DON'T PANIC: GST and its Impact on the Performing Arts


GST and its impact on the Performing Arts

Written by Zohra Mallik & Hina Siddiqui

The Goods and Services Tax was finally rolled out on the 1st of July 2017 at the stroke of  midnight. After all, our Government does have a flair for the dramatic. But what really, is the fuss and mayhem about? Over a hundred and fifty countries have implemented  GST (roses by other names) over the years and their populations came through the capitalist scourge just fine.

India’s version of an overarching goods and services tax has been 17 years in the making. It’s faced a lot of resistance, as you might guess, from various lobbies and people wary of what a uniform tax could mean for their business. The powers that be, speak of it as a way – the only way – to reduce corruption (wait, what was demonetization for then?), prevent tax-evasion and improve the overall efficiency of the system. And as we are settling into the first month of its imposition, with vendors and suppliers showing no signs of stopping to use it as an excuse for delays – let’s re-examine the alarmist outlook towards ‘one nation, one tax (sans momos)’, shall we?

Disclaimer: This is in no way an attempt to downplay the implications of the GST, no one’s saying this is a hoax created by the Chinese (not yet, anyway), but let’s look at all the facts and figure out what the GST means (for the theatre and arts community at least).


Taxes on Art prior to the GST

Artwork such as folk paintings, ceramics and antiques were levied with VAT, but were also exempt in certain states. Entertainment tax on movie tickets was 8 to 10 percent, with Maharashtra being an exception ranging from 15-45% (some kind of vengeance for past crimes, we believe). Regional films, however, were exempt. Dance and music events were at a cool 10% (NH7, you listening?). And theatre was exempt.

And now…

A uniform art tax of 12% may or may not be a slight improvement. One side speaks of a danger to the livelihood of artists and artisans at the lower rungs of the pyramid. On the other hand there is skepticism about whether people will stop buying art because of 12%.

As of 11th June, the GST Council places movie tickets under Rs 100 at 18% and anything above that at a ginormous 28%. No exemptions. We’ll just let that sink in for a bit.

Performances – whether they be the Maganiyar Seduction or the your neighbourhood community theatre’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream – are all going to be treated as one. Tickets to dance performances, music concerts and plays that are priced above Rs. 250 is at 18%.

But here is the cincher. CA Chintan Shah, who was part of a discussion conducted by United Kalakar in Mumbai, GST 4 Artists, clarifies that unless a theatre company has a turnover of over 20 lakhs per year they are not liable to pay GST. Thus, GST laws do not apply to the average practitioner and this in itself, is an exemption of sorts being given to those within the performing arts community.

But what about the bigger question of arts (and artists) being exempt from paying taxes? It’s the principle of thing, after all. We asked Noshir Dadrawala of the Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy to weigh in. According to him, “Performing arts and performing artists are of all kinds. But, let’s say, performing arts where India’s National culture or heritage is being preserved or promoted, there should be a GST exemption.” This of course does not allay the woes of contemporary practitioners, who struggle for funding, resources and a fair share of the market while doing the critical work of developing artistic discourse in the country.  

Chintan Shah offered a couple of solutions to those who cannot escape the burden of GST. Unfortunately, both of these entail writing to the government to change the terms under which GST can be levied. Firstly to demand that GST only be levied on tickets priced above Rs. 500 and secondly, to amend the law so that amateur theatre groups may start off by only paying 12% GST for, say, the first three years. 

What amateur means in the Indian context though, is highly debatable.

A performance at Jagriti (Image first appeared in the Deccan Chronicle)

Jagriti Theatre, a multifaceted space for the performing arts in Bengaluru has taken the lead on the idea of petitioning the Government to gain exemption from taxes. They, in fact, are demanding a complete exemption for the performing arts. This is not completely unprecedented. Several European countries offer tax exemptions to the arts, even going as far as granting rebates on property tax to cultural centres, arts organizations and related institutes. The primary concern in the Indian context, according to Jagdish Raja, founder of Jagriti Theatre, is not for the audience as much as it is for the theatre practitioners who may have to forgo necessary expenses for the production in order to stay within the Rs. 250 budget.

A big cause for concern is that registration under GST brings with it the need to hire a Chartered Accountant and that’s an expense that majority of artists may not be able to afford. According to Noshir Dadrawala, “GST compliance involves several layers and what may apply to one artist may not apply to another.” And that essentially translates into getting professional help. 

A moment to reflect on the bigger picture…  

It would be a little extreme to state that this move by the government is penalizing art. But it certainly is commodifying it. And at one end those of us, who looked at our first tax returns as the real entry into adulthood, are thinking – maybe this is a good thing. Because if you are taxing what I do, then I won’t have to spend a lifetime convincing my parents, in-laws, friends, clients, audiences et al that ‘theatre is a real job’. This tax could be a real paradigm shift in the way people view and consume art of all kinds and somehow, ironically, a tax, will finally reveal the true value of art. But on the other hand, where is the associated education of the proletariat that should go hand-in-hand with this proposed change? Where is the support that takes the burden of turning profits away from individual practitioners and places the responsibility on the consumer of the practice? And who needs to talk about this – the ex-engineer climbing her way up the Open Mic circuit or the practitioner who commands the headlines?


