Rooted: The Story of India's Rural Theatre

Indian theatre is deeply rooted, not just in the traditions of Sanskrit Drama as explained in Bharata’s Natyashastra, but also very significantly in folk dance and music, as well as tribal rituals and ceremonies. Post the Victorian hangover there have been attempts by organisations like the Indian People’s Theatre Association, the Progressive Writer’s Association and the Youth Cultural Institute (none by the government) to rescue vernacular theatre from the shadow of the proscenium-based English Theatre. That is why we have put together a list of theatre spaces that mark the rural landscape of India, making theatre with the people from whom we have inherited the very language of theatre.     

 

NAYA THEATRE

Naya Theatre evolved from Nacha, the Chhattisgarhi folk theatre. It is the legacy of the late PadmaShri Habib Tanvir. A graduate of the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art, UK Tanvir established his own theatre troupe Naya Theatre in 1959 with handpicked folk artists in Bhopal. The artists of Naya Theatre spoke their own local dialect which eliminated any inhibition arising out of language and retained their particular dramatic skills which were often in opposition to English theatre training. For Tanvir the consideration of the sensibilities of the folk artists was an integral part of the creative process.  A lot of research, from books, folk songs and conversations, and vigorous editing would go into creating the first draft of the plays. A report from Livemint states that for his play Bahadur Kalarin, on a son’s incestuous feelings for his mother, he chatted with people in Chhattisgarh on the topic before they were told the story of the play and asked to improvise dialogue and movements. Tanvir’s irrevocable conviction in the rich culture of Nacha and his commitment towards the folk community  gave rise to milestones in Indian theatre like Charandas Chor, Gaon ka Naam Sasural, Mor Naam Damad and Kamdeo ka Apna Basant Ritu ka Sapna. Though Naya Theatre today is in need of new actors and plays, Tanvir’s daughter Nageen Tanvir is striving to carry on the troupe in all its vitality.  

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Nageen Tanvir in rehearsal with artists of Naya Theatre

 

 

KALAKHETRA MANIPUR  

Kalakshetra Manipur (KKM) established in 1969 by the late stalwart Heisnam Kanhailal and his wife Sabitri as a space that presents “Theatre of the Earth”. In an interview with NEZINE Kanhailal explained the ideology behind this specific form of theatre, “….theatre must become a voice for the voiceless, a means that gives the power and strength to the disempowered to resist and take on the challenges.” These marginalised voices in Kanhailal’s plays are often non-actors of the oppressed communities themselves. New Theatre Quarterly 29 mentions three such productions – Nupi Lan (1989), Sanjennaha (1979) and Thanghou Leh Liandou (1980).

Nupi Lan (Women’s War) was created through improvisations with around 70 working women from the famous Women’s Market of Imphal. Images of women in the Manipuri Lai Haraoba (ritual celebrations), in the market haggling and those of surviving, militant Manipuri women in political agitations became the aesthetics of the play.  In Sanjennaha (Cowherd) the plight of the actors ,who were villagers, was inextricably linked with the narrative of the exploited cowherd in the play. Thanghou Leh Liandou engaged the tribal youth of the Paite community, reminding them of a cultural heritage they were in the process of forgetting through imposed westernization. Kanhailal’s ardent commitment to devising a unique form of Manipuri theatre through silence and minimalism has given KKM a venerable reputation both nationally and internationally. As of the last decade KKM, which is located on the foothills of Imphal is moving out of its ethnic culture to the rural and natural environment of Assam and Tripura.

Heisnam Sabitri in KKM’s ‘Draupadi’
Heisnam Sabitri in KKM’s ‘Draupadi’

 

 

NINASAM

Nilakanteshwara Natyaseva Samgha, better known as Ninasam is Karnataka’s cultural powerhouse located deep in the hinterland of the state’s Heggodu village. Established in 1949, this brainchild of renowned dramatist and Magsaysay award winner, K. V. Subbanna is dedicated to the dissemination of theatre and culture. Evolving from a small amateur theatre troupe, today Ninasam has a one year diploma course in theatre with emphasis on working in non-urban conditions. Its impressive infrastructure consists of a one of a kind 700 seat auditorium, its only kind in rural India, for the performance of various art forms. Almost 80% of its past students are active in non-commercial theatre and cultural activities, while aspiring students from across class, caste and gender come from all corners of Karnataka to Ninasam. Its theatre group Tirugata, completely localized, performs almost 120 shows each year, to an estimated of 20 lakh people covering almost all districts of Karnataka. According to a report by the The Hindu some of the biggest names in theatre from B.V. Karnath to Fritz Bennewitz have directed Ninasam productions. Ooru Mane Utsava is the organisation’s theatre and culture festival that involves villagers from all around Heggodu. The theatre activities at Ninasam only form a minuscule part of the sum of its cultural activities ranging from film appreciation courses, intellectual debates on the cultural politics of Karnataka and a 7-10 day long workshop on cultural appreciation. The participants for this event forms a daunting figure of 2000 people including students, teachers, rural cultural activists, journalists, housewives as well as thinkers, intellectuals and artists from all over the country. What makes Ninasam remarkable is that it has single-handedly enriched and empowered the cultural topography of rural Karnataka, becoming a model of inspiration for the rest of the country.  

The students of The Drama School, Mumbai is set to do a week-long residency at Ninasam in this March and hope to breathe in some of this visionary work.

