A HISTORY OF INDIAN ENGLISH DRAMA
BY DR. RAM SHARMA
SENIOR LECTURER IN ENGLISH
J.V.P.G COLLEGE, BARAUT, BAGHPAT , U.P.
India has rich heritage of Drama from the ancient times .Drama in India begins its journey with the Sanskrit plays.A.L.Basham , a prominent historian , expresses his views in this manner ``The origin of Indian theatre is still obscure .It is certain , however that even in the Vedic period dramatic performances of some kind were given , and passing references in early resources point to the enaction at festivals of religious legends , perhaps only in dance and mime``1 Indian traditions are preserved in the "Natyasastra",. the oldest of the texts of the theory of the drama,.This play claims for the drama divine origin and a close connection with the sacred Vedas themselves. Origin of Indian English drama can be traced to the ancient rules and seasonal festivities of the Vedic Aryans. The dramatic performances of those times mainly included such events like depiction of events of daily life accompanied by music. Some members of the tribe acted as if they were wild animals and some others were the hunters. Those who acted as animals like goats, buffaloes, reindeers and monkeys were chased by those, playing the roles of hunters and a mock hunt was enacted. In such a crude and a simple way was drama performed during the age of the Vedic Aryans. Later, different episodes from The Ramayana [ Ram Leela], The Mahabharata and The Bhagvadgita were chosen and dramatized in front of the people. This kind of performance is still very popular in India especially during the time of Dussehra, when the episode of the killing of Ravana is enacted out in different parts of country.
There are refrences to drama in Patanjali's Vyakarna Mahabhashya, as well as Vatsyayan's Kamasutra, Kautilya's Arthasastra and Panini's Ashtabhyam. Thus the origin of Sanskrit drama dates back to 1000 B. C. All literature in Sanskrit is classified into Drishya (that can be seen on exhibited) and the Sravya (that can be heard or recited). While poetry in all forms can be said to fall under the later, drama falls under the formes. Drama in Sanskrit literature is coverded under the broad umbrella of rupaka' which means depiction of life in its various aspects represented in forms by actors who assumes various roles.
A `rupaka' has ten classifications of which `Nataka' (drama), the most important one, has come to mean all dramatic presentations. The Sanskrit drama grows around three primary constituents namely Vastu (plot), Neta (hero) and Rasa (sentiment). The plot could be either principal (adhikarika) or accessory (prasangika). The former concerns the primary characters of the theme and pervades the entire play. The later serves to the further and supplement the main topic and relates to subordinate characters other than the chief ones. This is further divided into banner (pataka) and incident (parkari). The former is a small episode that presents, describes, improves or even hinders the primary plot to create added excitement. The latter involves, minor characters. The Neta or the hero, according to the definition prescribed by the Natyashastra, is always depicted as modest (Vineeta), sweet tempered (Madhura ) sacrificing (Tyagi), capable (daksha), civil in talks (priyamvada), belonging to a noble family (taptaloka), pure (suchi) articulate (vagmi), consistent (Sthera), young (yuva) endowed with intellect (buddhi) enthusiasm (utsaha), good memory (Smrthi) aesthetics (Kola), pride (maana) and is brave (Shura), strong (dridha) , energetic (tejaswi), learned (pandita) and pious (dharmika). The main category in which the hero of Sanskrit drama normally falls is the `Dheerodatta' that is he who is brave and sublime at the same time.
Bharata's Natyasastra is the most significant work on Indian poetics and drama. In it there is description in detail about composition, production and enjoyment of ancient drama, a wealth of information of types of drama, , stage equipment, production and music . According to the legend, when the world passed from the golden age to the silver age and people became addicted to sensual pleasures and jealousy, anger, desire and greed filled their hearts. The world was then inhabited by gods, demons, yakshas, rakshasas, nagas and gandharvas. It was the gods among them who led them by Lord Indra, approached god Brahma and requested him thus -
"Please give us something which would not only
teach us but be pleasing both to eyes and ears'.2
Bharata ascribed a divine origin to drama and considered it as the fifth Veda. Its origin seems to be from religious dancing. According to Bharata, poetry (kavya) dance (nritta), and mime (nritya) in life is play (lila) produce emotion (bhava) but only drama (natya) produces flavour (rasa). The drama uses the eight basic emotions of love, joy (humour), anger, sadness, pride, fear, aversion and wonder attempting to resolve them in the ninth holistic feeling of peace. Thus, when the dramatic art was well comprehended, the natyaveda was performed on the occassion of the celebration of Lord Indra's victory over the Asuras and danavas. In the Natyashastra there is a verse in its sixth chapter which can be quoted as Bharat Muni's own summary of his dramatic theory.
"The combinition called natya is a mixture of rasa, bhavas, ,vrittis, pravrittis, siddhi, svaros, abhinayas, dharmis instruments, song and theatre - house'.3
The most celeberated dramatists of the ancient era are Ashwaghosh, Bhasa, Shudraka, Kalidas, Harsha, Bhavabhuti, Visha-khadatta, Bhattanarayana, Murari and Rajeshkhora, who enriched Indian theatre with their words like Madhya-Mavyaayoda, Urubhangam, Karnabharan, Mrichkatikam, Abhigyana Shakuntalam, Malankagnimitram, Uttar Ramacharitam, Mudrarak, Shasa, Bhagavadajjukam, Mattavilasa etc.The supreme achievement of Indian Drama undoubtedly lies in Kalidasa who is often called the Shakespeare of India. The Sanskrit drama flourished in its glory till the 12th century in India when the Mohammedan intrusion shifted the Sanskrit stage. But till the 15th century, plays of Sanskrit tradition were performed on stage in Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra, Utter Pradesh and Gujarat but thereafter, Indian dramatic activity almost ceased due to foreign invasions on India.
