Against all odds must be the motto that drives an Indian theatreperson to hang in. There aren’t too many lollies that come by; there isn’t the precedent of being rich and famous either. It’s nothing but the passion to perform on a platform—hopefully there will be some applause. That’s what theatre directors, actors, technicians have been reiterating in the National School of Drama-sponsored 9th Bharat Rang Mahotsav that is on in Delhi.
On the opening night itself, there was enough drama. Well-known director, Prasanna’s acceptance letter for the B V Karanth award set the tone. The letter said he couldn’t come to Delhi to accept the award as he was sitting in satyagraha (indefinite hunger strike) at Bangalore on behalf of Abhivakthi Abhiyaan, an all India organisation of theatre workers. The demands were: one, that all national language theatre of India be recognised as national theatre and two, that the theatre-in-education programme be implemented in all government schools in India through a centrally-sponsored scheme.
Looks like it was a case of being at the right place at the right time. When spoken to, an obviously-pleased Prasanna said: “I have called off my strike as the Minister for Culture, Ambika Soni, has announced the setting up of NSDs in Karnataka, Maharashtra, North-East, Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal.” How things work on the ground, however, is a reality we have to watch out for.
These are issues the theatre community has been grappling with for years— the paucity of funds, the partiality to Hindi theatre and the lack of opportunities. The counter to the “one nation one theatre” (in this case Hindi theatre) argument is this: if there are other national languages, all theatre in these languages should be considered national theatre, not regional theatre. Why should Hindi be the chosen one? After all, as Prasanna says: “theatre is an expression that is attached to the word, to the text.” What is the point in training a student in Hindi theatre (in NSD) when he has been raised on a mother tongue other than Hindi. The student will have to start afresh by learning Hindi and then acting in Hindi. That puts him/her at a disadvantage. If that very student acts in his own language, the result would be far superior. The endemic connection with the audience would also be far greater.
Then there is theatre that is beyond language,