A Ghashiram Kotwal for our time Mohan Maharishi Indian Express Home > Op-Ed > Story Posted online: Tuesday, July 03, 2007 Why are new and original plays not being written in the Indian languages? Why are we still nostalgic about the ‘Golden Sixties’?
Recently Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghashiram Kotwal, a contemporary classic, was staged in Delhi and the response of the theatregoers was overwhelming. People are still enamoured by scheming, lecherous Nana and the transformation of Ghashiram from a simple, small town boy into a lusty monster. More importantly, the content and the form of the play mingle, become indistinguishable from each other and a space is created where the magic of the theatre becomes a distinct possibility. Age-old traditions of Marathi folk theatre, confronted with a modern sensibility, create a work of crystalline originality. Vijay Tendulkar, apart from being a hard-working and highly talented playwright, is a courageous man. He has the courage to create.
Tendulkar was certainly not alone. He had peers. Girish Karnad, Badal Sarkar, Mohan Rakesh and not to forget the grand old man of Kannada theatre, Adya Rangacharya — they were all writing meaningful plays in new, innovative forms, which immediately captivated the imagination of young actors and directors and, through them the audiences. And thus a theatre was created, which creatively responded to the melancholic mood of the disillusioned India of the sixties. These individuals formed the peaks in the landscape, but there were others too, though much less known, creating little gems of theatrical writings of their own. But what happened after that? A deluge?
In seminar after seminar, theatrepersons bemoan the complete absence of new and original plays in Indian languages and the golden sixties are remembered with nostalgia. The reasons for the decline, they say, are many. Lack of financial resources, absence of professional and semi-professional theatre groups devoted to good theatre, bad unusable theatre spaces and irrational theatre education, are some of the reasons commonly cited. Those who wish to make a more profound statement blame the shifting trends in post-modern theatre. Undeniably, these laments are valid. Haphazard policies, combined with an acute lack of awareness have resulted in dilution and dissipation of energy in the Indian theatre movement. On an even more serious note, there is a complete absence of vision at various levels. Does it mean that after the stalwarts, there has been no meaningful play-writing in post-Independence India? No. That should not be the inference. Satish Alekar’s Begum Barve has a remarkable sweep and complexity. (Oddly, nothing of substance has come from this talented playwright subsequently.) Girish Karnad continues to write very good plays. His latest, Broken Images, has an odd, intriguing intensity about it. In this one-actor play, the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’ interact to create levels of tension rarely experienced in a theatre hall. Recently I saw young Asif Hyder’s magnificent play Kafka, a wholly indigenous effort of the NSD Repertory Company. So, beautiful things are happening. The problem is, efforts such as these are few and far between and the overall situation remains unsatisfactory. The flip side of globalisation, which has profound cultural implications, is that it invariably has a dilapidating influence on indigenous cultures. The rich regional cultures, in both tangible and intangible forms, have unfortunately become a victim. Many regional languages of India have their own vibrancy and richness, which remains completely unutilised in weaving a unique national cultural fabric due to lack of creative interaction, which incidentally was the hallmark of the theatre of the sixties. Plays from regional languages were quickly translated in many others. Who has erred? Is it the government? Is it the corporate sector? Is it the media? Or is it the artistic and intellectual community itself, which has failed to define the cultural space in which we and our children ought to breathe? My verdict is: All! I am aware that such a conclusion means nothing. For, it blames and absolves all of us at the same time.
The real need is to form a National Cultural Council with adequate representation of the government on one hand and the corporate sector and media on the other. Of course, the spine of such a council should be the artists and intellectuals themselves. Such a concerted effort should hopefully bring forth desired ideas and policies which will then need to be implemented with utmost urgency and vigour. But the question is, who will bell the cat. The writer is an actor, director, and playwright. He is former director of the National School of Drama