The beginnings of Loknatya (People' Theatre) are noticed in every state of India from the 17th century onwards. We see in Bengal "Yatrakirtaniya' "Paol' and "Gaan' in Madhya Pradesh "Mach' in Kashmir "bhandya thar' and in Gujarat the forms were "Bhavai' and "Ramleela' in Northern India. There were "Nautanki, Bhand, Ramleela and Rasleela' in Maharashtra "Tamasha' in Rajasthan "Raas' and "Jhoomer' in Punjab "Bhangra' and "Song' while in Aasam it was "Ahiyanat' and "Ankinatya' in Bihar it was " "Videshiya' and "Chhari' in West Bengal and Bihar.
The rise of the modern drama dates back to the 18th century when the British Empire strengthened its power in India.As Krishna Kriplani points out , the modern Indian drama `Owed its first flowering to the foreign grafting.`With the impact of Western civilization on Indian life , a new renaissance dawned on Indian arts including drama. Futhermore ,English education gave an impetus and a momentum to the critical critical study of not only Western drama , but classical Indian drama .English and Italian dramatic troupes toured India and performed many English plays, mainly Shakerpeare`s, in cities like Bombay and Madras .The Portuguese brought a form of dance drama to the West coast. A Russian music director , Rebedoff , is saidto have produced the first modern drama in Calcutta towards the end of 18th century.Thus , the Western impact awakened `` the dormant , critical impulse in the country to bring Indians face to face with new forms of life and literature, and to open the way for a fruitful cross-fertilization of ideas and forms of expression``2 In 1765 one Russian drama lover Horasin Lebdef and Bengali drama lover Qulokhnath had staged two English comedies Disgaig and Love Is The Best Doctor. But the real beginning was in 1831 when Prasanna Kumar Thakur established "Hindu Rangmanch' at Calcutta and staged Wilson's English Translation Of Bhavabhuti's Sanskrit drama Uttar Ramacharitam. Social drama of Girish Chanda Ghosh, historical dramas of D.L. Roy and artistic dramas of Rabindranath Tagore (Muktadhara, Chandalika) continued to reach upto the stage of realistic dramas during the period of the Worst - ever famines of Bengal and the second World War. In 1852-1853, the famous Parsi Theatre was launched in Bombay which influenced the whole country in no time. Postagi Pharmji was the pioneer in establishing the Parsi Theatre company in India. Many new theatre experiences were brought up on stage during Parsi Theatre' evolution in India. On the other hand, the amateur theatre also developed with the works of Bharatendu Harishchandra, acclaimed as the father of Hindi drama.
Indian English drama was started when Krishna Mohan Banerji wrote "The Persecuted' in 1837. The real journey of Indian English Drama begins with Michael Madhusudan Dutt's `Is This Called Civilization`. which appeared on the literary horizon in 1871. Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo, the two great sage - poets of India, are the first Indian dramatists in English . R.N. Tagore wrote primarily in Bengali but almost all his Bengali plays are available to us in English renderings. His prominent plays are Chitra, The Post Office, Sacrifice, Red Oleanders, Chandalika, Muktadhara, Natir Puja, The King of the Dark Chamber, The Cycle of Spring, Sanyasi and The Mother' Prayer. These plays are firmly rooted in the Indian ethos and ethics in their themes, characters and treatment.R.K Ramaswamy finds a depth and gravity of purpose in his dramatic art`` --- more than anything else , he has shown the way both in respect of ideas as well of methods , by which the soul of India could be realized and revealed in the realm od dramatic creation and representation`` Sri Aurobindo is the prominent dramatist in Indian English Drama.
He wrote five complete blank verse plays besides his six incomplete plays. His complete plays are Perseus the Deliverer, Vasavadutta, Radoguna, The Viziers of Bassora and Eric and each of these plays is written in five acts. His incomplete plays are The Witch of Ilni, Achab and Esarhaddon, The Maid and the Mill, The House of Brut, The Birth of Sin and Prince of Edur. The length of these incomplete plays varies from one scene of fifty two lines to three acts.
The notable feature of Sri Aurobindo’s plays is that they depict different cultures and countries in different epochs, ringing with variety of characters, moods and sentiments. Perseus the Deliverer is grounded on the ancient Greek myth of Persues, Vasavadutta is a romantic tale of ancient India. Rodoguna is a Syrian romance, The Viziers of Bassora is a romantic comedy which takes us back to the days of the great Haroun al Rashid, while Eric is a romance of Scandinavia, a story of love and war between the children of Odin and Thor.In Aurobindo we find romance, heroic play, tragedy, comedy, farce. Aurobindo is much influenced by Elizabethan drama in matters of plot construction and characterisation . The use of the English blank verse is flawless in Aurobindo and in the right tune with the characters and situations. We also find the impact of Sanskrit playwrights like Bhasa, Kalidas and Bhavabhuti on Aurobindo., as Dr. K. R. S. Iyenger observes,
“But all five plays are stepped in poetry and romance, recalling the spirit and flavour of the distinctive dramatic type exemplified in different ways by Bhasa, Kalidas and Bhavabhuti. Though, of course all have Aurobindonian undertones.”4
Another playwright who has made significant contribution in the growth of Indian English drama is Harindranath Chattopadhay. He started his career as playwright with Abu Hassan (1918). There are seven verse plays to his credit published under the title of Poems and Plays (1927) and all the seven plays are based on the lives of Indian saints. His Five Plays (1929) are written in prose . The Window and The Parrot deal with the lives of the poor. Whereas the Sentry’s Lantern is a symbolic display of the expectation of the advent of a new age for the downtrodden people. Sidhartha: Man of Peace is an adventurous effort to dramatise Budha’s life.
