Uses of Tradition(S) in Performance: Indian Perspective

Home/ Uses of Tradition(S) in Performance: Indian Perspective
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSCC2PS2054

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon

Course Coordinator and Team: Benil Biswas

Email of course coordinator: benil[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: No prior knowledge required. MA Students from any discipline can credit this course as an Elective, provided they demonstrate a keen interest in the course content.

Course Objectives/Description:

The course aims to map conventions, practices and evolution of modern theatre(s) and performance(s) in post-independence India. The end of European colonialism initiated a new phase of nation-building where culture was a kernel area of democratic policy making and national self-assertion. The interface of traditional cultural practices with the existing colonial models of cultural production and a newly emergent modern sensibility has produced some of the most canonical works of Indian theatre and performance. The complex narratives of anti-colonial struggle, the question of the nation and rising regional nationalism are intertwined with the histories of performance forms that responded to and reworked critical questions of class, caste and gender to imagine the nation and produce modern theatrical expression and performance, in both form and content. The notion of modernity itself, particularly theatrical modernity, negotiated through the regional, local and linguistic specificities of theatrical expression that did not develop evenly across India has a paradoxical and ambiguous history that plays out into multiple spheres of theatrical life. Categories such as ‘tradition’, ‘modern’, ‘Indian’, ‘theatre’, and of course ‘performance’ their formations, transformations and challenges need to be unpacked theoretically, contextually and performatively to examine tensions that have become definitive of the postcolonial situation with respect to modern theatrical expressions.

The course aims to examine the history of such negotiation through an examination of specific theatrical contexts, dramatic texts, performance histories, archival material and institutional formations. In order to do so, a genealogical model of enquiry will be employed to critique the linear model of historical studies and construct complex, but specific performance histories, paying attention to how their multiple readings over time have complicated the processes of theatre and performance historiography. The purpose is to explore new points of inquiry by positioning alongside historical /theoretical categories –reflections, experiences and conceptualizations from different performative traditions. The course will therefore entail reading of theoretical texts; analysing canonical dramatic works, their performance histories and stylistic conventions; viewing recorded performances; critical reading of comentaries on modern Indian theatre. Key texts on post-colonialism, cultural nationalism, authenticity, censorship, gender, caste etc will provide the framework through which to examine the relationship between culture and the state in independent India.

Course Outcomes:

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Think through various fluid formulation of tradition(s).
  • They will understand the impetus behind major discourses on Tradition, with special focus on India.
  • Reflect on and respond critically to the various formulations on and around tradition(s).
  • Interrogate the representation and documentation of tradition(s) in performance that will encompass not only artist/practitioners but also those working in discursive fields such as literature and languages.
  • Delve into the question of Archiving Contemporary Performances, with a strong of historiography.
  • Fundamentally grasp and unravel one of the most crucial components of performance creation and dissemination in India – Tradition.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Week 1

Mapping the terrain: Introduction to Indian theatre and critical discourses

The week will be an introduction to the course through watching and discussing Jabbar Patel’s film ‘Indian theatre’ (1988) as an important historical document that broadly maps the wide spectrum of practices that constitute modern Indian theatre and performance

Week 2

Historiography and representing the past

This week discusses problems with history writing and historiography from the postcolonial context. Issues of theatre historiography will be looked at through a close reading of one text on Indian theatre historiography and examine the process of selection based on national and regional, language and aesthetic categories and what impact these choices have on history writing. The notion of the ‘traditional’ and how it relates to modern theatre history will also be examined.

Guha, Ranajit. “On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India.” In Subaltern Studies 1 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982), 1-8

Solomon, Rakesh H. “Towards a Genealogy of Indian Theatre Historiography.” Modern Indian Theatre: A Reader (2009): 3-30.

Performance for discussion: Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nildarpan

Week 3

Nation and Nationalism

week explores the entertwined relationship of theatre and performance practices to discourses of nation and nationalism. How do the discourses of anti colonialism and nationslism sit within the politics and aesthetics of theatre making? Indian people’s theatre movement (IPTA) and issues of censorship will be dicussed in the light of some of the foundational texts on nationalism.

Chatterjee, Partha. ‘Whose Imagined Community’ in The nation and its fragments: Colonial and postcolonial histories. Vol. 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Wa Thiong'o, Ngũgĩ. “Enactments of power: the politics of performance space.” The Drama Review [TDR] (1997): 11-30.

Nandi Bhatia ‘Censorship and the Politics of Nationalist Drama’ in Acts of Authority/Acts of Resistance: Theatre and Politics in Colonial and Postcolonial India. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2004. 19-50

Malini Bhattacharya. ‘The IPTA in Bengal’. Journal of Arts & Ideas, no.2 (Jan-Mar 1983). 5-22 (book scan)

Suggested Readings! ​

Dharwadker, Aparna Bhargava. Theatres of Independence Drama, Theory, and Urban Performance in India since 1947. Iowa city: University of Iowa Press, 2005.

