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Contesting capital: A history of political theatre in postcolonial Delhi

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Shayoni Mitra
Abstract:
Contesting Capital: A History of Political Theatre in Postcolonial Delhi explores political theatre of the post-Independence era both on stage and on the streets of India's capital city. Taking cue from Gramsci's conception of Left progressive culture work as challenging and changing the existing hegemony of the dominant classes, my primary concern is with the efficacy of political performance. I argue that dramatic practices are embedded in the dynamics of state and popular power, and locate my analysis at the nexus of theatre and organized politics. I examine the work of the Indian People's Theatre Association, Habib Tanvir, Bengali diasporic theatre, theatre of the women's movement, the theatre of Safdar Hashmi, and Jana Natya Manch, the group he founded. My analysis questions the category of the 'political.' What it means to be political at different times is interrogated through how theatre has responded to Delhi's shifting configurations of electoral power. Contesting Capital extends the study of modern Indian theatre beyond the well-made play to include street theatre and other forms of protest performance. It goes beyond text and playwright to analyze the stagecraft of the director and bodily practices of the actor. I propose political performance as a new paradigm for understanding and negotiating the impasse between 'traditional' theatre and 'colonial' influence. In the postcolonial era, political performance, with it's at once local constituencies and its international ideologies, subverts the official imperatives for a homogenous 'national culture' and aligns itself with the people by creating a vernacular, relevant, heterogeneous aesthetic with a popular and didactic appeal. Through the social, participatory and popular medium of political performance, I also provide a portrait of a city. Delhi has been the capital of successive empires. Since Independence it has (re)invented itself as a global megapolis through bureaucratic intervention and capitalist enterprise. Under these twin pressures, how does political theatre carve a space for dissent within its increasingly policed commons? Contesting Capital, through an examination of the ways in which people mount local strategies of resistance to neocolonial and corporate power, is also the history of the politicization of a Delhi city.

Table
of
Contents
 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
 v
 ABSTRACT
 ix
 LIST
OF
FIGURES
 xiv
 LIST
OF
APPENDICES
 xvi
 INTRODUCTION:
CONTESTING
CAPITAL:
A
HISTORY
OF
POLITICAL
THEATRE
IN
 POSTCOLONIAL
DELHI
 1
 Political
Performance:
Preliminary
Functions
 3 
 Towards
a
People’s
Culture
 7 
 Political
Theatre
in
the
European
Intebellum
 12 
 Indian
Theatre
Since
Independence:
the
Politics
of
Nation
 32 
 Contesting
Capital:
A
Brief
History
of
Delhi
 52 
 CAPITAL CHALLENGES: PROGRESSIVE CULTURE AND THE DELHI IPTA
 78
 History
of
the
all
India
IPTA
 81 
 Delhi
IPTA:
The
Early
Years
 109 
 The
Echoes
of
Revolutionary
Song
 122 
 IPTA
Delhi
post
1957
Conference
 131 
 THE
(IM)POSSIBILITIES
OF
A
HINDUSTANI
NATIONAL
THEATRE
 145
 The
Limits
of
National
Theatre
 148 
 Habib
Tanvir:
Towards
a
‘New’
Theatre
 161 
 Reimagining
Urdu
in
Islamic
Education
 165 
 “Agra
Bazaar”
 171 


xii

Oral
Narratives
and
Alternative
National
Histories
 194 
 The
Possibility
of
a
Hindustani
Theatre
 201 
 REFLECTED
RADICALISM:
THE
DIASPORIC
BENGALI
THEATRE
OF
DELHI
 220
 Marginal
Minority:
Bengali’s
in
Delhi
 222 
 Maoist
Persuasions
and
the
Ferment
in
Bengal
 234 
 Re­membering
the
Revolution
 242 
 The
Politics
of
Diasporic
Drama
 261 
 VIOLATING
PERFORMANCE:
WOMEN,
LAW
AND
THE
STATE
OF
EXCEPTION
 270
 The
Women’s
Movement:
A
Question
of
Naming
 271 
 Women’s
Political
Performance:
Two
Models
 276 
 “Om
Svaha”
 281 
 “Main
Hoon
Ladki
Kuwari”
 299 
 “Sati”
 308 
 Violating
Performance
 319 
 Legal
Performance
–
Aspirations,
Contradictions,
Achievements
 322 
 SAFDAR
HASHMI:
REMEMBRANCE,
REPRESENTATION
AND
REVOLUTION
 334
 A
Brief
Biography
 341 
 Jana
Natya
Manch:
The
Early
Years
 346 
 Street
Theatre
and
the
Experiments
with
Theatrical
Form
 356 
 The
Intellectual
Performs
 372 
 PERSISTENT
POLITICS:
JANA
NATYA
MANCH
AND
THE
IDEOLOGY
OF
PRAXIS
 376
 The
Personal
is
Political:
A
Brief
Memoir
 376 
 “Artanaad
(Anguished
Scream/Cry)”
 403 
 Committed
to
Play
 421 


xiii

Conclusion
 437 
 APPENDICES
 439
 BIBLIOGRAPHY
 461
 
 