The next great name is A.S.P. Ayyar who wrote six plays. In the Clutch of The Devil (1926) is his first play and the last one is The Trial of Science for the Murder of Humanity.. P. A. Krishnaswamy is also a name in the history of Indian English drama whose fame rests chiefly on his unusual verse play The Flute of Krishna.
Another dramatic voice on the Indian literary scene that demands attention is that of T.P. Kailasam. He wrote both in English and Kannada. Though Kailasam is regarded as the father of modern Kannada drama, his genius finds its full expression in his English plays such as The Burden (1933), Fulfilment (1933), The Purpose (1944), Karna (1964) and Keechaka (1949). He has a real genius and love for the drama G. S. Amur holds a very high opinion about T.P. Kailasam. Amur rightly remarks------
“A talented actor who appeared on the amateur as well as the professional stage, he brought to the writing of drama an intimate knowledge of the theatre. It is for this reason that his plays whether in Kannada or English , have a uniform technical excellence.”5
Bharati Sarabhai is the modern woman playwright during the colonial era of Indian English drama. She has written two plays The Well of the People (1943) and Two Women with some considerable measure of success. Of these two plays, the former is symbolic, poetic and is besides a significant contribution to the Gandhian social order, while the letter is realistic, written in prose and probes the private world of a sensitive individual
J.M. Lobo Prabhu is the last great name in pre-Independence Indian English drama. He has written over a dozen plays but only Mother of New India: A Play of India Village in three Acts (1944) and Death Abdicates (1945) appear before Independence. His Collected Play was published in 1956. Lobo Prabhu is capable of writing dialogues with felicity, situation – creation is also admirable but his characters do not appear life like, soothing and convincing to the audience.
upto post – independence era, drama in English in Indian soil could not flourish as a major current of creative expression. Although the pre–Independence Indian English drama is notable for its poetic excellence, thematic variety, technical virtuosity, symbolic significance and its commitment to human and moral values, it was by and large not geared for actual stage production.
The post- Independence Indian English drama was benefitted by the increasing interest of the foreign countries in Indian English literature in general and Indian English drama in particular. A good number of plays by Indian playwrights Asif Currimbhoy, Pratap Sharma, Gurucharan Das was successfully staged in England and U.S.A. But the plight of Indian English drama is that no regular school of Indian English drama was established in our country. This was mainly because the encouragement drama received from several quarters immediately after India got freedom but it was monopolised by the theatre in the Indian regional languages while Indian English drama continued to feed on crumbs fallen from its rich cousins table.
The plays have been written in prose but at the same time poetic plays also survive in the post colonial era. M.K. Naik rightly opines “……. that Tagore-Aurobindo-Kailsam tradition of poetic drama continues, but which a difference in the hands of of poetic drama continues, but which a difference in the hands of Manjeri Isvaran, G.V. Desani, Lakhan Dev and Pretish Nandy.”7 Manjeri Isvaran’s Yama and Yami (1948) is a dialogue in poetic prose, with a prologue and an epitogue, dealing with the incestuous love of Yami for her brother. G.V.Desani’s Hali (1950), an entirely different kind of play, received high praise for its originality, symbolism and rich imagery.Regarding the message of the play Hali ,M.K.Naik remarks,
``Hali finds peace in the thought that man must transcend human love, go beyond life and death and even leaving behind his limited idea of godhead, develops in himself a god-like love and detachment``8 Lakhan Dev’s Tiger Claw (1976) is a historical play in three Acts on the controversial murder of Afzal Khan by Shivaji. His two plays are Vivekananda (1972) and Murder At The Prayer Meeting (1976). The use of blank verse is flawless and the last play compels us to remind of T.S.Eliot’ s Murder In The Cathedral. Other verse plays of the period include P.A.Krishnaswami’s The Flute of Krishna (1950) M.Krishnamurti’s The Cloth Of Gold (1951). S.D.Rawoot’s Immortal Song. Karm and The Killers (1959) Satya Dev Jaggi’s The Point Of Light (1967) Pritish Nandy’s Rites for a Plebian Salute (1969). Hushmat Sozerekashme’s Vikramjeet (1970), Sree Devi Singh’s The Purple Braided People (1970), P.S. Vasudev’s The Sunflower (1972) and S.Raman’s Karme (1979). The number of prose playwrights is larger in comparison to verse playwrights. The most prolific playwright of The Post-Independence period is Asif Currimbhoy, who has written and published more then thirty plays. Some important plays are The Tourist Meeca (1959), The Restaurant (1960) The Doldrumness (1960) The Captives (1963) Goa (1964), Monsoon (1965) An Experiment With Truth (1969) Inquilab (1970) The Refugee (1971), Sonar Bangla (1972) Angkor (1973) and The Dessident M L A (1974).Inspite of comprehensiveness , Currimbhoy`s dramatic art has been a subject of criticism for the lack of structured plot , embellished language and balanced characterization .His dialogue reflects the extreme poverty of invention and his language is not suitable to capture the internal drama of the clash of motives ``His symbols are often crude , conventional and mechanic but the greatest limitation of his technique is revealed especially in his later plays , in which Currimbhoy appears to confuse dramatic technique with theatrical trickery and stage gimmicks with dramatic experience``9
Pratap Sharma wrote two prose plays A Touch Of Brightness (1968) and The Professor Has A War Cry (1970). His plays were staged even abroad successfully but they failed to be staged in the country. Sex, moreover remains the prime theme of his plays but Pratap Sharma shows a keen sense of situation and his dialogue is often effective. Prof M.K.Naik appreciates his dramatic art for his keen sense of situation and effective dialogues.10
