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Reviewed by:
  • Poetics, Plays, and Performance: The Politics of Modern Indian Theatre
  • Sreenath Nair
Poetics, Plays, and Performance: The Politics of Modern Indian Theatre. By Vasudha Dalmia. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 2006. xiv, 366 p., 11 photographs. Hardcover Rs 1,080.00 ($27.00).

Vasudha Dalimia in her recent book about the modern Indian theatre brings together a range of aesthetic and political issues concerning the emergence of modernity, self-discovery, and national self-projection reflected in Hindi theatre, one of the many languages spoken regionally in the subcontinent. Hindi started gaining the status of a national language during the political process of nationalizing culture in postindependent India. Though the overall focus of the volume is concerned with tracing the genealogy of modern Hindi theatre, sufficient attention has been brought into specific aspects of modern Indian theatre illustrating how the urban interest and use of folk theatre [End Page 165] offer resources to new experimentations in the modern stage in the 1960s and 1970s, and how the women directors of the last decades of twentieth century have questioned and deconstructed the categories of dominant theatrical discourse. The book includes an extensive range of information, theoretical positions, and aesthetic and political concerns of the formation of modernity in the postindependent Indian theatre, which will certainly attract readers at all levels, from beginners to postgraduate students of theatre. The book also illustrates a range of exclusive material on plays, playwrights, directors, and various production trends in the contemporary Hindi stage. The book will be of great use for the researchers on the subject of Hindi theatre and its impacts.

The three essays in the first section focus on three playwrights: Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850–1885), Jayshakar Prasad (1889–1937), and Mohan Rakesh (1929–1972). They are the primary figures in Hindi language theatre, which was eventually, with independence and designation of Hindi as the medium, nationalized as Indian modern theatre. The aesthetics and practice of the first two playwrights were developed under the strong influence of Hindu classical traditions along with the orientalist views of Sanskrit theatre tradition. Mohan Rakesh's plays rather reflect the pain and sufferings of fragmentation of the self, experienced in the urban socio-domestic sphere after the political independence of India. This first section clearly demonstrates the connections between Hindi, Hindutva (Indian nationalism), and the establishment of a national theatre in India which was, culturally and politically, part of the postindependent national agenda.

The politicization of folk theatre, the urban interest in traditional forms since Indian People's Theatre Association in 1940, and the search for an indigenous idiom are the major concerns in the second section. Theatre of Roots, a term referring to the contemporary experiments on folk and classical traditions, and rasa as an aesthetic system have key attention in the discussion. Brecht is discussed at remarkable length, showing how epic theatre became a source of inspiration and provides a model for the search for an indigenous idiom in contemporary stage. The section demonstrates a spectrum of interesting views and debates relating to Theatre of Roots as a deliberate attempt to retreat from the Western "realistic" modes of theatrical representation. Some useful aesthetic and theoretical questions are delineated in this section, exposing how Indian theatre has initiated the discussion of a national identity through working across a range of indigenous performance traditions and Western theatrical modernity. This postindependent trend incurs several political and aesthetic debates and criticisms of the representations of national identity in contemporary theatre practice.

What is Indianness in theatre, both by Westerners who use Indian themes and Indian theatre people themselves, is the key focus of discussion in the third section. Dalmia reinvestigates the questions of Indian identity in recent intercultural productions like Peter Brooks's Mahabharata and Philip Glass's opera Satyagraha in South Africa. Dalmia discusses the issues of interculturalism and follows Bharucha's (1993, 2000) polemical approach to Western experiments on Eastern models denouncing idealization and exoticization in [End Page 166] western views on Indian culture and performance. The debate, Dalmia notes, is partial because the view of Western practitioners is absent. What Dalmia suggests is that "the dramatization by Brook and Carrière needs to be historicized" (303...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2109
Print ISSN
0742-5457
Pages
pp. 165-168
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-04
Open Access
No
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