xiv

List
of
Figures
 
 F IGURE
 1: 
 M EMBERS
OF
 SAHMAT 
IN
 1989, 
 S OURCE : 
 SAHMAT 
 1989: 
 45
 67 
 F IGURE
 2: 
 S ECOND
 IPTA 
 N ATIONAL
 C ONFERENCE
IN
 A HMEDABAD , 
 D ECEMBER
 1947. 
 A RTISTS
FROM
 DIFFERENT
REGIONS
IN
A
PEACE
MARCH . 
 R EKHA
 J AIN
HOLDS
THE
FLAG
ON
TOP
OF
THE
TRUCK . 
 C OURTESY
 N ATRANG
 P RATISHTHAN
 A RCHIVES , 
 N EW
 D ELHI 
 84 
 F IGURE
 3: 
 U NITY
 D ECEMBER
 1951. 
 C OURTESY
 A NAND
 G UPTA 
 91 
 F IGURE
 4: 
 T WO
ILLUSTRATIONS
ENTITLED
 "D ANCE " 
BY
 C HITTOPRASAD . 
 C OURTESY
 A NAND
 G UPTA 
 104 
 F IGURE
 5: 
 CW 
FROM
TOP
LEFT : 
 U NITY
 J UNE
 1951, 
 U NITY
 M AY ‐J UNE
 1953, 
 U NITY
 J ULY
 1953, 
 U NITY
 D ECEMBER
 1953. 
 C OURTESY
 A NAND
 G UPTA 
 107 
 F IGURE
 6: 
 S ONG
 "D ANKA
 B AJE " 
 ("T HE
 D RUM
 B EATS ) 
FROM
 S ARLA
 S HARMA ’ S
NOTEBOOK , 
DATED
 J ULY
 4, 
 1945. 
 T HE
IMAGE , 
BY
 C HITTOPRASAD , 
WAS
INSPIRED
BY
THE
SONG
AND
BECAME
THE
LOGO
FOR
 IPTA. 
 N OTEBOOK
COURTESY
 S ARLA
 S HARMA , 
IMAGE
COURTESY
 A NAND
 G UPTA 
 127 
 F IGURE
 7: 
 IPTA 
 1958 
 C ONFERENCE
 P ROGRAM . 
 C OURTESY
 A NAND
 G UPTA 
 138 
 F IGURE
 8: 
 N EHRU ' S
MESSAGE
AT
 1958 
 C ONFERENCE . 
 S OURCE
 IPTA' S
 G OLDEN
 J UBILEE
 B ROCHURE , 
 1994. 
 C OURTESY
 A NAND
 G UPTA .
 140 
 F IGURE
 9: 
 T HE
 S HAYAR
AND
 T AZKIRANAWIS
OUTSIDE
THE
 K ITABWALLA ’ S
SHOP , 
 A GRA
 B AZAAR , 
 PERFORMANCE
DATE
UNKNOWN . 
 C OURTESY
 N ATRANG
 P RATISHTHAN
 A RCHIVES , 
 N EW
 D ELHI 
 175 
 F IGURE
 10: 
 T HE
 K AKRIWALLA
AND
THE
 T ARBOOZWALLA , 
 A GRA
 B AZAAR , 
PERFORMANCE
DATE
UNKNOWN , 
 BUT
OF
A
MORE
RECENT
SHOW . 
 T HESE
ARE
 N AYA
 T HEATRE
ACTORS
AND
THE
ORIGINAL
PHOTOGRAPH
IS
 IN
COLOR . 
 . 
 C HAITRAM
AS
KAKRIWALLA
 (R). 
 C OURTESY
 N ATRANG
 P RATISHTHAN
 A RCHIVES , 
 N EW
 D ELHI 176 
 F IGURE
 11: 
 S PLIT
STAGE , 
 K OLKATA
SKYLINE , 
AND
MOVIE
AND
POLITICAL
POSTERS . 
 A MRA
 K OLKATA
 1971. 
 C OURTESY
 D ILIP
 B ASU 
 250 
 F IGURE
 12: 
 M ORNING
SCENE
IN
 K OLKATA . 
 A MRA
 K OLKATA
 1971. 
 C OURTESY
 D ILIP
 B ASU 
 250 
 F IGURE
 13: 
 T RADERS
IN
 K OLKATA . 
 A MRA
 K OLKATA
 1971. 
 C OURTESY
 D ILIP
 B ASU 
 251 
 F IGURE
 14: 
 P OSTER
TEARING
SCENE . 
 A MRA
 K OLKATA
 1971. 
 C OURTESY
 D ILIP
 B ASU 
 251 
 F IGURE
 15: 
 C ENTRE : 
 A NURADHA
 K APUR , 
 O M
 S VAHA , 
CA .1980. 
 C OURTESY
 M AYA
 R AO , 
 P HOTOGRAPHER
 D ILIP
 V ARMA 
 290 
 F IGURE
 16: 
 O M
 S VAHA , 
CA .1980. 
 C OURTESY
 M AYA
 R AO , 
 P HOTOGRAPHER
 D ILIP
 V ARMA 
 290 
 F IGURE
 17: 
 C ENTRE : 
 M AYA
 R AO , 
 F AR
 R IGHT : 
 A NURADHA
 K APUR , 
 O M
 S VAHA , 
CA .1980. 
 C OURTESY
 M AYA
 R AO , 
 P HOTOGRAPHER
 D ILIP
 V ARMA 
 291 
 F IGURE
 18: 
 L TO R 
 : 
 U RVASHI
 B UTALIA , 
 M AYA
 R AO , 
 A NURADHA
 K APUR , 
 O M
 S VAHA , 
CA .1980. 
 C OURTESY
 M AYA
 R AO , 
 P HOTOGRAPHER
 D ILIP
 V ARMA 
 292 


