- Mapping South Asia through Contemporary Theatre: Essays on the Theatres of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka ed. by Ashis Sengupta
The political complexities of South Asia has considerable impacts on performance practice. Performers responded to the varied social, cultural, and political shifts in the region through their artwork. Mapping South Asia through Contemporary Theatre is possibly the first volume of its kind that critically interrogates varied performance practices from several countries of this region. The collection, edited by Ashis Sengupta, puts performance at the heart of the South Asian critical discourse and is a valuable addition to the study of the region.
Sengupta's imagining of South Asia leaves out Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Maldives, in his own words, for "space constraints" (p. 1). The editor contextualizes the collection by looking at extant material that examined South Asian theatre as a whole and clarifies this book steered clear of the biases that characterize most of that work. He explains that the performance put under the microscope within the covers of this book are "germane to a comprehensive, critical understanding of the sociohistorical and politicocultural narratives of contemporary/postcolonial South Asian nation-states" (p. 2). Sengupta explains that the rugged, interconnected, and confused territory of South Asian performance and its overlap with South Asian society makes it an even more pertinent project. [End Page 496]
In her Foreword, Aparna Dharwadker draws special attention to the cartographic resonance in Sengupta's title. Dharwadker plays with the word to identify two central tenets of this edited volume. Mapping, Dharwadker reminds us, is a way of defining terrain within a critical study of a cultural form like theatre. In the specific contest of the volume, Dharwadker says, mapping also celebrates the ability of criticism to work with "permeable and resilient boundaries" (p. xii). The essays in this volume successfully and critically engage with the cultural give-and-take between the nations represented within and define South Asia as a critical site of contemporary performance.
The essays in the book are as varied as the geographic area that this ambitious project covers. The arrangement of the essays follow the order in which each country appears in the title. Apart from the essay on India, all other essays choose to provide thorough yet succinct histories of the performance practices in their respective countries.
Shayoni Mitra's essay "Dispatches from the Margins: Theatre in India since the 1990s" brings to light "fringe incidents" that affected Indian theatrical representations of identity (p. 66). Mitra's essay works against hegemonic loci of power that shaped Indian performance practice after the independence in 1947. Her essay deftly discusses the dissipation of the centers of power (which informed the beginning of institutional art practice in the newly independent India) and the possibilities the destabilizing of the center hold for future Indian theatre. Her essay sets the tone for the frequent echoes of emergent and marginal South Asian voices.
Asma Mundrawala's essay "Theatre Chronicles: Framing Theatre Narratives in Pakistan's Sociopolitical Context" looks at the specific examples of the groups Tehrik-e-Niswan (The Women's Movement) in Karachi and Ajoka (Of Today) in Lahore. Mundrawala writes that no discussion of Pakistani theatre "is complete without acknowledging the profound role" of these two groups (p. 104). Her essay locates these two groups in the sociopolitical context that defined the theatre of the antecedents of these two groups. Mundrawala looks at the martial law imposed by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haque in 1977 as serving as the impetus and exercising the strict controls that defined their work. She expands her discussion further to examine the changes in theatre affected by the relaxing of martial law in the aftermath of Ziaul-Haque's death in 1988. In this section of her essay, Mundrawala studies the transition of theatre in Pakistan from political to social commentary. Providing a broad sweep of contemporary Pakistani [End Page 497] theatre, Mundrawala examines "amateur and professional theatre groups practicing a range...