, and intervene at 2 levels as I was mentioning earlier: one is the pure political. Those people who are in question historically, they would not really adopt this form just for the sake of deriving ascetic pleasure. That may be one, but that should be a marginal concern.
GG: The more important would be to really use this form to really cultivate and motivate political energies towards a desirable change. And therefore I even find that there is a purpose to this kind of intervention. Otherwise autonomy ofcourse is important in terms of reproducing different formats... but ultimately there is a moral responsibility to those who are doing arts, to really orient(?)...otherwise whole life would become formless, purposeless.
SS: OK. But this leads us into greater pitfalls because ...I mean if somebody is learning music, for example, there doesn't have to be an instrumental view, or egalitarian of all art. But I think what you're saying is also important. So there are 2 ways one can look at it. One is to say you would be challenging this old cliche of 'Art for art's sake'- that is not possible. Or two, you have to respond to 'what is art'. So perhaps when you put this burden-...let me put it this way- would you expect similar constraints on music or painting? Would you think, would you want to say, that painting should also be socially relevant?
GG: At some level, not all the time.
SS: Why I'm saying this, is you might then want to differentiate between theatre and art. So probably what you're asking in this way, is ask the question- Is theatre art at all? Or, is it art in the sense that music and painting are seen as elements of art?
GG: I think that there is a difference between painting and ..... also I think I would say, music itself is also socially or politically constituted. For example, if you're singing, the tonality itself is politically constituted. Because one form of singing for example, the Baithi(Paithi(?), as Sadanand mentioned yesterday about this Anamika, its a very soft and toned down...So that is one way....so you're already reasoning out your emotion through that. Reasoning out is happening.
SS: The problem is 'reasoning', because to them, its expressing.
GG: For want of some better word, I'm using reasoning. Its toning down actually, the level, the pitching of a voice is low. Whereas in terms of the revolutionary, the Ballad forms, and other Shayari forms for example, there would be high pitched voice, only to invoke some kind of necessary response from among the audience.
SS: Sure...No no...I think the question is not whether art can function as a social agent. There's no doubt that you can use music to do these things. The question is- Should all art be oriented towards functional purposes? Or in a sense I could think of Qawwali, or Nusrat, or other kinds of poems ....singing, which is not necessarily oriented towards social action.
GG: No I'm not saying that you should all the time be worried about these things.
SS: The reason I'm asking is because I think from what you say, there is a lesson that we can draw, in a roundabout way, which is you're putting an extra responsibility on theatre, which you don't want to put on art. Would that be a fair way of saying it?
GG: Absolutely, absolutely. Because the formk of theatre is, in temrs of its location, in terms of its constituency, in terms of ability to communicate efficiently and very meaningfully, its far better. Because if it is a strict theatre, you have easy access, easy communication is established. But in painting and in different forms of art, you require a special ability, a special technique of socialising to make sense of it, if you want ot make sense of it. If you son't want to make sense of it, its fine.
SS: OK, so you are actually differentiating on the fact that theatre is not such a specialised activity, specialised art, technical...
GG: Ya, because there are 2 ways of looking at it. Everyone is acting.
SS: Yes I totally subscribe to that, believe in that. We're always acting.
GG: Everyone is acting. There's one instance of acting that keeps happening....
SS: We are acting now...
GG: Yes, we are acting now, at the moment... There is also second level of experience of acting. What I do is, I act through a very conscious adaptations of some forms. And so there is a double experience of acting.
GG: Therefore I think the double acting has a purpose of making the activity very meaningful. Double acting will....in Indian theatre particularly, in Dalit theatre, you have a notion of Double acting- double experience of acting. What is that?- First you are acting, through a system, through the atrocities that you are acting, you are not a passive spectator when you are acting all the time. Second, in order to really take it around, you also are extracting that acting. We are extracting the experience in acting. You are giving a double treatment to it, thereby enriching the very content and also the form of theatre.
SS: But you think in non-dalit theatre such a double acting doesn't happen?
GG: Ya. Double may happen because they also have their own experiences. Experiences are different, as you can see. There is differential experience. So double acting would happen. But if an upper caste one wants to act about dalit issues, that will be singular...single acting.
SS: That's not the double layers...?
GG: Ya, because there is no double. Because you know the experience part, the first immediate, the acting is only mediated, which is important for the larger ...
SS: I think this is a very fascinating point, because particularly in theatre, challenges us, much more than any other discipline we talked about earlier. Theatre challenges this because it is based on the belief that any human individual can enter into any role if appropriately trained. So this whole system of getting into the actors, becoming an actor, -you know, you actually take over, rituals, practices and so on... So there is that idea. I don't think... it may not work all the time, effectively, but there is this belief I think in theatre. So I don't know if it offers a possibility that an upper caste person can actually act out a dalit experience...
GG: I would say that there are different ways, this is more a epistemological(?) question, and I would say, epistemological questions I think the one who is a victim is also an actor, at that level. He is better placed in terms of accessing that reality...
SS: ...which is true...
GG: ....in the question of phenomenological becomes important... who is undergoing that particular experience, can enrich the theory, than the one who is really an outsider trying to make sense of it with the methodological tools avaiable to him.
SS: From what you say, then all the actors will have a serious problem. They won't have any job to do, because they cannot act Shakespeare for example, and theatre will have to close down, because without Shakespeare there is no .... You know these guys will have to say 'I cannot act or redo some other character in the 15th century.' One cannot actually act out anything which we are not.