xv

F IGURE
 19: 
 U RVASHI
 B UTALIA
 (L) 
AND
 M AYA
 R AO
 (R), 
 O M
 S VAHA , 
CA .1980. 
 C OURTESY
 M AYA
 R AO , 
 P HOTOGRAPHER
 D ILIP
 V ARMA 
 293 
 F IGURE
 20: 
 P OSTERS
MADE
IN
REACTION
TO
 S AFDAR
 H ASHMI ' S
DEATH , 
CA . 
 1989. 
 C OURTESY : 
 SAHMAT
 339 
 F IGURE
 21: 
 S AFDAR
 H ASHMNI ’ S
OWN
ARTWORK . 
 C OURTESY : 
 SAHMAT
 340 
 F IGURE
 22:

(L TO R):

R AKESH S AXENA ,

S HEHLA H ASHMI , AND D EBU C HAKRAVARTY ,

B HARAT B HAGYA V IDHATA ,

1973.

C OURTESY :

S HEHLA H ASHMI G REWAL 
 350 
 F IGURE
 23: 
 (L TO R):

S HEHLA H ASHMI ,

R AKESH S AXENA , AND S UHAIL J AFRI ,

B HARAT B HAGYA V IDHATA ,

1973.

C OURTESY :

S HEHLA H ASHMI G REWAL 
 350 
 F IGURE
 24: 
 (L TO R):

S HEHLA H ASHMI , AND S UBHASH T YAGI ,

B HARAT B HAGYA V IDHATA ,

1973.

C OURTESY S HEHLA H ASHMI G REWAL 
 351 
 F IGURE
 25: 
 (L TO R):

U DAY C HATTERJEE ,

R AKESH S AXENA ,

S HEHLA H ASHMI ,

K AJAL D AS ,

N ARESH ,

S UBHASH T YAGI , AND S AFDAR H ASHMI ,

B HARAT B HAGYA V IDHATA ,

1973.

C OURTESY S HEHLA H ASHMI G REWAL 
 351 
 F IGURE
 26: 
 B AKRI , 
 1974. 
 C OURTESY
 S HEHLA
 H ASHMI
 G REWAL 
 352 
 F IGURE
 27: 
 M ACHINE , 
FIRST
SHOW , 
 O CTOBER
 14, 
 1979. 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH 
 367 
 F IGURE
 28: 
 M ACHINE , 
CA . 
 2000. 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH 
 367 
 F IGURE
 29: 
 DTC 
KI
 D HANDLI , 
CA . 
 1980. 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH 
 368 
 F IGURE
 30: 
 C ENTRE : 
 M OLOYASHREE
 H ASHMI , 
 A URAT , 
CA . 
 1980. 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH 
 368 
 F IGURE
 31: 
 L ATHI
CHARGE , 
 A URAT , 
CA . 
 1980. 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH 
 369 
 F IGURE
 32: 
 C ENTRE : 
 M OLOYASHREE
 H ASHMI , 
 A URAT , 
CA . 
 2000. 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH 
 370 
 F IGURE
 33: 
 M OLOYASHREE
 H ASHMI
WITH
FLAG , 
 A URAT , 
CA . 
 2000. 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH 
 370 
 F IGURE
 34: 
 S AFDAR
 H ASHMI
IN
 M ACHINE , 
 1988. 
 P HOTOGRAPHER : 
 E UGENE
 V AN
 E RVEN . 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH 
 371 
 F IGURE
 35: 
 O PENING
POEM , 
THREE
MASKS , 
 A RTANAAD , 
CA
 1997. 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH .
 407 
 F IGURE
 36: 
 D UPPATTAS
IN
THE
AIR
AT
THE
END
OF
OPENING
POEM , 
 A RTANAAD , 
CA
 1997. 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH .
 408 
 F IGURE
 37: 
 V ARIOUS
SPACES
AND
AUDIENCE
CONFIGURATIONS
FOR
 J ANAM
SHOWS . 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH .
 427 
 F IGURE
 38: 
 V ARIOUS
SPACES
AND
AUDIENCE
CONFIGURATIONS
FOR
 J ANAM
SHOWS . 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH .
 427 
 F IGURE
 39: 
 J ANAM
PERFORMERS
ON
A
STAGE
MADE
WITH
CAMEL
CARTS
PUSHED
TOGETHER . 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH .
 428 
 F IGURE
 40: 
 J ANAM
PERFORMERS
IN
 J HANDAPUR , 
THE
AREA
WHERE
 S AFDAR
 H ASHMI
AND
THE
REST
OF
THE
 TROUPE
WERE
ATTACKED . 
 C OURTESY : 
 J ANA
 N ATYA
 M ANCH .
 428 


xvi

List
of
Appendices
 
 
 APPENDIX
I:
LIST
OF
IPTA
PRODUCTIONS
 439
 APPENDIX
II:
LIST
OF
PLAYS
DIRECTED
BY
HABIB
TANVIR
 448
 APPENDIX
III:
SONGS
OF
THEATRE
UNION
 455
 APPENDIX
IV:
JANA
NATYA
MANCH
 458
 