In the realm of Indian Drama , Nissim Ezekiel is acknowledged for his exceptional poetic creed and rare dramatic sensibility. Nissim Ezekiel’s Three Plays (1969) including Nalini: A Comedy, Marriage Poem: A Tragi Comedy and The Sleep Walkers: An Indo-American farce are considered to be a welcome addition to the dramaturgy of Indian English drama. Songs Of Deprivation (1969) is also a short play by Ezekiel. Gurucharan’s Larins Sahib (1970) a historical play, deal with Henry Lawrence of Panjab. The play Marriage Poem, presents the conflict of a middle class husband caught in the conflict of commitments of married life and the desire of love. The Sleep Walkers is a diverting take off on national preconceptions and prejudices. In spite of strong sense of dramatic concept, Ezekiel could not transform his poetic talent into appropriate dramatic talent. His plays can be appreciated for symmetrical construction with abundance of irony. They unveil his sharp observation of the oddities of human life and behaviour. Ezekiel’s poetics self swayed his dramatic creed but his plays make a ‘pleasant reading’. It is attributed
“In his satire of current fashion, in his exposure of prose and presence, Ezekiel comes very close to the spirit of some English social satirist in theatre”.11
Contemporary Indian drama, deviating from classical and European models, is experimental and innovative in terms of thematic and technical qualities. It is not an off spring of any specific tradition and it has laid the foundation of a distinctive tradition in the history of world drama by reinvestigating history, legend, myth, religion and folk love with context to contemporary socio-political issues. A cumulative theatrical tradition evolved by Mohan Rakesh, Badal Sirkar, Vijay Tendulkar and Girish Karnad, prepared the background of contemporary Indian English theatre.
Girish Karnad in the capacity of writer, director and actor substantially contributed to enrich the tradition of Indian English theatre. His dramatic sensibility was moulded under the influence of touring Natak Companies and especially Yakshagana which was in those days not accepted as the purified art form. His well known plays are Yayati (1961), Tughlaq (1962), Hayvadana (1970), Nagmandala (1972). He borrowed his plots from history, mythology and old legends but with intricate symbolism, he tried to establish their relevance in contemporary socio-political conditions. The play Yayati reinterprets an ancient myth from Mahabharata in modern concept. The plot of the play Hayvadana is adopted from Katha Saritsagar, an ancient collection of stories in Sanskrit. Tughlaq is Karnad’s best historical play where he mingles facts with fiction. Karnad projects the curious contradictions in the complex personality of Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq. In the play Tale Dande, he discovers the vital relationship between contemporary society and literature. His use of myth as a structure and metaphor in his play gives “new meaning to the post from the vantage point of view of present”. In the play Nagmandala, the conflict is between patriarchal and matriarchal views of society. It is about the life of Rani, a typical Indian woman in male dominated society. She is married to Appanna, a wealthy village youth. The focus in the play is on sexual liberty of to sexes: male and female. In order to counter mail dominance, Karnad adopts a strange device in which King Cobre gets sexually involved with Rani and ultimately she becomes pregnant. Like his other female protagonist, she is encouraged to pass through chastity ordeal. Regarding the position of Rani, Smita Nirula holds,
“Rani is never free to express herself, to be herself. She is either daughter, wife, lover or mother. She is always playing a role imposed upon her, except in her dreams in the lonely nights that engulf her. She is a woman used, abused. She can either live as a whore or a Devi. There is no element of person for her”12
Karnad’s dramatic art lacks stability still his success lies in technical experiment with an indigenous dramatic form. The collective efforts of Karnad and Karalam Narayana Pannikar are significant in their binding of the traditional forms of Indian theatre with the modern. Born in 1828, Vijay Tendulkar began his career as a journalist but from the very first play Grihasth in 1955 to Safar in 1992, his plays have given Indian theatre a rich and challenging reprtoire. Leading the Vanguard of the avant-garde Marathi Theatre, Vijay Tendulkar symbolizes the new awareness and attempts of Indian dramatists of the century to depict the agonies, suffocations and cries of man, focusing on the middle class society. In all his plays, he harps upon the theme of isolation of the individual and his confrontation with the hostile surroundings. Influenced by Artaud, Tendulkar, relates the problem of anguish to the theme of violence in most of his plays. He does not consider the occurrence of human violence as something loathsome or disgusting in as much as it is in note in human nature.He says,
“Unlike the communists I don’t think violence can be eliminated in a classless society, or for that matter, in any society. The spirit of aggression is something that human being is born with. Not that it is bad. Without violence man might have turned into a vegetable.”13
While depicting violence on the stage, Tendulkar does not dress it up with any fancy trapping so as to make it palatable but rather keep it row and natural. The plays Chimanicha Ghor Hote Menache (1960) Kalojanchi Shalai (1968), Ek Holti Mugli (1967) reflect Tendulkar’s concern with authority and the idea of exploitation of individual. In the plays Silence! The Court Is In Session (1968) and Ghasiram Kotwal (1972), the theme of oppression dominates. Sakharam Binder (1972) is a study in human violence amounted to powerful dramatic statement. Kamala (1982) and Kanyadaan (1982) are written on the lines of naturalistic tradition. Kamala is a study of marital status as well as study in the theme of exploitation. Kanyadaan is a complex play about the cultural and emotional upheavals of a family. Tendulkar was associated with New Theatrical Movement in Maharashtra. He presents a fictional reality in which the reality of life acquires a sharp focused character having rare dramatic power.