Well, there is always room for interpretation and if there is one thing this sector believes, it is that no one truth can save us all. And yes, while it is true that unless you are turning 20l or more each year, you can more or less proceed with life as in (albeit paying more for tampons and the next Avengers movie), there are still a few things we should start doing:

  1. Sign Jagriti’s online petition here. In a country of over a billion, this petition only asks for 5000 signatures.

  2. Consult your CA. That’s Chartered Accountant for all you anti-capitalism types. If you don’t have one, get one, especially if you run a registered company or proprietary firm. Check here if that helps.

  3. Financial planning is not a bad word. But you don’t need to do it alone. Collectivism is a strength, let’s leverage it. Workshops for financial planning, discussions like the one United Kalakar spearheaded, online communities to compare notes and seek advice – these are all things we can and should do for all of us.  

  4. Let’s talk about money, shall we? We live in a culture that doesn’t talk about money. We live in a time when we often find ourselves living beyond our means for reasons we don’t fully comprehend. Let’s push past the silence and discuss money, bank balances and salaries. There’s evidence to show that talking about what you get paid actually helps everyone earn more.

  5. And let’s chop up that credit card while we’re at it.   


A towel may not help, but don’t panic. We may not be economists, but we are artists. We can envision solutions and taxes or not, that’s where the future starts.


Tax Incentives for the Creative Industries edited by Sigrid Hemels, Kazuko Goto, Springer, 2017

A Handbook of Cultural Economics edited by Ruth Towse, EE Publishing 2003

For a complete list of GST rates, exemptions and brackets, look right here. 

Documenting Theatre in India: Research in to Theatre Lives

by Zohra Malik


How much do we really know theatre and theatre-makers in India? Documenting theatre is vital. Yet, a casual Google search in all likelihood will yield little documenting of solid value.  Research & Praxis is such a vital strand of the programme at the DSM because it addresses this imbalance. It also embeds students in the living culture of theatre-making and encourages them to document, research and record the work of numerous individuals who stand at the edge of the spotlight.

Ramu Ramanthan – writer, respected journalist, playwright and mentor – developed this research module. He trains students in research methodologies, helping them create strategies to document as well as represent these lives as they occur and their relation to theatre practice today.

Batch 2016-17 decided to shine a light on the lives and practices of the following individuals:


Ramdas Padhye

Ventriloquist, Puppeteer, Puppet-maker

Researcher: Abhishek Chauhan

Ramdas Padhye and his creations


Ramdas Padhye was one of the first people to create puppets with contemporary Indian identities. As a child, Padhye was consistently disassembling and reassembling toys. Encouraged by his father, who was also a well-known magician and puppeteer, Padhye went on to do engineering. He then took to puppetry in order to talk about small big problems of India’s middle class  – family planning, saving money and education. Though, Padhye’s work has been featured across the globe,


Faezeh Jalali

Actor, Director, Theatre-maker

Researcher: Chrisann Pereira

Faezeh Jalali and a scene (left) from her META award-winning play 07/07/07


Faezeh Jalali is certainly not an unknown name. Her recent productions – 07/07/07 and Shikhandi have got audiences and critics alike raving. But Chrisann’s research looks at her directorial style from the perspective of a student of the art. It focuses on the aesthetic values that guide her work but also on how everyone on stage behaves in a certain way for a reason.


Chetna Mehrotra

Image Expression Artist, Drama Based Learning Facilitator, Dance Drama Storyteller

Researcher: Deepmala Khera

Chetna Mehrotra and the multiple roles she plays

Chetna Mehrotra has an incredible amount of experience in applied theatre – which applies principles of the performance space to the enable transformation of individuals, communities and society at large. Mehrotra’s work stems from the belief that theatre is not just to entertain but a medium to empower and to evolve. She is one of the leading practitioners in this emerging field and works extensively in learning & development, therapy and training. Knowing of her work and of others like her is vital to many of us who often restrict the scope of theatre to the stage.


Utpal Bhayani

Journalist, Theatre Critic

Researcher: Khushbu Baid

The career and contribution of Utpal Bhayani, one of the foremost authorities on Gujarati theatre. He has written several papers and critiqued Gujarati theatre extensively for about forty years or so, thus providing a fresh new perspective to the way one sees this regional form of theatre. His words and his influence are still relevant and ever-present to this day, as Utpal Bhayani continues to write a column for the Gujarati newspaper, Janmabhumi. Research and documenting of Utpal Bhayani’s work tells us  how  to critically appreciate theatre. It also holds the mirror up to the evolution of culture through movements on stage.