1

Introduction:
Contesting
Capital:
A
History
of
Political
 Theatre
in
Postcolonial
Delhi
 
 
 
 
 The
following
pages
can
often
read
like
a
study
in
contrasts
–
singing
 troupes
to
dialogic
theatre
of
ideas,
productions
with
casts
of
twenty
or
thirty
 people
to
theatrical
sketches
with
four
or
five
actors,
open‐air
performance
on
 hastily
erected
platforms
to
intimate
basement
theatre,
carefully
scripted
drama
 with
meticulous
scores
to
improvised
agitational
propaganda
pieces.
One
finds
 all
these
and
more
in
a
history
of
political
theatre
in
postcolonial
Delhi.
How
do
 we
then
study
and
make
sense
of
a
field
as
vastly
variegated
as
this?
What
 methods
do
we
apply
to
tracing
this
history?
And
does
Delhi,
a
capital
city
 exponentially
expanding
under
the
flows
of
transnational
trade
even
lend
itself
 to
such
a
study?
At
each
step
of
this
dissertation
I
have
had
to
ask
these
 questions
of
myself
and
my
material.
Yet
it
is
precisely
the
analytical
promise
 held
out
by
the
lens
of
political
performance
that
has
propelled
me
to
persist
in
 my
study.
Performance
is
a
direct,
embodied
and
interactive
way
of
people
 relating
to
each
other.
The
inhabitants
of
a
city
make
sense,
use
and
changes
in
 their
shared
habitus
through
cultural
practice.
We
come
closer,
as
scholars
and
 as
citizens,
to
understanding
the
experiential
realities
of
our
everyday
lives
by


2

paying
close
critical
attention
to
the
strategies
of
entertainment
and
edification
 people
regularly
employ.
 Delhi,
as
the
capital
city
of
sovereign
India,
is
embedded
in
concentric
 circles
of
international,
national
and
local
power,
each
exerting
its
particular
 demands
and
stresses
on
its
constituencies.
In
Contesting
Capital
I
examine
the
 intersections
and
elisions
between
these
force
fields
through
detailing
the
 interaction
between
theatre
and
organized
politics.
I
look
at
the
strategies
 people
have
adopted
in
the
decades
since
Independence
from
British
colonial
 rule
in
1947,
to
negotiate
for
themselves,
under
increasing
duress,
the
space
for
 dissent.
I
trace
not
only
the
history
of
contestatory
politics
in
the
nation’s
capital
 but
also
the
ways
in
which
its
citizenry
has
resisted
the
onslaught
of
 unregulated
colonial
and
corporate
capital
to
argue
for
a
more
democratic
and
 equitable
environment.
Whether
it
is
the
Indian
People’s
Theatre
Association
in
 the
1940s
or
the
women’s
movement
of
the
1980s,
large‐scale
mass
 mobilization
has
often
characterized
and
incubated
the
most
potent
political
 theatre.
Sometimes
painstaking
experimentation
over
several
decades
of
 continual
participation
in
the
theatre,
as
in
the
cases
of
Habib
Tanvir
and
Jana
 Natya
Manch,
has
lead
to
the
refinement
of
a
radical
aesthetic.
Violence,
as
 direct
bodily
attack
on
political
performers
such
as
Safdar
Hashmi,
and
as
 ideological
maneuvering
by
diasporic
Bengali
drama
committed
to
an
ultra
Left
 ideology,
has
impinged
on
the
discourse
of
radical
theatre
to
highlight
its


3

material
and
metaphysical
stakes.
I
provide
a
more
detailed
account
of
the
 specific
instances
of
political
theatre
discussed
in
the
chapters
of
my
 dissertation
at
the
end
of
this
Introduction.
I
start
here
with
the
various
 contexts
–
international,
national
and
local
–
under
which
such
performances
 occur.

 
 Political
Performance:
Preliminary
Functions
 
 This
dissertation
is
an
examination
of
what
it
means
to
be
political
at
 different
moments
in
time
under
different
configurations
of
power.
Through
the
 course
of
this
entire
project,
and
most
persistently
during
my
fieldwork
 interviews
with
theatre
workers,
I
was
asked
to
clarify
what
I
meant
by
political
 performance.
In
the
field,
still
in
the
preliminary
stages
of
information
gathering
 I
responded
by
turning
the
question
around
to
the
interviewee
–
“What
do
you
 think
is
political?”
Many
of
the
responses
I
received,
some
as
tentative
 definitions
and
others
as
illustrations
from
their
own
work,
are
recounted
in
the
 chapters
that
follow.
Here
I
offer
some
characteristics
of
political
theatre
in
 conventional
wisdom;
preliminary
premises
which
will
be
tried,
tested
and
 ultimately
extended
through
the
course
of
this
dissertation.