Badal Sircar too is a prestigious name in the realm of contemporary theatre. He represents New Theatrical Movement in India. He has created an appropriate ‘puples’s theatre’ a theatre supported and created by people. His dramatic career began with humorous play like solution X. His earlier plays are Evan Inderjit (1962) That Other History (1964) and There Is No End (1971). All these plays are based on political, social, psychological and existential problems. Evan Inderjit, is a tale of a playwright who struggle in vain to write a play. In the play There’s No Need Sircar develops the thesis that “We are all accused” and share the burden of guilt. Afterwards, he wrote Pary Konodin, Jadi Aur Ek Baar, Palap and Pagla Ghoda. His later plays Procession, Bhoma and Stale News are based on the concept of Third Theatre. The play Procession is about the search for a ‘real home’ in new society based on equality. It suggests a ‘real way’ to new way in which man does not have to live exploiting man but should work according to his own needs. Bhoma is a dramatization of the life of oppressed peasants in sexual India. The analysis of these three plays suggest remarkable changes in Sircar’s concept of a ‘real home’ a new society based on equality and free from the horrors of exploitation. Tendulkar in 1967, established his theatre group called ‘ Satabdi .’ sircar’s first contact with Grotowski’s ‘Poor Theatre’ influenced him greatly in formulating his Third Theatre. In Indian English drama the influence of Mohan Rakesh can not be ignored. Hr wrote in Hindi but for exceptional dramatic relevance, his plays have been translated in English and other regional languages. He published his first major play Ashadh Ka Ek Din in 1958, Leharon Ke Rajhansa appeared in 1963 and Adhe Adheere was first staged in 1969. The play Pair Tale Ki Zamin was completed by Kamleshwar after his death and published in 1974.
As a playwright, his main concern was to portray the crisis of contemporary man caught in the web of uncongenial surroundings and the persistent threat to human relationship. Mohan Rakesh perceived drama as a complex art involving the uniform contribution of actors, scenic effects, light and music and effective stage direction. Mohan Rakesh made extensive experiments in theatre. He used words and languages not as dialogues or direct statements but as the tools of suggestion to convey the meaning beyond the verbal connotation. In Ashadh Ka Ek Din, he highlights the dangers of sycophancy that whitess of his age face in desire of dignified official position. In Leharon Ka Rajhans, he reflects on the problem of relations between man and woman, ego clashes, divided self and on going illusion and nothingness. Adhe Adhure deals with the clash of ego between husband and wife, disintegration of family relationship, the prominence of individual interest against the commitments of the family. Besides, women dramatists also tried to enrichthe soil of Indian drama by projecting the inner world of feminine psyche in the theatre. Women’s theatre coalesces with Street Theatre movement, using the same technique in performance and production. It can be attributed as a ‘Theatre Of Protest’ because women wuters expressed their resentment against the politics of exploitation on the basis of gender discrimination. They also revived the traditional myths of Sita and Savitri and tried to reinterpret the epics from women’s point of view. The dramatic work of Usha Ganguli and Mahasweta Devi can be placed in their category. MahasWeta Devi emerged as a dramatist having a quest to explore something challenging and new. His five plays are Mother of 1084, Aajer Urvashi O’ Johny, Byen and Water. The play Mother of 1084, is a moving account of the anguish of an apolitical mother who had witnessed the horrors of Naxalite Movement. In Aajir, Mahasweta Devi deals with the issue of the fast deterioration of values and their effects on society, particularly on illiterate people. Urvashi O’ Johnny is a play written for emergency through the love affair of Johnny with Urvashi, a talking doll. The play Bayen presents a moving account of harsh reality of a woman,s life in rural India. The play Water, is the story of a professional water-diviner, Maghai Done who is an untouchable boy. Her plays represent a profound concern for human predicament and sincere hope for the better future of mankind.
Mahesh Dattani is arguable one of the best playwrights the country has ever produced. Born in Banglore on 7th August 1958, Dattani studied in of his preference for English as a medium of expression was almost obsessed to represent Indian soil and sensibility in the wake of globalization.His famous plays are ` Where There is a Will, Final Solutions, Dance like a Man, and Tara`
Indian English drama has registered a remarkable growth and maturity through English translations of Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Kannada plays. During his college career, in early 1980’s he joined Bangalore Little Theatre and starting taking part in workshops, acting and directing plays. He learned the lessons in western ballet under morly Andre at Alliance Francaise De Bauglore (1984-87) along with the training of Bharatnatyam under the guidance of Chandrabhaga Devi and Krishna Rao Bangalore (1986-90). The interest in dance and ballet encouraged him to begin his own theatre to give a concrete shape to abstract ideas. He founded a theatre group Playpen in 1984. He directed several plays ranging from Classical Greek tradition to his own time. He was already confronting the essential problem. Dattani speaks of his choice of English as his medium as one that is home grown and Indian a ‘hybrid language’ that is spoken normally and unobtrusively, in an uninhibited way, as a matter of course by his characters who are essentially Indian. “………. You have got to be true to your expression also. English is for me a short of given. It’s my language as it is to a lot of Indians here and abroad. (Menol and Prakash, 2003).