Performances: IPTA’s Nabbana

Week 4 and 5

Genealogies of the modern: Texts, Context and Living Traditions of India

The week explores chief characteristics of the modern as they reflected in specific theatrical and performance practices. Theatre and Performances in the hindi region, bengali, marathi, malyalam theatre,

Wilmer, Stephen Elliot. Writing and rewriting national theatre histories. University of Iowa Press, 2004.

Kapur, Anuradha. “Impersonation, Narration, Desire, and the Parsi Theater.” India’s Literary History. Essays in the Nineteenth Century (2004): 87-118. (book scan)

Dalmia, Vasudha. The nationalization of Hindu traditions: Bhāratendu Hariśchandra and nineteenth-century Banaras. Oxford University Press, USA, 1997. (book scan)

Hansen, Kathryn. Grounds for Play: The Nautanki Theatre of North India. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1992 1992.

Naregal, Veena. “Performance, caste, aesthetics The Marathi sangeet natak and the dynamics of cultural marginalisation.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 44.1-2 (2010): 79-101.

Banerjee, Sumanta. “The Parlour and the Streets.” Elite and popular culture in nineteenth (1989). (hard copy)

Sharmila Rege, 'The hegemonic appropriation of sexuality: the case of the lavani performers of Maharashtra, Contributions to Indian Sociology, vol. 29, nos 1&2 (1995): 23–37.

Week 6

Postcolonialism and performance practice- 1

This rubric will focus on two aspects of the relationship between postcolonialism, power and culture. The first week will attempt to discuss the issue of national culture through the attempts of institutionalization of culture- formation of SNA, NSD and INT, resource allocations and inclusion in the five year plans, 1956 drama seminar, reconciling pre-colonial traditions with the sociocultural formation of the modern nation state. Categories of ‘folk’ and ‘traditional’ as they appeared in the state cultural discourse will also be critically examined.

Fanon, Frantz. “On national culture.” Postcolonialisms: An Anthology of Cultural Theory and Criticism (1961): 198-219.

Dharwadker, Aparna Bhargava. Postcolonial frames and the subject of modern indian theatre in ‘Theatres of independence: drama, theory, and urban performance in India since 1947’. University of Iowa Press, 2009. (book scan)

Week- 7

Postcolonialism and Dance

This week we will specifically look into the conceptualization of tradition in dance and how it impacts the contemporary practices and our perception of it.

Chatterjea, Ananya. ‘Red-Stained Feet: Probing the Ground on which Women Dance in Contemporary Bengal’ in Worlding Dance. Susan Leigh Foster (Ed.) Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. pp. 119-143

Cherian, Anita (Ed.) tiltpauseshift . Gati Dance Forum and Tulika Books, 2016.

Case Study- Munsi, Urmimala Sarkar. A Century of Negotiations: The Changing Sphere of the Woman Dancer in India, in Subrata Bagchi (ed.) Women in Public Sphere: Some Exploratory Essays. New Delhi: Primus Books, 2011.

Further Readings:

Sarkar Munsi , Urmimala. (ed.) Dance: Transcending Borders. New Delhi: Tulika Books.

Munsi, Urmimala Sarkar and Stephanie Burridge (Eds.) Traversing Tradition: Celebrating Dance in India. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.

Carter, Alexandra And Janet O’shea (Eds.) The Routledge Dance Studies Reader, Second Edition, London and New York: Routledge, 1998, 2010.

Week – 8

Music: Tradition and Postcolonialism

This week will look closely at the debates around classical tradition in Music. Analysis of the readings and interpreations of tradition by Bhatkhande and Paluskar from two different stand points will be evaluated.

Bakhle, Janaki. Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition. Oxford University Press, 2005 (PDF)

Weidman, Amanda J. Singing the Classical Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India. Seagull Books, 2007 (PDF)


Postcolonialism and theatre practice- 2

This week will look particularly at dramatic texts and works of theatre directors since independence to the mid-1970’s as a period of intense experimentation in playwriting and strategies of playmaking, as well as discussions about search for new forms and content in theatre. Engagement with western forms, particularly Brechtian in combination with local traditions of performance will also be discussed through the work of playwrights like Habib Tanvir and Girish karnad and directors like Habib Tanvir, Jabbar Patel and B.V.Karanth

Dalmia-Luderitz, Vasudha. "Brecht in Hindi: The Poetics of Response." Journal of Arts and Ideas 16 (1988): 59-72.

(Book scan)

Katyal, Anjum. Habib Tanvir: Towards an Inclusive Theatre. SAGE Publications India, 2012. (Book scan)

Plays to be read: Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq and Habib Tanvir’s Agra Bazaar/ Charandas Chor

Performance: Amal Allana’s Mother Courage

Week 10

Realism and theatre

The week looks closely at realism as a socio-political and aesthetic form and the contemporary questions of identity, class and urbanity that it adressed through the plays of Vijay Tendulkar and Mahesh Elkunchwar and their stagings over time by directors like E.Alkazi, Satyadev Dubey and Vijaya Mehta

Gokhale, Shanta. Playwright at the Centre: Marathi Drama from 1843 to the Present. Seagull Books, 2000. (Book scan)

Dharwadkar, Aparna Bhargava, “Realism and the edifice of home” in Theatres of Independence Drama, Theory, and Urban Performance in India since 1947. University of Iowa Press, 2005.