 The
constituent
feature
of
political
theatre,
most
hold,
is
its
belief
in
 class‐based
society.
Material
distinctions
between
different
strata
are
the
 organizing
mechanism
of
civil
society,
whereby
the
class
that
controls
the


4

means
of
production
–
material,
moral,
intellectual
–
seeks
to
dominate
the
class
 that
is
engaged
in
the
everyday
acts
of
production.
This
definition
works
not
 only
for
the
traditional
Marxist
classification
between
the
capitalist
bourgeoisie
 and
the
proletariat
of
peasants
and
workers,
but
also,
apace
with
historically
 changing
configurations
of
political
society,
between
patriarchy
and
feminist
 organizations,
agents
of
globalization
and
survivors
of
local
industry,
producers
 of
homogenized
Culture
and
practitioners
of
indigenous
idioms;
indeed
any
 configuration
of
power
whereby
a
group
of
people
systemically
suppresses
 another.
Theatre
of
a
political
nature
relates
to
its
material
conditions
of
 production
as
much
as
it
does
to
its
metaphysical
orientation.
It
is
non‐state‐ sponsored
theatre.
By
this
is
meant
both
governmental
agencies
that
represent
 institutional
rule
and
also
corporations
that
have
increasing
become
brokers
of
 power
in
a
globalized
world.
Ideological
opposition
to
such
sources
of
funding
 has
lead
political
theatre
to
tailor
its
productions
to
its
limited
means.
This
has
 inevitably
meant
paring
down
theatre
paraphernalia
to
focus
increasingly
on
 the
actors
and
the
words
they
speak.
The
spectator
is
directly
addressed,
either
 in
the
course
of
the
dialogue
or
through
dramaturgical
devices
such
as
songs
or
 asides.
The
fourth
wall
does
not
exist
in
political
theatre.
This
has
also
meant,
 particularly
in
the
Indian
context,
that
political
theatre
is
an
amateur
theatre.
 They
may
possess
and
display
professional
levels
of
skill
in
the
theatre,
but
 rarely
are
they
sustained
by
it.
Political
theatre
has
also
not
resorted
to


5

buttressing
its
limited
financial
resources
through
hefty
ticket
sales.
An
ethos
of
 accessibility
characterizes
all
political
performance.
Whether
literally
 performed
in
an
open
space,
or
metaphorically
free
through
low
or
no
cost
 tickets,
such
theatre
functions
on
the
premise
that
anyone
can
see
it
should
they
 want
to.

 Political
theatre
is
a
specialized
and
extreme
case
of
performance
which
 functions
only
through
calling
attention
to
its
own
performativity.
Richard
 Schechner
famously
described
the
term
thus,
“Performance
means:
never
for
 the
first
time.
It
means:
for
the
second
to
the
nth
time.
Performance
is
‘twice‐ behaved
behavior
(Schechner
1985:
36).’”
Political
theatre
is
never
the
original,
 which
exists
only
in
the
realm
of
class
relations,
but
always
a
representation.
As
 such
it
itself
becomes
a
rehearsal
for
action
to
be
realized
by
the
spectators
who
 are
urged
to
become
actors
in
their
own
social
dramas
in
the
real
world.
To
this
 end
political
theatre
embraces
and
manipulates
its
own
disappearance,
which
 Peggy
Phelan
seminally
posited
as
the
ontology
of
performance, 1 
to
its
own
 advantage.
The
performance
is
per
force
ephemeral;
it
must
end
or
disappear
 for
its
purpose
to
be
realized.
The
play
gets
erased
from
the
realm
of
the
 metaphysical
to
become
materialized
in
the
audience.
A
successful
play
ensures
 its
own
longevity
in
the
minds
of
its
viewers.
But
the
audience
does
not
bear
the
 entire
burden
of
its
existence.
Even
if
no
follow‐up
action
were
to
come
out
of
it
 






















































 
 1 “Performance’s only life is in the present… Performance’s being, like the ontology of subjectivity proposed here, becomes itself through disappearance (Phelan 1993: 146).”

6

or
no
concrete
change
in
material
circumstance
provoked,
political
theatre
itself
 is
an
intervention
in
a
socio‐political
field.
Its
very
enunciation
constitutes
its
 doing,
and
in
this
regard
it
becomes
a
prime
example
of
what
J.L.
Austin
terms
 the
performative
utterance. 1 

 The
study
of
political
theatre
owes
as
much
to
the
insights
offered
by
 performance
theory
as
it
does
to
conventional
political
theory.
Proceeding
from
 the
formulation
expressed
above,
political
theatre
first
and
foremost
aims
at
 exposing
the
functionings
of
class
domination.
It
always
adopts
the
approach
of
 historical
materialism
as
its
dramaturgical
technique,
to
lay
bare
the
 constructed,
impermanent
and
therefore
changeable
structures
of
human
 society. 2 
Political
theatre
ascribes
to
a
collective
rather
than
an
individualistic
 conception
of
human
history.
The
relations
between
social
classes
can
only
be
 changed
if
people
of
the
suppressed
classes
band
together.
To
this
end
political
 






















