Manav Kaul

Theatre director, Playwright, Actor, Film-maker

Researcher: Komal Khanna

Manav Kaul, the man, his moods and his roles

You may recognise him from the various films he has been a part of, but Manav Kaul has been a significant contributor to the development of theatre in India. Komal’s compilation of anecdotes from his life (what better way to get to know a man and his practice) cover everything from his beginnings in Kashmir, the growing camaraderie between him and Kumud Mishra and the moment he realised that theatre was what he wanted to do. His writing, his process, his fascination with the bizarre and his response to criticism, all come together to inspire those who have just begun wading in to the deep waters of the performing arts.


Dr Arvind Ganachari


Researcher: Adarsh Gourav

Dr Ganachari is a noted scholar, specialising in Modern Indian History.  He wrote highly insightful pieces on India’s socio-economic and cultural history for the Economic and Political Weekly magazine.  He guided Adarsh through a discovery of political and moral censorship in Indian performing arts. According to him, “Although there is much debate about censorship attacking the fundamental right of “freedom of speech”, it is necessary and has to be there. Every freedom has a limit. A person has freedom and has their rights but if it infringes upon somebody else’s right or freedom,censorship comes into use. It is a very thin line.”


Deepa Gahlot

Theatre and film critic, Author, Scriptwriter

Researcher: Shruti Khandelwal

Deepa Gahlot at the NCPA

If you have seen a show at the NCPA, Mumbai, you’ve experienced Deepa Gahlot’s vision for theatre. She is the Head of Programming at the NCPA and has also translated and adapted several works for stage. Her critical writings not only display an awareness of the technicalities but also a certain esoteric knowledge that only those who are completely in tune with their field of expertise possess. Shruti’s research focuses on Gahlot’s propensity for promoting critical dialogue around the performing arts.


Arun Naik

Editor, Theatre critic, Translator, Teacher, Director, Designer, Columnist

Researcher: Shruti Sunder

Arun Naik and his family carry on the legacy of theatre


Arun Naik has had a massively versatile career in theatre for the past forty years. He has directed critically acclaimed pieces of theatre and contributed to The Oxford Companion to Theatre in India. Through him we can track the history of the resurgence of Marathi theatre and the integral role of the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh in the city’s performance culture.


Sunderlal Shyamlal Valmiki aka Sunder Chacha

Caretaker (Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh)

Researcher: V. Vidyuth

Sunder Chacha, home at the MMSS

It seems fitting to close this little list of theatre lives with Sunder chacha. Apart from having achieved some amazing theatrical feats, Sunder chacha has been a caretaker of the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh for over 40 years. Vidyuth, as a researcher, makes a cogent point that while there are those who contribute to theatre in a more creative capacity, it’s also necessary to appreciate the ones who’ve helped preserve it for so many years. Not only has Sunder chacha taken care of one of Mumbai’s oldest theatre spaces, he has (and continues to do so even today) helped build sets, set up lights and sound and managed backstage processes.


These final projects are essentially profiles of very diverse individuals; names we need to remember, names we need to learn from as makers and consumers of theatre. Each of these lives builds the larger picture of the context, history and social reality of theatre. This research is a responsibility that students have been accepting as part of their education for the past 4 years. It tells the story of a city, its long tradition of theatre and it also tells a story of how theatre continues to grow into what it is today. And it is vital that we all, not only understand but also contribute to the research and documenting of these strands.

ExpressionLab@theDSM: दशानन: A solo performance by Harish Kulkarni

Dashanan is a solo performance. A single man on stage telling the story of Ravan. It is a story we all know. The story of Lanka’s demon king. But maybe not the whole story. We know the ten-headed demon for his greed and lust.  But Ravan was also a great king – renowned for good governance. He was an accomplished warrior and a devotee of Shiva. This solo performance concentrates on the oft-missed colours and flavours of a myth. And the people in his life. Thus does this tale become a commentary of on the social and political conditions of today.

About the Playwright: Pradeep Vaiddya

Pradeep Vaiddya has been working in theatre for over twenty years. He has been a writer, director, music composer, singer, light designer, theatre trainer and theatre manager. A household name in Pune, Pradeep was part of the India Theatre Forum’s first arts management programme. He has won a META for Best Light Design in 2007, 2011 & 2016.  His founded Expression Lab that focuses on enabling new artists through solo performances.

About the Director: Suyog D. Deshpande

Suyog has been working in experimental theatre for the past 6 years, mainly with Aasakta Kalamanch and Expression Lab. 

About Performer : Harish Kulkarni

Harish graduated from The Drama School Mumbai in 2013-14 and has since acted in several plays and films. Dashanan is his second solo performance @theDSM.