Plays: Jabbar Patel’s production of Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghasiram Kotwal and its performance history and Mahesh Elkunchwar’s Virasat/Wada Chirebandi, Vijay Tendulkar: Giddh and Baby

Week 11

Alternative models of theatre and performance

Theatres of Utpal Dutt, Badal sircar and Safdar Hashmi are discussed to offer alternative models of theatre making that are deeply grounded in the social, cultural and political realities of the times and strive towards social transformative action through theatre.

Bharucha, Rustom. Rehearsals of revolution: the political theater of Bengal. Univ of Hawaii Press, 1983.

Bharucha, Rustom. In the Name of the Secular: Contemporary Cultural Activism in India. Oxford University Press, USA, 1998.

Mitra, Shayoni. “Badal Sircar: Scripting a Movement.” TDR/The Drama Review 48.3 (2004): 59-78.

Week 12

Theatre of the Roots and problematizing the traditional

This rubric will problematize the revival of Sanskritic tradition, production methods and Natyasastra and a ‘return to roots’ that sought its energy in the local, traditional, ritual and folk performances through the decades of 1960’s and 70’s through institutional positions, mechanisms such as grants and schemes of SNA and national festivals. Works of important theatre directors like B.V. Karanth, K.N. Panniker, Ratan Thiyyam will be examined alongside those works that approach tradition, its bearers and audiences in ways different from the ‘roots movement’, resisting the uses of tradition in terms of state’s centralistic functionalization.

Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terence Ranger, eds. The invention of tradition. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Bharucha, Rustom. “Notes on the Invention of Tradition.” Economic and Political Weekly (1989): 1907-1914.

Awasthi, Suresh. “In Defence of the'Theatre of Roots.” Sangeet Natak 77-78 (1985)

Mee, Erin B. “Theatre of roots.” Redirecting the modern Indian stage (2007).

Dramatic text and performance: Habib Tanvir’s Charandas Chor , Watching Ritwik Ghatak’s Film Meghe Dhaka Tara

Week 13 and 14

Theatres of resistance and the contemporary

Theatre practice since the 1990’s has challenged and reinvented tradition, focused on local performance traditions, regional languages and gestural language of codified forms to address certainties of gender roles and stereotyping, dissolving boundaries of outer and inner selves of characters, dramatic text and performance text by entering into collaborative play making processes. The work of three women theatre practitioners and the work of Manipuri theatre actor-director duo Sabitri and H. Kanhailal are considered to account for the ways in which they position the body as interpretable and flexible, yet materially and culturally specific in performances directed by them to create a feminist aesthetics.

Rustom Bharucha, The Theatre of Kanhailal: Pebet and Memoirs of Africa, (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1992)

Kapur, Anuradha. “A Wandering word, an Unstable Subject.” Theatre India No.3, May 2001. (5-12)

Diamond, Elin. “Brechtian theory/feminist theory: toward a gestic feminist criticism.” TDR (1988-) 32.1 (1988): 82-94.

Performances: Anuradha Kapur, Maya Rao, Neelam Mansingh, Deepan Sivaraman, Abhilash Pillai, Shankar Venkateswaran, Amitesh Grover, Anurupa Roy

Assessment Details with weights:

This course requires a substantial amount of reading, writing, viewing performance (video and live). Each week we will read, respond to theoretical approaches and address some specific issues about studying performance traditions in India (with special focus on Historiography)

As a 4 credit course, it will run for 2 hours per day for 2 days a week. Every fortnight, one of the 2 hours session may be conducted as a seminar/workshop, where students are required to make presentations/have performance workshop.[1] The activities for each week will include four important steps:

1. Lecture and assigned readings
2. Weekly presentations
3. Class discussion and critique of assigned readings and presentations.
4. Discussion and analysis of video screenings and performances watched/experienced.

The assessment involves students submitting two home assignments (one could be a book review or performance analysis), Presentation, One end-semester paper. These require no outside reading (other than the assigned readings and discussions in the class i.e. Each week we will read and respond to theoretical approaches and address some specific issues about studying key figures and practices in Post-Colonial and Contemporary India) and would require students to focus and closely analyse the concepts, movements, issues centred around the performance and methods of analysis explored in the class.

For the final semester presentation, students are required to choose a specific case study or performance piece [preferably a contemporary practice that they have watched live] for analysis, building a strong academic essay concerning not just the performance but placing it in the larger social fabric. The term paper would be gradually developed over a month in close coordination with the course coordinator.

  • Book Review/Presentation: Paper will count for 20 percent. (750 to 1500 words)
  • Home Assignment: 20 percent of the grade will be awarded to the final submission.(2500 to 3000 words) 10 percent class presentation (20 +10= 30 percent)
  • End term paper or a project (Performance Piece styled in one studied director’s mode)40 percent of the grade will be awarded to the final submission
  • Punctuality and Classroom Participation: 10 percent will be based on the entirety of one’s general participation during class and for discussion. This grade also reflects the student’s ability to be present, on time and prepared for class. (10 percent)

Reading List:

See Above.

[1] If you want to audit the course, you still have to complete the presentation and assignments.