For his distinctive achievements, Dattani received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his collection of plays Final Solution and other plays, published by East West Books Chennai. He is the first Indian playwright writing in English who got this prestigious award. His art was appreciated for the diversity of themes, the awareness for the issues responsible for tension in contemporary society and exceptionally brilliant contribution for technical innovations. It is cited in the attribute of Sahitya Aakademi “ “ [Dattani’s work ] probes, tangled attitudes is contemporary India towards communal differences consumersiv and gender- - - a brilliant contribution to Indian Drama in English.”17
Dattani ’s dramatic art is inspired by the mission to communicate profound meaning through his plays and, therefore, he exhibits keen awareness for the direction and stage performance of his own plays. Dattani teaches theatre courses at the summer session programme of Portland State University, Oregon. USA and conducts workshops regularly at his studio and outside it. His international reputation is based on his writing credentials which include playes like Where There’s A Will, Tara, Bravely Fought The Queen, Final Solutions and Muggy Night In Mumbai. Besides, he wrote for Radio plays Clearing The Rubble, The Swami and Winston, Uma and Fairy Queen and A Tale of Mother Feeding Her Child. Dattani’s conviction that the production of a film and screen play is a different experience and not necessarily, hierarchical. Dattani’s early screenplays include Hum Tum Or Who, Ek Chingair Ki Khoj Mein, Ek Alag Mausam and the screen adaptations of Dance Like A Man and Mango Souffle. It is here that he writes his plays using a computer, working on the performance dynamics, staging a small production. Conducting a theatr workshop or even hosting an exhibition
“My milierr is theatre. You can not operate in isolation - - - I do want a theatre movement to happen. The major block for that is lack of sound training and professional. We have the talent, but theatre is more than that, it’s a craft of communicating through the language of action.” (Dasgupta, 2001) 18
Given his chosen medium of expression, the language of his plays obviously restricts a wider, more expansive, grassroots audience in India. That is not exactly the kind of audience that he is looking for, in every case, as he claims that he writes for the Urban Indian upper and middle class audience and not for the working class audience:
“The more your basic needs are taken care of, the more space have to reflect on certain things. Whereas , if you don’t have that space and are concerned 24 hours about your basic needs, then you want to escapee into something else [ - - ] (Vardhan, 2004 ).19
The play Tara was first performed as Twinkle Tara at Chidian Memorial Hall, Bangalore on 23rd October 1990 by Playpen, Performing Arts Group. The plot of the play revolves round the family of Mr. Patel. It is related with the life of congenial twins, one girl and one boy who are joined together at the hip. Chandan is the son and Tara is the daughter. They are to be separated through a surgical operation which will mean the danger to life of one of them and in this operation mother prefers that child should be stronger. The operation was arranged in such a manner that Chandan got the loose of life and poor Tara was left cripple. She was too innocent to realize the ho…….of tragedy. It was all arranged by Bharati, mother of Tara. After the operation, the idea of self guilt grips her conscience. Not only Bharati but Chandan also suffers for the conscious injustice done to Tara. To get rid of the shadows of horrible memories, Chandan decides to escape to London. His anguish was so intense that he failed to get rid of his personal guilt and only confessed “forgive me Tara, forgive me for making it my tragedy.” 15The play is woven of the complex web of relationships. Dattani pleads for two issues, the gender discrimination and the corruption prevalent in medical profession along with concern for the detoriation of values oin general.
Bravely Fought The Queen was written in 1991 and performed at the Sophia Bhabha Hall, Mumbai on 2nd August 1991, Michael Walling while commenting on the British production of Bravely Fought The Queen Admits
“ Post- colonial India and multi culture Britain both have an urgent need for a cultural expression of the contemporary they require public spaces in which the mingling of eastern and western influences can take
The play is set around on Indian family in which the male authority is represented by to sons Jitin and Nitin, the co – part -ness of an advertising agency. The claustrophobia of domesticity and confined space is apparent through their wives Dolly and Alka, the to sisters married to two brothers. Women manage household affairs where they have to look after their ageing mother – in - law Bua. Her presence undercutting the apparent naturalism and upsetting the fragile frictions which the characters had created. The play is a dramatic representation of the emptiness and shame in the lives of its cloistered women and self – indulgent unscrupulous men lost in the web of terrible secrets deception and hypocrisy. The text is classified in three acts titled ‘women’ ‘Me ’ and ‘Fue For All’. The act one exposes the ‘female’ would marked by claustrophobic spaces, second act is ‘male’ would of business and in the third act both the worlds are exposed in the background of family setting. The play aims at tearing the veil of the filthy realities and gruesome truth lie behind the presence of conservative Indian morality. Besides the issues of gender and sexual identity, Dattani also exhibits his concern for sexual abuse, alcoholism, adultery and homosexuality. The play is a remarkable achievement from the angle of theatrical techniques. In the play Bravely Fought The Queen, the female protagonists are not sinner but the silent sufferers for the wrong doing of their companions. Dattani’s approach to female suffering is not sentimental but a bit rational and argumentative. In one of his interview with Lakshmi Subhramanyam, he categorically confessed,
“ I am not sure I have portrayed the women as victims of their own rage and repression . This has serious consequences on the lives of women”20
Dance Like A Man is a play related with gender issues with an exceptional originality of conception. The social myth that male and female roles are predecided in social order and the efforts to cross the boundaries prose a prelude to the confrontation between individual’s choices and the exceptions of society is the central motif in the play. He deals with the crisis of three generations in the family of Amritlal, an Image of a dictatorial household. The text is fo.……. on the life of Ratna and Jairaj, classical dancers based in Bangalore. They reflect on their past how it moulds and modifies their identities in the present. Jairaj has an innate passion for the classical dance Bharatnatyam. Amritlal being disgusted with the effeminate nature of the art of dance, tries his best to dissuade his son from pursuing his career in dancing. He contrives a conspiracy with Ratna to empower the passion of Jairaj. This conspiracy adversely affects the personal relationship of Ratna and Jairaj. Their discontent subsequently casts its gloomy shadows on the life of Lata, their daughter. They thrusted their ambitions on her. Lata decides to marry Vishwas, how had no objection in their art. Lillette Dubey Done more than 150 productions of the play and bought world recognition to Dattani’s dramatic art. He said
“ It is beautifully crafted. The way it moves back and forth in time, its use of one actor to play more that one role which really test the actor’s talent and it has strong characterization and the ‘seamless’ movement in time.”21
It is an argument in favour of male identity or the identity of an artist against female autonomy.