Training Session by Jehan Manekshaw: The DSM comes to Delhi

Open Day: Training sessions by Jehan Manekshaw

After successful Open Days in Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune the DSM now comes to Delhi with a free training session by Jehan Manekshaw on Sunday, 9 April, 10 am at The Tadpole Repertory.
Ever dreamed of seeing yourself on stage? Every wondered about your first stage performance in theatre? Ever wanted to make theatre your career? Well, look no further, because the DSM Open Day is HERE!
The idea behind the DSM Open Day Training sessions is to bring free workshops to various cities. Each training session is conducted by DSM faculty. Our faculty comprises of leading theatre-makers and arts managers.  The sessions will show you what students at the school are taught. It is an excellent opportunity for you to witness first hand what makes learning at The Drama School Mumbai the best stepping stone for a bright career in theatre.

About the Facilitator: Jehan Manekshaw

MFA (Theatre Direction) Birkbeck, University of London
Jehan is one of the founders of The Drama School Mumbai. He has taught as guest faculty at Ninasam Theatre Institute, Karnataka, Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Shinshu University, Japan, and the National School of Drama’s T.I.E division in Agartala. He also has directed numerous plays in different languages in India, the US, UK, and Japan. Jehan founded Theatre Professionals in 2008 and The Drama School Mumbai in 2013. Jehan has most recently received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar for his organisation’s work in the advancement of the practice of Theatre. At theDSM, Jehan teaches scene study and leads the design module.
Oh, and the Open Day Training Session by Jehan Manekshaw is completely FREE and open to all!
To sign up, write to us on or give us a call on 9619336336

Conversations@theDSM: Ramu Ramanathan & Gurleen Judge

Conversations are a tradition in theatre. And so, the DSM brings an entire series of discussions, talks and conversations, curated for the first weekend of every month. Our purpose in these conversations is twofold. First, we celebrate the bond between guru-shishya. Teachers in school, professors in college, coaches at the gym and directors in the rehearsal hall – all mentors have taught you something through conversations. That something makes you the person you are today.
The second purpose in these conversations is to celebrate Rekha Sabnis.
Rekha Sabnis was a one-woman theatre army. She ran theatre group Abhivyakti from her house. She took care of sets, costumes, bookings, transport, tickets as well as acting and directing. Abhivyakti starting performing at the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, the same building that houses the DSM today. Rekha Sabnis was a key force behind the DSM-Sahitya Sangh partnership. And this partnership makes our work forging a new generation of theatre-makers, possible.
Rekha passed away in September last year, studying elements of the Natya Shastra till the very last.
Conversations@theDSM starts this Sunday. It is our small way of paying tribute to a great spirit who made theatre a little bit better for us all. These conversations form part of an ongoing series of talks between theatre-makers young and old. The entire series has been curated by Yugandhar Deshpande and Anuja Kale of TheatreAcross.
For the first conversation, we have young director Gurleen Judge talking to her mentor and teacher Ramu Ramanathan, a name in theatre that needs little introduction.
Date: 9th April 2017
Time: 10 am
Venue: 5th floor, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Kele Wadi, Girgaon, Charni Road East, Mumbai 400004.

The Mule's Fuel: Meet the ladies behind the scene

Over the past few months a synchronized cacophony had taken over The Drama School Mumbai. The noisemakers do bear a grudging resemblance to the students of the DSM however, and the source of their choral equivocations is the DSM annual student production.

This year round, the students take on The Mule’s Foal, a play adapted by Alan Becher from an award-winning novel by Fotini Epanomitis – a story about families, love and the eternal joy of gossip.

The play opened to some serious bouts of hilarity on the 4th of March and gave us the opportunity to profile the women who have been working tirelessly for weeks to make it happen – Sheena Khalid and Puja Sarup the co-directors of the work and Sonal Kharade, the designing hand behind the curious costumes the students don for the show.

Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid

Sheena and Puja’s Mumbai-based theatre company Patchworks Ensemble is known to tackle the big issues through the funny bone. The company’s first production Ila based on a story by Devdutt Pattanaik is about a King who transforms into a female with the changing phases of the moon, while their outrageously entertaining Gentleman’s Club aka Tape explores drag kings of a fictional underground club in Mumbai. This narrative about negotiations with gender is also present in The Mule’s Foal, but Puja and Sheena don’t choose projects to make ‘statements’, it’s always the story that attracts them first. And for The Mule’s Foal, it wasn’t just the story, but the poetic spaces present in it. “These spaces are not about the profound monologues uttered, but the human moments in the play” says Puja, “and in the sheer velocity of lives that it depicts,” adds Sheena.