 
 1 “The term performative…indicates the issuing of an utterance is the performing of an action – it is not normally thought of as just saying something (Austin 1962, 1999: 6-7).” 2 While Marx himself never used the terms historical materialism, they are widely attributed to him based on his urgings to develop a historically informed mode of cultural criticism and knowledge creation. For example in his discussion on the evolution and appeal of machinery in capitalist society, Marx writes in Capital, Volume I: A critical history of technology would show how little any of the inventions of the eighteenth century are the work of a single individual. As yet such a book does not exist […] Does not the history of the productive organs of man in society, of organs that are the material basis of every particular organization of society, deserve equal attention? And would not such a history be easier to compile, since, as Vico says, human history differs from natural history in that we have made the former, but not the latter? Technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations… the weakness of the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism which excludes the historical process, are immediately evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions expressed by its spokesmen whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own specialty (Marx 1976: 493-94, footnote 4).

7

theatre
prods
its
audience
to
action,
as
they
themselves
are
the
agents
of
 change.
These
practices
ascribe
the
capacity
for
political
action
to
the
people,
 even
if
sometimes
being
guilty
of
subscribing
to
somewhat
idealized
notions
of
 the
masses.

 
 Towards
a
People’s
Culture
 
 Political
performers
demonstrate
perfectly
what
Homi
Bhabha
describes
 as
the
dual
nature
of
the
people
of
a
nation,
for,
“the
subject
of
cultural
 discourse
–
the
agency
of
a
people
–
is
split
in
the
discursive
ambivalence
that
 emerges
in
the
contestation
of
narrative
authority
between
the
pedagogical
and
 the
performative
(Bhaba
1990:
299).”
‘The
people’
emerges
as
a
category
that
 must
be
depicted
and
at
the
same
time
brought
to
certain
realizations.
In
the
 postcolonial
situation,
the
need
to
think
and
act
politically
is
especially
urgent
 and
political
performance
activates
these
constitutive
characteristics
of
once
 colonized
man.
In
this
regard
Franz
Fanon’s
formulation
that,
“the
colonized,
 underdeveloped
man
is
today
a
political
creature
in
the
most
global
sense
of
the
 term,
(Fanon
1961,
2004:
40)”
has
lost
none
of
its
relevance
in
the
near
half‐ century
since
he
wrote
it.
Indeed
each
successive
generation
makes
the
 imaginative
and
cognitive
leap
to
define
for
itself
a
political
function
in
tune
 with
its
present
circumstance.
Fanon
wrote
from
the
very
specific
historico‐ political
context
of
his
involvement
with
the
Front
de
Liberacion
Nationale


8

(FLN)
in
the
Algerian
resistance
to
French
national
policy
in
the
late
1950s‐ early
60s.
But
since
then
the
postcolonial
nations
of
Asia,
Africa
and
South
 America
have
come
a
long
way.
Have
they
really
or
have
old
conflicts
been
 recast
in
new
clothes?
Bhabha
traces
the
ways
in
which
the
starkly
split
colonial
 world
Fanon
describes
in
The
Wretched
of
the
Earth
has
been
overwritten
by
 the
even
greater
Manichaean
divide
in
income
distribution
in
a
globalized
 economy
and
says
of
the
philosopher‐psychiatrist’s
continued
relevance,
 “Fanon’s
vision
of
the
global
future,
post
colonialism
and
after
decolonization,
is
 an
ethical
and
political
project
–
yes,
a
plan
of
action
as
well
as
a
projected
 aspiration
(emphasis
in
original,
Bhaba
in
Fanon
1961,
2004:
xvi).”
This
“project
 of
futurity”
is
one
that
Fanon
himself
outlined,
though
he
never
fully
detailed
it:
 The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anticolonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be (Fanon 1961, 2004: 55). Material
transformation
in
the
relations
of
production
is
the
ultimate
goal
of
 political
production.
But
a
complete
rehauling
of
the
socio‐political
system,
 while
a
much‐believed
in
ideology,
is
usually
a
distant
possibility.
It
is
the
task
 of
political
performers
to
bring
it
closer
to
reality.
It
would
be
naïve
to
suggest
 that
political
performance
alone
can
bring
about
revolution.
Performances
work
 through
and
in
conjunction
with
larger
political
movements,
and
much
of
their
 relevance
and
efficacy
is
derived
from
the
strength
of
these
broader