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Ninasam at Heggodu, Karnataka

 

 

KATTAIKKUTTU SANGAM

The Kattaikkuttu Sangam formed in 1990, is an organisation that integrates liberal education and the performing arts with an aim to promote and contemporize the art of Kattaikkuttu – the theatre of the rural people in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu. Based in the small village of Punjarasantankal, Kattaikkuttu Sangam is the only residential school for Kattaikkuttu. The Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam (Youth Theatre School) of the Sangam offers a training course in Kattaikkuttu for young rural Tamil boys and girls while providing them support to become professionals in the ancient art form. The students can also join the organisation’s theatre companies- The Kattaikkuttu Young Professionals, All Girls Company and The Junior Company. The Annual Kattaikkuttu Theatre Festival of the organisation brings Kattaikkuttu to local audiences, urban theatre enthusiasts, scholars and tourists. Kattaikkuttu Sangam is an indispensable theatre organ for the country for it  has become a platform for folk artists to get together from all parts of Tamil Nadu and revive this dying theatre of Kattaikkuttu.  

Kathaikuttu

 

YAKSHAGANA KENDRA

The centuries old theatre tradition of Karnataka- Yakshagana is what the  Yakshagana Kendra in Udupi strives to keep alive. Steeped in Indian mythology, Yakshagana is a vibrant blend of folk and classical modes with ornate forms of costume and make-up. To promote Yakshagana on various levels the Kendra offers a residential programme that combines formal education along with training in Yakshagana, while its troupe Yaksha Ranga consists  of almost 100 artists that engage in local and national performances. It also also acts as a center of research and documentation for Yakshagana by publishing books on it.  

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Yakshagana

 

While doing research for this article, we were hard-pressed to find examples of such organizations. If any of our readers do know of some we should have covered, please do write in and we’ll do our best to include them. Because, in a world that is threateningly being consumed by a homogenizing global culture these organisations act as preservers and re-inventors of indigenous art forms. Which then allows theatre to become a people’s channel through the ages. 


Shadows of Fire: NaireetBasak@theDSM

Shadows Of Fire 1

Shadows Of Fire is a solo performance that emerged from Butoh. It delves into the subconscious of the body and mind and tries to call out to the fire hidden within us. This fire physically has no shadow, but emerges every time it is evoked. This piece explores the birth of an untamed creature, its growth and its play with the different elements found in nature. It looks for freedom from all these, with help from the balance of the ambers and blues in a body, but gets stuck in a dilemma of energy. Does it escape the cacophony of the watchful eyes or does it perish? The question remains answered. Shadows Of Fire has been inspired by Naireet’s body-watching and exploration of the elements in the body that were realized into a dramatic piece while practicing Butoh.  A highly interpretative piece, he expects audiences (and himself) to be “surprised” each time with the energies of the performance.  

Click here for a glimpse of Shadows Of Fire at the Butoh Festival at Mcleodjang, Himachal in May 2016.

Naireet is a theatre-maker and performer whose primary interest is in telling stories through moving body images. He has trained intensively in Kalaripayatu and Butoh and worked with Clowning, Tai-chi, Kudiyattam, contemporary dance and various other theatre-making forms. He has been involved with Children’s Theatre both as an actor and director in Kolkata. Last year he directed Love Circus – a six actor movement performance piece in Kolkata.

Date: 25th Feb

Time: 7 PM

Cost: Rs 200/- per ticket

Venue: 5th Floor, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Dr Bhalerao Marg, Charni Road Kele Wadi, Mumbai-400002

Call 9619336336 for details


2 Day Intensive Workshop in Corporeal Mime with Vini Carvalho

Vini Carvalho in action

Corporeal Mime is an aspect of physical theater. It’s objective is to place drama inside the moving human body by allowing the actor to show thought through movement. It “makes the invisible visible” through the presence of the body. Developed by Etienne Decroux, Corporeal Mime is unlike pantomime that substitutes speech with gesture. The objectives of Corporeal Mime are to enable the actor to become more autonomous in creating metaphor-based physical theater pieces, which may include text, but are not based on text, i.e. to give the actor greater access to physical metaphors that work in traditional plays, and to increase the actor’s strength, agility, flexibility and imaginative powers.

 

This month we have an intensive Corporeal Mime workshop conducted by Vini Carvalho. He has been developing his practice as a movement teacher and performer for the past nine years, teaching various workshops and classes in theatre, neutral mask and mime. He trained at the International School of Corporeal Mime for four years in London and graduated in Performing Arts from University of Campinas, Brazil. Vini has also worked and studied with a number of companies and theatre practitioners, such as Theatre de l’Ange Fou, Alice K, LUME, Tiche Viana and Leris Colombaione. He is the artistic director of Fool’s Cap Theatre.

Through technical and creative exercises the workshop will focus on the following-

  • Articulation of the body and space
  • Counterweights: creating actions of ‘push, pull, lift’
  • Dynamo-rhythms: playing with different rhythms in movement
  • Walks
- Improvisations based on the technique
  • Figures- short movement sequences based on daily actions
  • Pieces from the repertoire of the technique

Through the workshop the participants will be able to enhance their  stage presence, precision, confidence in movement, balance, coordination, dynamics and rhythm, muscular tone and flexibility. At the same time the participants will gain an understanding of the basic technique and style of Corporeal Mime. .

Don’t miss this chance to dive into the world of mime and movement-based performance!

Date: 16th and 17th February

Time: 8 am to 2 pm

Fee: Rs 4500

Venue: Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh,

Dr Bhalerao Marg,

Charni Road Kele Wadi,

Mumbai-400002

Age limit: Over 16 years

To apply send in your CV and a cover letter stating your reasons for wanting to do this workshop to info@thedramaschoolmumbai.in

Carvalho Flier

Dress code: Tight workout/dancewear clothing or clothing that does not restrict movement and will allow your tutor to see your work more clearly.

In order to get the most from the workshop you should be able to-

  • Follow spoken instructions
  • Work within groups and pairs safely
  • Be able to undertake a movement class