They believe in working with their actors as facilitators- allowing them to develop the project as much as perform it. “When one does devised work, one does not know where to attack. So we use a lot of movement and music as our basic starting point. In this way we first put it into the body before feeding on the text,” says Sheena. Despite the anecdotal nature of The Mule’s Foal, the directors initiated the DSM students into the play through the bodywork of its chorus before deconstructing its language. Even the script of the play, which has been translated into Hindi by Neha Sharma, is continuously being written and and re-written by the directors and students during rehearsals. “It is  only on the floor that the rhythm of the scene can be known, where to pump it or chop it…” says Puja before demonstrating her point by fixing an imaginary machine with loose screws with her being the technician and the tool (with a complete audio soundtrack.)  

The Mule’s Foal is the first production in which the duo have worked with actors-in-training.

When asked about this experience Sheena says, “The DSM students are very committed. When you come to a professional environment you are most probably working on multiple plays. But in drama school you are pushing yourself harder and longer for a single production. The directors feel they have learnt a lot from their students including how to squawk like a crow, and perfectionists that they are, they make multiple attempts to hit the right note while squawking for this interviewer’s benefit .  

Sheena Khalid is a graduate of the London International School of Performing Arts and Puja from the Helikos International School of Theatre, Italy find theatre rewarding in all ways. Narrating an anecdote Puja says,“The first character that I played professionally on stage was of a blonde bimbo in Atul Kumar’s “Noises Off.” If the same part was for the screen, I would not have fit in. Theatre is the only space you can play anything and everything.”

When asked about the challenges of doing theatre as women Khalid explains, “I don’t think I can ever over-emphasize on how much of a community sense there is in theatre, that does not discriminate against gender at all, as opposed to other spaces of work. We have always had help.” She bangs the wooden table in front of her thrice for good luck.

It was in 2011 that Puja and Sheena first met at a Bunraku Puppet workshop and discovered a possibility for a collaboration. When asked what keeps them ‘patched’ together Sarup answers, “Our collective madness and desire to take risks with our work.” Then after a moment of retrospection, “Also I wouldn’t have done this on my own. Its way too much work.” 

“Way too much thankless work,” adds Sheena with a laugh.  

Sonal Kharade (Image: Maneesh Verma)

For Sonal Kharade the costume designer of The Mule’s Foal, working with the directors is familiar territory, having been part of their production It’s About Time which opened at NCPA’s Centrestage last December. “I love working with them,” says Sonal, “Woh dono kuch seedha nahi karte hai!” For the “bizarre” look of The Mule’s Foal she has gathered Turkish and Tribal prints of surrealistic vibrancy, that look straight out of a bohemian boutique. “Theatre has tight budgets but I like that challenge,” she says and reveals the location of her material sourcing – the lanes and bylanes of local markets like Mangaldas and Saroj in the city.  

Sonal’s career as a costume designer had been accidental. A student of interior designing, she just loved being part of the production process in theatre. In 2009, when the costume designer of Geetanjali Kulkarni’s Ek Rikami Baju decided to quit the show mid-way, Sonal who was helping with the play was asked to fill in those shoes. The response to her work was so well appreciated that she went on to do more such projects. Today she designs costumes for several theatre companies in Mumbai and Pune including for directors like Manav Kaul and and Atul Kumar.

Sonal’s costumes come to life in The Mule’s Foal

Sonal admits that as she had not formally studied costume designing understanding different body types was initially difficult for her. “I have learnt everything on the job,”she says. It is with this learned on-ground sense of aesthetics that she creates costumes like the blood red anarkali for Sanjukta Wagh, which was worn by the Kathak dancer on an outdoor stage against the backdrop of the sea. The New York Times described it as the most “ravishing outfit” of that evening at The Battery Dance Festival in New York.  

Though Kharade works for commercials and films alongside theatre projects she finds the latter more fulfilling. “The actor spends so much time in his garment that one has to concentrate much more on its detailing and comfort,” she says while checking the stitching of a bold pink costume that  opens up to form a dull grey piece, for a character in the play who has a  dual role.  

Puja, Sheena and Sonal have made the DSM student production into a piece of theatre that demands attention and provokes laughter in the midst of misery. They have of course been supported by a stellar team and the enthusiasm of the DSM students. The Mule’s Foal goes on tour this week, so do catch a show near you through March and April.

 – Written by Payal Mohta


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 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




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’




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




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.  




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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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. 

Katha Gaayan @TheDSM: A lecture-demonstration in Katha-Gaayan storytelling by Ajay Kumar

Performance traces it’s origins back to storytelling. India has a rich heritage of oral traditions from Padvani in Chhattisgarh to Kathakali Kerala to Baul storytelling in West Bengal.

Storytelling has ever been dependent on singing – entire narratives were initially presented as a musical arrangement with one or many performers. The emphasis was not so much on performance as on the nuances of singing. Over time, traditions evolved and body movement, gestures and postures added a visual layer to the hitherto aural experience. And then performers developed the third layer of character – developing body movement and dialogue according to the idiosyncrasies of the character and situation. In the Hindi-Urdu tradition, this practice came to be known variously as Katha-goyee, Kissa-faroshee, Baat-poshee or simply Katha-Gaayan.