The play On A Muggy Night In Mumbai is the first of its kind elevating prestige to the global level. It was first performed at the Tara theatre. Mumbai on 23rd November 1998. Here Dattani takes the issue of the identity of Gays and Lesbians. In spite of social taboos, the compulsive suppression of their irresistible urge, they too are the part of Indian social life. It is a pathetic and daring dramatization of the anguish of a Gay, who finds it impossible to reveal his personal life and ultimately falls in depression. In order to come out of the bouts of depression, he us…… a homophobic psychiatrist and ultimately comes to the harsh realization
“ I would never be happy as a gay man. It is impossible to change society - - - but it may be possible for
you to reorient yourself –” (69)
The play begins with the interrogation “If two men want to love each other, what is the problem?” Kiran, the only lesbian in the play defending the position of her brother Kamlesh, a gay admits “I really wish they would allow gay people to marry” but the social apathy has been utilized in the cynical reply to Ranjit “ They do, only to the same sex.”20 With the release of this play, the identity of Dattani has been established as a socio- radical thinker to open the gates of Indian theatre to handle the sensitive issues like the conflict of gays, lesbians, homosexuality and social conventions. He seems to be preoccupied with the problem – the predicament of human ambitions against the expectations of social order. Keeping it in mind the multidimensional conflicts and the complex structure of identity. Dattani receasted it under the little Mango Souffle. It is the first Indian feature film to address homosexuality, addressing gay issues within the traditional society of India. Dattani calls it a ‘metrosexual’ or ‘metrocentric’ love story. It is to cater the interest of urban English speaking audience in India and the audience of Indian Diaspora all over the world. It has been established
“ The movie is targeted at urban audience since it is all about urban life and urban relationship.” 22
Do The Needful, is a dramatic narrative to defend the societal conflicts and familial relationship of gays. The issue of alternate sexuality is dramatized around the idea of India idea of arranged marriage. The play was first broadcasted on 14th August 1997 by B. B. C Radio. The play is about Alpesh and Lata. Alpesh is a gay and idea of heterosexual marriage was a serious below to him. Lata in love with Salim, a terrorist. Both these relationship are prohibited according to cultural practices of society. Lata implores
“ Please, Amma please don’t insist I agree to this ! you are ruining my life.”23
Alpesh also finds himself lost in the chaos of personal choices and the dreams of his conventional parents.
“ Is it - - it is very important for me to get married? I don’t want to get married? Dattani explores the crisis with a comprehensive realization of the helplessness of human ambitions. The vision of dramatist takes recourse to a reflective turn in his conviction that the formed institution of marriage is a burden to individual’s free will. It is attributed”24.
Dattani manages to enmesh the dominant issue of homosexuality and gender, arriving at an ingenious solution that finds liberation in the teaming up of two sub……… ( Lata / Alpesh) With different agendas (Salim / Trilok) against the hegemony of a common oppressor the family / society.”
The trio logy Seven Steps Round The Fire, Swami And Winston and Uma and The Fairy Queen can be placed in the category of detective plays. Here Dattani, ventures to pull the curtain to expose the word of crime, conspiracy violence, treachery and manipulation of human motives. In all these plays plots unfold through the consciousness and efforts to Uma Rao, a researcher in sociology. She is the wife of Suresh Rao, the Police or superintendent. She reinvestigates three different cases of murder ignoring the restrictions imposed by husband. However, by the end of the revelation of mystery, she finds herself lost in her personal dilemma.
The play Seven Steps Around The Fire was first broadcasted as Seven Circles Around The Fire by B.B.C Radio on 9th January 1999. The play was first performed on stage at the Museum theatre, Chennai by MTC Production. Here Dattani expresses his concern for eunuch – community who are destined to pass the life of marginalized sections. Uma comes to know about the murder of innocent Kamala, an eunuch. Police tries to establish that Anar Kali, the chief of eunuch – community, is responsible for the murder. Uma is not convinced by the apathy of Suresh and becomes restless to unveil the mystery of murder. Uma with her humanitarian insight develops sisterly affinity with them. The reality of the murder was horrible because her own husband was involved in that loathsome act. In this play, the human touch and Dattani’s endeavour to discover the zest of life of marginalized in praise worthy.
In The Swami And Winston Uma in vertigates another case. She comes to investigate the case of the death of English man Mr. Winston. A Burkeberry Raincoat and mischievous dog provide a clue to the identity of murder.
Uma and Fairy Queen was first broadcasted on 15th August 2003 at 3:00 P.M. on B.B.C Radio. There was a stage production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The actor playing the role of Oberon is Kidnapped. He only appears at the crucial moment when he is expected to play his part. In the course of stage production, he again disappears and subsequently found dead in the Greenroom by Nila Ahmad, his famous Pakistani wife and co – star. Uma suspects that murder is not motivated by martial problem or political intrigue. In the dialogue. “I do but beg a little changing boy.” Strikes in her head with the help of Hiam Tate. British cultural Ambassador, Uma outwits her husband and unveils the mystery of Michael’s murder.