GG: See, there are 2 rules: One is doing the role for personal satisfaction. Just to satisfy an ascetic sense, you are trying to do theatre because you want to feel personally gratified. There is also a social purpose to it. There are 2 rules as I mentioned- personal interest and also the social interest.
GG: There has to be a congruence between the 2- the personal and the social. Actually you are the part of a larger social reality, if you're insulating yourself from the larger reality and not making any statement on that, I think there is a moral problem with that, ethical and moral problem.
SS: That's a interesting way of putting it.
GG: So while I don't deny the personal, in terms of the survival, I will not object to people playing or performing different roles. But at the same time I would also expect them, or him, or her, to relate to social reality, and to extend that he or she is available for making a dent on the larger. And that can be done only through... developing an ability to relate your form to the larger social issues.
SS: I understand. I think this is something which the theatre groups have resisted, but what you are trying to remind us is that, in all acts which are part of a public or social consumption- which are accessible to a non-private audience, there is already an inherent responsibility.
GG: Its just that one cannot say, neither would one like to say; 'this is just my work and I'm not saying anything.' The point is it becomes a product which is accessible to the public- whatever small size public it is- then you are saying that there is a responsibility inherently involved in that. This is not for us to debate here, but is also for the artist to respond. But I have to say the same thing about writers, because public works or written work is accessible. What is the notion of responsibility- self responsibilty- you are not talking about the...the notion here is the self resposibility.
SS: Its very Gandhian.
SS: ...self responsibility to stop myself from saying certain things or acting certain roles. What you're basically saying, is an actor should take self responsibility to choose what roles he or she thinks are really which he/she wants to do. That every person is not capable of doing all roles, and that they have to take a ...
GG: It may not be utilitarian view or useful to society -no- because its not my being useful or not useful. I Am involed in that particular problem.
GG: It is a part of my faith. And so I am equally responsible to fully understand it and t ranscend it. That's the whole thing. The dalit theatre has come up because of the question that it is my responsibility to understand it, comprehend it, and act upon it through theatre. But that is a limited view. I thin it should ...the dalit theatre should also move away from this kind of an immediate sphere of imagination and acting, into the larger sphere of imagination, which really constitutes the larger reality of which dalit is a part of.
SS: In a sense ofcourse, you do not want to preclude dalits doing Shakespeare.
SS: They should have access to it because if we use this arguement then he cannot. But what you're trying to say is you incorporate Shakespeare within the dalit consciousness in presenting.
GG: ...Ya...this is a bad way of putting it, very crude way of putting it... people also consume some images of which they are the victims ideally. This happens. For example in dalit theatre, the folk theatre, I would call it a 'mudhouse' theatre actually- they would always bring in the plots on the Sanskritic language or the upper caste,...and they would mimic, they would ridicule at it, and the full audience would burst into laughter and that's how they would. So it is always possible to do that. There is also a politics involved in this, the cultural politics involved. But then that is one way of looking at it. They should transcend that.
GG: That's my vehemet belief.
SS: I think thats an important point that you have placed. We tend to look at- and that's something I felt yesterday, when you began- we tend to break up Indian theatre, just like the nation is broken up.
SS: We first say that Indian theatre is not about centralisation, but then throughout we're talking about Bengali theatre, Kannada theatre, Marathi theatre, Manipuri theatre. The linguisttic division of the country is the way in which we are linguistically divided in the theatre community. But what I think we should be doing is looking and breaking up or categorising Indian theatre in terms of styles. Styles which could characterise different theatres, from different languages, but that follow a certain style. A larger question of style.
SS: ANd I think perhaps in that sense, dalit theatre is a style. It is a style which has its own constraints, commitments, aesthetics and so on, is performed by certain group of people and so on, but that I think makes it less of a ghetto-isation problem...
GG: Ya...the big problem that one has to raise is that issues of universal nature or universal implication, they implicate the other, the adversary ... and therefore there is a will to communicate dialogue with the other adversary... how do you do it? You require a very free frank autonomous wide platform, public sphere. Because the adverse is available in that. For example a Gowda or a Patil will not come to Dalit-wada to watch what is happening here. Because he or she is implicated into it. The space becomes absolutely important.
SS: And whether the other areas are available to the dalits to perform.
GG: Ya. These are the issues which need to be given due consideration and attention, which is not happening I suppose. I am not very sure how many of them are really ready to put up that show that ...even on Ambedkar. Its a very interesting thing to look at the commercial and the market and the social reasonings and limitations behind this. Why did the theatres not show that movie? Or why is it not widely available? Why it can't become the film available for every theatre. They should latch on to it. But it doesn't happen. Likewise the dalit theatre reamins the dalit theatre.....or whatever its called in Karnataka, but Dalit-wada or (?)-wada, that has a purpose, and I'm going to speak about it.
SS: I'm glad you will be raising this issue. As far as the larger theatre seminar is concerned, it broadens some of the questions we've been talking about. And hopefully down the line we will have a more active engagement.
GG: Revisiting has to be done very ...in a more historicised manner, if I'm permitted to use that word. Give equal treatment to all theatres and don't escape anything. So that the movement itself becomes richer in terms of democratic content and form.
SS: I think the point that you are making about responsibilty for expression, that there is no freedom of expression in the sense, is a misunderstand. Autonomous resposibility adds a different way in which we look at theatre and what theatre should be.
So thank you so much.
GG: It was a pleasure to talk to you.
SS: I'm sure we look forward to more happening in the next...
GG: Let's see...OK...Thank you...
SS: Thank you..