This Saturday evening, catch NSD alumni and The DSM faculty Ajay Kumar take you through the process of turning ordinary in to extraordinary through the simple act of storytelling. He will present the stories of Vijaydan Detha – a prolific writer from Rajasthan whose stories inspired Habib Tanvir’s Charandas Chor and 2005’s Shahrukh Khan – starrer Paheli. 

7 PM | 17th December | 5th Floor, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Charni Road East, Mumbai | Entry Free | Call 9619336336 for details

Incidentally, another story by Vijaydan Detha made splashes at NCPA’s Centrestage Festival this year – Dohri Zindagi. Directed by former Theatre Professionals facilitator Gurleen Judge – Dohri Zindagi, which explores what it is to love in a homophobic society, will makes it’s way to The DSM on the 24th of December. This play will be part of the Hive Around Town series. To book tickets for the show, log on to bookmyshow.

NCPA Centrestage theatre preview & press Conference at Experimental Theatre, NCPA on 16/11/2017. Photo By : NARENDRA DANGIYA
NCPA Centrestage theatre preview & press Conference at Experimental Theatre, NCPA on 16/11/2017.




Exploring Childhood through Theatre

Childhood has an intrinsic propensity towards theatre – children perform the roles of adults that surround them and even develop make-believe friends. These friends become the co-actors of their internal worlds during play. The crossroad where childhood and theatre intersect gives rise to imagination, lateral thinking and ideation. In a world threatened by passive absorption of content, theatre has the power to breed a generation of idea-generators to power every walk of life. And watching theatre is as important to this process as creating it. Sitting in a dark room, concentrating on a single spectacle may seem like an unusual activity for a toddler but watching a play can lengthen a child’s attention span, develops patience and enhance listening skills. Theatre also has the advantage of connecting children to the world of books. It inculcates the written form’s sense of empathy, curiosity and literacy by being live, a form often more engaging than reading.

“The Attic” produced by The Starcatchers, Scotland
         The Attic produced by The Starcatchers, Scotland for 0-3 year olds

The act of going to the theatre and participating in it instills a strong sense of community, sharing and togetherness in children- values, which are taught in almost all education institutions. Where as self-confidence and courage often become markers of personality for children who have had stage experience. Children’s involvement with theatre does not only make them good artists, but makes them lifelong appreciators of the performing arts.

Children’s theatre which is formally known as Theatre For Young Audiences (TYA) is essentially of three types-Theatre for Young People (plays meant to be watched by young people aged between 0-18 years, Theatre with Young People (theatre made with young people aged 8-16 years) and Youth Theatre (young people aged 16 and above making theatre).

A platform that caters to all three is The International Association Of Theatre For Children And Young People (ASSITEJ). ASSITEJ unites theatres, organisations and individuals throughout the world who make theatre for and by children and young people. Programmes like Small Size focus on awareness and collaboration of performing arts for early childhood learning (0-6yrs) while its International Theatre For Young Audiences Research Network gives TYA an academic approach. Its Next Generation project engages young and emerging artists and professional theatremakers from all over the world interested in TYA, through a variety of exchange programmes, group projects and professional placements. Currently ASSITEJ has members from 100 countries across the world. All of us have a chance to see ASSITEJ’s work first hand at the Tifli – International TYA Festival that kicked of in Delhi this weekend. Tifli travels to Mumbai and Hyderabad from the 7th to the 9th of December. For a detailed schedule of Tifli and to get tickets for open shows, click here.

Plays for all ages at the Tifli International TYA Festival

One of the first theatres to deal socio-critically with lives and living conditions of children GRIPS Theatre in Berlin.  Now almost four decades old the GRIPS’ plays have been re-staged more than 1,500 times in some 40 languages around the world. Nearly 100,000 theatregoers attend performances by the GRIPS Theater in Berlin each year, making it a theatre with one of the highest percentages of ticket sales. Each season, the GRIPS Theatre’s youth club prepares and stages a production. GRIPS also offers theatre education programmes, workshops and performances in schools. In cooperation with the energy company GASAG, the theatre presents its annual Berlin children’s theatre prize to authors of works for children’s and youth theatre. Inspired by this German endeavor GRIPS Pune was founded in 1989. What makes GRIPS distinct from other children’s theatre is that it takes issues from children’s world like lack of playgrounds, drug abuse, single parents as opposed to traditional children’s theatre where fairytales and other lighter content is performed. In 2015 as part of the Maharashtra Culture Center’s Children’s Theatre Festival, GRIPS Pune performed “Ekda Kay Zaala”, directed by Radhika Ingale, that talks about child abuse and good and bad touch using humour and music.