9

movements.
But
the
power
of
performance
is
attested
by
the
increasing
 importance
and
scrutiny
given
to
cultural
work
by
political
theorists,
a
 discipline
that
has
traditionally
been
dominated
by
its
attention
to
political
 economy
alone.
Antonio
Gramsci
is
by
far
the
most
influential
of
these
Marxist
 cultural
theorists.
He
was
the
first
to
articulate
cultural
work
as
operating
in
the
 plane
of
‘molecular’
changes
in
civil
society
that
continually
shift
the
hegemonic
 lines
of
power.
In
his
estimation,
one
group
establishes
and
maintains
control
 over
another
not
only
through
the
exercise
of
political
power,
but
also
through
 the
imperceptible
forces
of
cultural
hegemony.
For
a
political
party
to
come
into
 power,
and
for
that
matter
for
social
revolution
to
happen,
there
must
first
be
 hegemonic
activity
that
establishes
the
need
and
means
for
change
in
the
minds
 of
the
suppressed
classes.
Put
simply,
cultural
work,
in
our
case
political
theatre,
 is
a
project
of
raising
the
consciousness
of
the
masses,
“the
realization
of
a
 hegemonic
apparatus,
in
so
far
as
it
creates
a
new
ideological
terrain,
 determines
a
reform
of
consciousness
and
of
methods
of
knowledge
(Gramsci
 1971,
2003:
365).”
 Fundamental
to
this
understanding
of
hegemony
and
the
use
of
cultural
 tools
to
influence
its
shifting
lines,
is
the
belief
that
an
individual’s
conscious
 ideology
might
not
be
consonant
with
her
social
standing
since
the
dominance
 of
a
social
class
over
another
is
ensured
through
the
victory
of
their
ideology.
It
 becomes
the
task
of
political
and
cultural
vanguards
to
free
the
proletariat
from


10

this
“false”
or
“dual”
consciousness
and
bring
them
closer
to
revolutionary
 consciousness.
This
notion
of
Gramscian
hegemony
enables
us
to
dwell
on
the
 socio‐cultural
specificities
of
a
given
political
moment,
for
it
is
always
an
 examination
of
where
and
how
the
lines
of
hegemony
are
maintained
in
that
 historical
instance.
In
Marxist
philosophy
individual
consciousness
after
all
is
 not
static,
constant
nor
innate.
Gramsci
expresses
this
thus:
 If man is defined as an individual, psychologically and speculatively, these problems of progress and becoming are insoluble or remain purely verbal. But if man is conceived as the ensemble of social relations, it then appears that every comparison between men, over time is impossible, because one is dealing with different, if not heterogeneous, objects. Moreover, since man is also the ensemble of his conditions of life, one can provide a quantitative measurement of the difference between the past and the present, since one can measure the extent to which man dominates nature and chance (emphasis in original, ibid: 359-60). Sociologist
Pierre
Bourdieu
takes
this
relational
conception
of
man
further,
 compellingly
arguing
that
works
of
art
are
also
embedded
in
a
field
of
power
 relations.
For
him,
“the
essential
explanation
of
each
work
lies
outside
of
each
of
 them
in
the
objective
relations
which
constitute
this
field.
The
task
is
that
of
 constructing
the
space
of
positions
and
the
space
of
position‐taking
…
the
 literary
or
artistic
field
is
a
field
of
forces,
but
it
is
also
a
field
of
struggles
 (emphasis
in
original,
Bourdieu
1993:
30).”
What
is
at
stake
in
these
struggles
is
 the
fight
to
establish
the
“dominant
definition
(ibid:
42)”of
a
work
of
art,
which
 in
the
case
of
artists
and
the
representatives
of
authority
they
oppose
means
 two
conflicting
world‐views.
Gramsci
expresses
this
same
battle
over


11

definitions
as,
“the
diffusion
in
a
critical
form
of
truths
already
discovered,
their
 ‘socialization’
as
it
were,
and
even
making
them
the
basis
of
vital
action
 (Gramsci
1971,
2003:
325).”
 Dealing
in
truth
must
of
course
be
treated
with
Foucouldian
caution.
 Political
theatre
balks
at
universal
assertions
and
deals
instead
with
the
 specifics
of
a
historical
situation.
Audiences
are
encouraged
to
think
not
in
 terms
of
replacing
one
truth
with
another,
but
rather
to
question
the
basis
of
 what
they
perceive
to
be
true.
Effective
political
theatre
aims
in
instilling
a
spirit
 of
critical
inquiry
about
the
truth.
Foucault
urges
us
to
remember
that
after
all
 “truth
isn’t
outside
power
or
lacking
in
power
(Foucault
1994:
131),”
but
rather
 constituted
by
regimes
of
power.
He
explains
further:
 In societies like ours, the “political economy” of truth is characterized by five important traits. “Truth” is centred on the form of scientific discourse and the institutions that produce it; it is subject to constant economic and political incitement (the demand for truth, as much for economic productions as for political power); it is the object, under diverse forms, of immense diffusion and consumption (circulating through apparatuses of education and information whose extent is relatively broad in the social body, notwithstanding certain strict limitations); it is produced and transmitted under the control, dominant if not exclusive, of a few great political and economic apparatuses (university, army, writing, media); finally it is the issue of a whole political debate and social confrontations (“ideological” struggles) (Foucault 1994: 131). For
Foucault, 1 
as
for
Gramsci,
it
becomes
the
task
of
the
intellectual
to
work
to
 explore
and
expose
these
regimes
of
power
and
their
truth
producing
 






















































 
 1 Foucault writes of the position and work of the intellectual in relation to his social class larger society as such:

12

mechanisms
to
their
constituencies,
that
is
the
general
public
of
the
socio‐ political
class
they
belong
to.
 
