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  Life   Art  14 Dec 2016  New Indian theatre gets a leg-up from patrons

New Indian theatre gets a leg-up from patrons

Published : Dec 14, 2016, 6:30 am IST
Updated : Dec 14, 2016, 6:47 am IST

Novelists of late have thrived on reinventing mythology for urban Indian readership after the success of the Immortals of Meluha.

Still from new Indian plays.
 Still from new Indian plays.

New playwriting in India has gone through an incredible spurt. Every month two or three brand new plays are staged, hot off the printer. There is a direct relation between the number of new plays being written and the number of initiatives supporting it. The Shyamanand Jalan Award and the Hindu Playwriting Prize have been consistent supporters of playwriting. Recently the sporadic Sultan Padamsee Award for Playwriting made a re-appearance, with two plays actually tying for the prestigious first prize.  The Writers' Bloc workshop and festival, is probably the single biggest initiative across the country for developing new writers. Even though the workshop only happens every three years, most of the writers it mentors, suddenly become prolific and churn numerous plays that are ready to be staged each year.

Interestingly, of late, many of these newly written plays are re-interpretations of 'mash ups' of existing work.  

The retelling of earlier stories is not new to the Indian arts scene. We have seen numerous versions of the Mahabaratha and Ramayana, often focussing on tiny little side plots like Adishakti's Branhala or even looking at moral questions like in Dharmavir Bharti's Andha Yug. Novelists of late have thrived on reinventing mythology for urban Indian readership after the success of the Immortals of Meluha. In theatre too, this seems to be happening. Ila was inspired by a little known folk tale, as is Faezeh Jalali's Shikhandi, which will open next year. Ultimate Kurukshetra by Ram Ganesh is deemed too risqué for these times, but is sure to have a production soon.


This trend seems to have crept into the Thespo line up this year as well. Except that it is not actually mythology, but existing plays and playwrights that are the inspiration. There is one piece that is a suggested conversation between Draupadi and Agni, but most of the work features 'well known' writers like Chughtai, Tendulkar and Gulzar, all re-imagined. There have been numerous established plays in the past at the festival, but these have simply been an interesting staging of an existing text.

This time, the works of the great writers merely serve as starting points for the plays. The first play of the festival, Lihaaf, is a story of Ismat Chughtai that has been dramatised many times. The seminal rendition belongs to Heeba Shah, who was mesmerising in Ismat, Manto Haazir Hain. However, this new version, while using most of the Urdu text is a physical theatre piece told by two boys and a girl. Each (and sometimes more than one) of them take turns creating characters, and move seamlessly through this short story which they have converted into a full-length piece of theatre. Being 'devisers' the story was a great foundation for them to explore their physical vocabulary, and create a production unexpected from a text like this.

Vijay Tendulkar seems to be a hot topic among young theatre makers these days. Last year, a troupe from Bombay tried to merge his plays into one narrative and was not very successful. This year there are two different attempts at understanding this great playwright's macabre mind. The full length offering Syaahi, takes three of his plays, Ghidhaade, Kutte, and Sakharam Binder and weaves them in and out of a story about a novelist who is trying to get published. The production, perhaps, goes even further than Tendulkar to expose the twisted and depraved nature of society. It is a hard hitting examination of our limits.


Getting into the great Marathi writer's mind is also the concept behind another piece, Binder Te Samaaj Via Tendulkar. A short play examining how Tendulkar would have created Sakharam Binder. The play quite literally shows you the journey from the brain to the page. An absurd take, but an insightful one nevertheless.

A Gulzar story is also recreated in a Marathi version of Khouf. The short play creates a dialogue between the two protagonists who are trapped during a riot. However this conversation didn't exist in the story.

It is heartening to see our own Indian canon of literature be reinvented for modern audiences, both in content and form. The dynamism of young theatre makers at Thespo seems the ideal place for this trend to begin. Check out the full festival schedule on

Quasar Thakore Padamsee is a Bombay based theatre-holic. He works for arts management company QTP, and is also associated with youth theatre
movement Thespo.

Tags: gulzar, theatre, mahabaratha, ramayana