Rehearsal still from Ekda Kay Zaala

Unlike most classroom learning, specific dynamics in children’s theatre helps children imbibe social values without being didactic. Theatre company Swangvale, in the production of its children’s play “Rang Rangeela Gittu Girgit” embeds the message of the play -to save and grow trees, through the play’s set and costume design that are made out of recycled material. Object theatre artist and winner of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award Choiti Ghosh says that, “Children share a natural relationship with objects which is part of their play. Objects occupy a neutral non-judgmental space through which children can explore the world. This gives children a greater interpretative power to read into the issues explored by object theatre.”

Recycled costumes of Rang Rangeela Gittu Girgit

Theatre is often used to address and cope with particular childhood circumstances. Freedom Theatre from Palestine, has theatre programmes particularly for the young generation that provide them with important tools for dealing with the hardships of daily life under occupation.  The youth has always been associated as wheels of social change and revolution. Though various colleges across the country incorporate theatre in their cultural calendar or festivals, Shadow Liberation Project, an initiative of the students of the Srishti School Of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore) have opened their performances to the public. They use shadow theatre to creatively craft visual narratives of gender violence- a widespread issue in India.

Freedom Theatre, Jenin, Palestine

Britain’s National Theatre in London holds an annual theatre festival called Connections which stages 10-15 newly commissioned plays for the youth across prestigious theatre venues in the U.K after careful selection. In India Thespo, born in 1999, provides a similar platform for theatre aspirants under the age of 25. It aims at creating a professional space for youth theatre with its year round theatre related workshops and training activities and commences with its December youth theatre festival of one-act plays. Now in its 18th year the Thespo Theatre Festival kicks off on the 13th of December at the Prithvi Theatre and NCPA in Mumbai.


Theatre for young audiences is definitely an upcoming career option for those with theatre roots. In fact quite a few theatre professionals can trace their beginnings to college days, making youth theatre for events like Thespo. But it doesn’t come without it’s challenges. Former IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) Mumbai’s co-ordinator Shaili Sathyu, now the artistic director of Gillo Theatre Repertory, a theatre company exclusively for children, says, “A variety in content for children is lacking. There are very few theatre groups performing quality plays for children and taking this genre seriously; regularity of performances is not viable for most groups (special rental rates would help); theatre connect programmes with schools (government and private) are still only starting in few places in India; very few performances are created for the 11 to 16 age group, most importantly there is a lack in understanding among decision-makers about the importance of aesthetic development of children (including theatre and other arts) and the scope of theatre activities in education.”

Children’s theatre is not a watered-down, sugar-coated version of adult theatre. The Godfather of drama, Constantin Stanislavsky had reportedly said that the only important difference between adult and children’s theatre is that the latter should be better. Better because children are honest spectators who will not oblige themselves to polite applause if their standards of engagement and  entertainment are not met. Better also because theatre has the greatest impact on an elastic mind, helping it expand, imagine the impossible. Better because through play, children can be moved to action in order to change the world we live in today.

Written by Payal Mohta

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The Play of Movement and Theatre

The need to tell a story, to imitate, to play and to perform repeated acts that ensure a smooth continuation of a community are so vital and important to the human psyche, that cultures everywhere in the world have developed some form of enactments.

Peter L. Berger says human life is narratively rooted. It tends to be the base for effective experiential learning. The art of storytelling played a vital role in shamanic cultures. From a shamanic perspective, stories have incredible power. They can paint the picture of an era, give you courage, keep history alive, help to prepare you for a life event, teach you about a skill, and so much more. Just like shamans, storytellers have the ability to heal individuals and society.  The origin of storytelling as a performative form can actually be traced back to shamanic practice and tribal celebrations. And since the very earliest times stories were told through dance, gestures and a million different variations of movement and rhythm.

bhimbetka-rock-art-the-dancers Rock Art – Bhimbetka (Chattisgarh) – depicting dancers, made nearly 10,000 years ago


Theatre training at most schools thus finds itself divided between hours devoted to voice, to text and to movement. The Natyashastra speaks of codifying body language and form in order to create and carry meaning to an audience.

In contemporary times, certain diverse techniques of movement have come to influence theatre – movement that holds itself different from dance. Here is a list of movement forms – that influence contemporary theatre making in India and elsewhere.

Lecoq’s Technique:    


Jacque Lecoq, founder of the eponymous L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, firmly believed that movement and gesture were the basis of an actor’s work.  His technique for mime, mask and physical theatre focusses on that which allows words to be born out of silence. Lecoq’s movement forms drive an actor to experiment, to investigate their body and emotional state in various ways to create a language of performance best suited to them. Exercises often involve sensory stimulation, improvisation and forms derived from the older artforms like Commedia Dell’arte and clowning. A heightened state of play as the master himself refers to it in his work ‘The Moving Body’ is the aim of the improvisational exercises. The idea is to keep it simple and play with rhythm, speed and tension in order to create performance. From Lecoq we have the 7 levels of tension, the neutral mask and Lecoq’s 20 movements.