Morning raga is a screen play and it has be transcribed as a film script. It was released in India on 22th October 2004. Its premier was a part of the Cairo Film Festival in December 2004. The play is centred round the life of a Carnatic singer Swarnlatha. Regarding the purpose of screen play, Dattani admits
“It is about a meeting of two world, story that begins together the modern and the traditional unites the past with the present carnatic music with Western music fate and coincidence with individual choices.”25
Abhinay is enchanted by Swarnlatha’s art of singing and he has taken it as a challenge to unite the two. His father does not favour Swarnlatha could not tolerate this insult of music and only admits “ I will sing for you” and here lies the mystery of impersonal relationship between characters. The existence of past in sustained with the image of violin at the cen……. It also gives in sight into Swarnlatha’s mind that she holds herself responsible for the death of Abhinay’s mother. The obsession of Swarnlatha for the violin and music provide a very strong dramatic situation with an exceptional touch of sentimentalism.
Final Solutions was first performed at Guru Nanak Bhavan, Bangalore on July 10, 1993. The play was subsequently performed at Tara Theatre Mumbai on 11th December 1993. This play is about communal violence, the uncompromising hatred between Hindus and Muslims. It is attributed as play about ‘transferred resentment’ and about looking for a scapegoat to not out at when we feel let down humiliated. Dattani here treads the ground that prejudices are the integral part of human psyche and they can be shaken only through love and compromise. He reflects on the horrors of communal harmony for both the communities – Hindu and Muslim. The chorus is used in the play, to express the roots of resentment existing in two communities. There are reflections of suffocation in the family of Ram….. Gandhi. Smita criticizes her mother, Aruna, for her orthodoxy. Her husband has an exchange with Javed but none is wiser to draw a conclusion. Smita already knows Javed and Bobby when they seek shelter after being hounded by a mob. She conceals the fact of her relationship with Javed and Bobby. The significant scene in the play is when Bobby touches Krishna’s idol, To Javed he teaches
“See ! Javed ! He doesn’t humiliate you. He doesn’t crying from my touch. He welcomes the warmth of my hand.”26
In a note on the play, Director Alyque Padamsee says
“The mob in the play too is symbolic of our haterd paranoia. Each member of the mob is an individual yet
they meld into one something whole as room as politicians play on their fears and anxieties.”27
Dattani is certainly a new an unconventional voice in Indian theatre . The echo of his theatrical art both in terms of form and content anticipates his prominence in the theatrical world at global level . The flexibility and ease of expression , breaking the barriers of tight fisted dramaturgy and initiating a penetrating in sight into the psycho – philosophical spectrum of human behaviour affecting human relationship at personal and interpersonal level , would add new dimensions to the are of theatrical canons. In Dattani’s dramatic world, drama instead of being an expression of art, has become a realization of life and it is a preface to the tradition of unconventional popular, Indian theatre. At Mahesh Dattani is at the peak of his creative powers, continuously experimenting with new forms and manners of expression. As a playwright he will never be stereotypical. The varied content of his plays seldom have his characters mouthing quotable lives, nor d---------- his thematic material rise to extraordinary heights. But what makes Mahesh Dattani one of India’s finest playwrights is perhaps his manner of speaking to the audience with complete honesty. For the moment, he seems to have found the right combination where his art is not compromised upon and yet makes commercial sense. His expectations of his audience are high, and he does not provide quick or expedient endings, only perhaps a kind of insight into their own lives.
Notes and References
1-A.L.Basham:The Wonder that Was India,Rupa &co, New Delhi, 1987, pp434-435
2-Bharat Gupt,Dramatic Concepts:Greek and Indian-A Study of Poetics and Natya Shastra[ New Delhi, D.K.Printworld,1994,] p-86
3- A.B.Keith; The Sanskrit Drama, Motilal Banarasidas, Delhi, 1992, p-12
4. Kirplani, Krishna, Literature of Modern India, New Delhi: National Book Trust ,1982]p-40
5-Shastri, Ramaswami, Rabindranath Tagore ; The Poet and Dramatist, Calcutta : Oxford University Press,1948, p-47
6-K.R.S Iyenger-Indian Writing In English , New Delhi, Sterling, 1985, p-226
7-G.S.Amur- Kailasam`s Quest for Greatness[ Critical Essays on Indian Writing In English]Macmillan , Madras, 1977p-186
8-M.K.Naik-A History of Indian English Literature, Sahitya Akademi , New Delhi, 1995, p-256
10- ibid p-260
11 Chetan Karnani, Nissim Ezekiel , New Delhi : Arnold Heinmann, 1974, p-126
12-Narula, Samita-``Evolving Mixed Feelings` The Pioneer ,11 sept, 1988
13-Sachidanand Mohanty : Theatre : Reaching Out to People, The Hindu, New Delhi, February, 14, 199p-5
14-Ayyar, Raj-`Mahesh Dattani Gay Cinema Comes of Age` GAY Today-8,48,2004
15-Menon,Rajiv and K.S.Prakash`Theatre to Morning Raga`, The Hindu , Hyderabad, 2nd July, 2003
16Padamsee, Alyque, `A Note on the Play, `Collected Plays, p.156
17-Dasgupta, Uma Mahadevan- `The Minute I Write A Play, I Want to Direct It`
18-Vardhan Manisha,`I`m no Crusader`, I`m a theatre person
19-Martin Esslin, TheField of Drama :How the signs of drama create meaning on stage and screen, London and Newyork;Methusen ,1987,p-28,
20-Lakshmi Subramanyam[ed]-Maffled Voices; Women in Modern Indian Theatre , New Delhi , Shakti,2002, p-134,