Sources: Lecoq, Jacques (1997). The Moving Body. London: Methuen


Contact Improvisation


In the past couple of years, Contact Improvisation (CI) has taken off considerably in India – with a contact festival in Goa and regular contact jams in Mumbai. Contact Improvisation is an evolving movement form that is rooted in physical dialogues between two or more bodies in space. Steve Paxton first explored it as an experimental form of performance in the 70’s in New York. Since then, contact improv has gone beyond the performance space to actors’ and dancers’ training rooms and is even used in the education space and for therapy.

Since the driving force of CI is physical negotiations between people, it is a wonderful technique of movement that everyone, from non-practitioners, disabled individuals and children can engage with it and benefit greatly from the combination of touch and non-verbal communication.

Alexander Technique

alexander F. M. Alexander and the first students (and teachers) of the Alexander Technique. Note the straight backs. And the nearly equal gender representation.

As an actor in Australia in the early 1900’s, Frederick Mathias Alexander had one serious problem. Every time he went up on stage, he developed laryngitis. The chronic condition threatened to end his career, especially since no doctor could find a cure for whatever ailed him. So true to theatrical form, F. M. Alexander worked on this problem till he figured out what the cause for his voice giving out really was – excessive tension in his neck and shoulder muscles. And thus, he went on to develop a whole technique of movement which focused on getting rid of harmful tensions. Alexander Technique pays specific attention to coordination, balance, posture and breathing. It takes the body to a level of mindfulness that identifies and releases stress in order to create an uninterrupted flow of voice and movement.



A 1987 article in the New York Times started with the line, “BUTOH IS NOT FOR THE FRAIL.” Nearly 30 years later, that still remains true. Inspired by the work of Genet and Artoud and the catastrophic end of World War II, Japanese dancers Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo created a form of movement, dance and performance that combined chaotic, sexual and violent improvisations combined with highly stylized gestures. Since the 60’s Butoh has traveled the world, exploring grotesquery, symbolism and elaborate visualization as a means to explore the truth of a body in performance.

Laban Movement Analysis


Much like Lecoq’s techniques, Rudolf Laban’s work attempts a codification of movement in order to create a practice for performers. Like all evolving movement techniques, Laban remains exploratory in nature.  It requires observation, description, prescription, performance and interpretation of human movement. The technique categorizes human movement into 4 components which further divide into 2 elements and together they define the Eight Efforts listed above. It’s interesting to note that Laban’s work came together during the reign of the Third Reich in Germany. In fact, Laban was commissioned by the Nazis to work on the 1939 Berlin Olympics. In the oppression of the times, Rudolf Laban attempted to use choral movement as a way to express individual liberty. Working with Laban techniques in contemporary times connects the performer with the socio-political roots of movement and performance. Contemporary practitioner Faezeh Jalali feels, “Any physical form is worth learning for an actor. The actors can decide what she/ he really wants to take from the form to create her /his own vocabulary.” Though she is currently taking workshops and teaching Laban to aspiring actors she firmly believes that actors should work on experimenting with a variety of physical forms like clowning, commedia, Michael Chekhov’s work, Laban as well as Indian forms like Kalaripayattu.


kalari-adishaktijpg Kalaripayattu training at Adishakti

Kalaripayattu has become a buzzword for Bollywood in the past few months.  Everyone from Anushka Sharma to John Abraham is rushing to find a Kalaripayattu instructor as action sequences become more realistic and death-defying. Theatre association with Kerela’s ancient martial art has of course been older and more intense. Kalaripayattu was one of the first traditional forms that Adishakti and Veenapani Chawla researched in the 1980’s in the search of a pluralistic aesthetic. Even the NSD, arguably India’s largest training ground for actors, directors and theare makers, begins many a day with Kalaripayattu in the acting studios.   

Belraj Soni, one of India’s leading Kalari trainers for actors strongly feels that Kalaripayattu inculcates a very disciplined way of living. This creates a strong mind in a strong body where the body becomes “all eyes” . He  further goes on to pointing out that “Practitioners attain the power to control internal energy, breath, balance and concentration. Kalari thus helps in theater where voice, breath and body are integral elements of  performance.”

And of course, one can’t learn about movement by reading an article. Shapeshift Collective has curated an ongoing series of movement workshops, bringing together some of India’s best contemporary theatremakers and movement practitioners. Sujay Saple, founder of Shapeshift as well as a theatremaker and mover himself, feels, “How the audience experiences the material of an act is in the performer’s hand eventually. The best possible vessel is the body, which needs to be thoroughly trained & engaged. It must go through psychological processes of development.”

Written by Akansha Kanjilal and Hina Siddiqui

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