 Political
Theatre
in
the
European
Intebellum
 
 Political
theatre
practitioners
are
therefore
always
engaged
in
trying
to
 challenge
the
status
quo,
change
the
lines
of
hegemony,
mark
gains
for
left
 ideology
in
the
general
populace,
and
work
to
exposing
the
constructed
nature
 of
social
truths
for
their
audiences.
Various
artists
and
their
methodologies
have
 met
with
varying
degrees
of
success.
Many
contemporary
theorists
and
 practitioners
are
discussed
in
the
various
chapters
of
this
dissertation
for
the
 comparative
models
they
provide
for
the
concomitant
development
of
Indian
 performance.
I
speak
of
Ngugi
wa’Thiongo’s
experiences
with
the
Kenyan
 National
Theatre
and
his
Kamiriithu
collective
in
relation
to
the
theatre
of
Habib
 Tanvir
in
Chapter
2,
Mao
Zedong
and
the
Chinese
Cultural
Revolution
in
the
 Chapter
3
on
diasporic
Bengali
theatre
and
Augusto
Boal
and
his
models
for
 






















































 
 The intellectual has a threefold specificity: that of his class position (whether as petty bourgeois in the service of capitalism or “organic” intellectual of the proletariat); that of his conditions of life and work, linked to his condition as an intellectual (his field of research, his place in a laboratory, the political and economic demands to which he submits or gainst which he rebels, in the university, the hospital and so on); finally, the specificity of the politics of truth in our societies. And it is with this last factor that his position can take on general significance, and that of his local, specific struggle can have effects and implications that are not simply professional or sectoral. The intellectual can operate and struggle at the general level of that regime of truth so essential to the structure and functioning of our society (Foucault 1994: 131).

13

forum
and
legislative
theatre
in
Chapter
4
on
the
theatre
of
the
women’s
 movement.
My
focus
in
this
Introduction
is
different.
I
wish
to
set
the
stage
for
 the
development
of
political
theatre
in
India
after
national
Independence
in
 1947
and
therefore
offer
selection
here
of
political
cultural
theory
that
precedes
 it.
How
do
political
artists
in
India
interact,
complicate
and
adapt
the
Western
 canon
of
radical
performance?
A
discussion
of
specifically
European
theorists
 and
practitioners
also
allows
us
to
be
more
attentive
to
the
postcolonial
 interventions
of
Indian
political
theatre.
 I
discuss
three
key
practitioners
of
political
theatre
in
the
twentieth
 century,
who
through
their
own
sustained
practice,
have
significantly
altered
 and
impacted
the
ways
we
think
about
the
relation
between
aesthetics
and
 politics.
Roughly
contemporaries
who
redefined
the
parameters
of
modern
 political
theatre,
I
speak
of
Vsevolod
Meyerhold
(1874‐1940),
Erwin
Piscator
 (1893‐
1966),
and
Bertolt
Brecht
(1898‐1956).
A
majority
of
their
important
 works
occurs
after
the
First
World
War
up
until
immediately
after
the
Second
 World
War
in
the
context
of
the
left
cultural
movement
in
their
home
countries
 and
abroad.
They
were
each
outspoken
and
articulate
about
their
own
theatre
 practice
and
soon
news
of
their
innovations
spread
through
the
networks
of
the
 international
left
movement.
In
the
1920s
and
1930s,
under
the
backdrop
of
the
 newly
constituted
Communist
Party
in
India
such
debates
on
the
utility
of
 aesthetics
in
social
revolution
were
particularly
urgent.
Accounts
of
the
works


14

of
Meyerhold,
Piscator
and
Brecht
started
reaching
India
through
the
conduits
 of
the
Comintern,
or
the
Third
Communist
International,
to
which
India
sent
its
 representatives
starting
in
1927.
At
this
moment,
before
Indian
independence,
 the
promise
of
the
Indian
Left,
oriented
toward
the
Soviet
Union,
coming
into
 power
was
far
more
real
than
the
state
sponsored
soft
socialism
Jawaharlal
 Nehru
pushed
for
during
his
tenure
as
the
first
Indian
Prime
(1937‐64).
The
 Second
World
War
fundamentally
altered
the
balance
of
power
for
the
 International
Communists
with
the
Comintern
dissolving
in
1935.
So
in
a
sense
 wide‐spread
influence
of
the
Communists
and
its
corollary
Marxist
cultural
 theory
was
at
its
height
in
the
interbellum
period.
 Vsevolod
Meyerhold
crafted
large‐scale
productions
working
closely
 with
playwrights
such
as
Vladimir
Mayakovsky.
Erwin
Piscator
created
short
 agitprop
pieces
for
the
proletariat
and
started
an
epic
theatre
that
utilized
 multimedia
to
create
a
composite
language
for
the
theatre.
Bertolt
Brecht
wrote
 his
own
plays
and
worked
with
a
fixed
ensemble
of
actors,
theorizing
 extensively
on
the
relation
between
the
popular
and
the
pedagogic.
These
three
 directors
devised
and
elaborated
on
specific
techniques
and
approaches
to
text,
 actor
and
audience.
Their
theatres
offer
different
models
of
political
theatre,
 each
a
specific
equation
and
resolution
of
the
relation
between
politics
and
 aesthetics,
which
were
successful
in
their
own
time.
Yet
Meyerhold,
Piscator,
 and
Brecht
had
anything
but
an
easy
or
undisputed
success
precisely
because
of


15

their
complex
relation
to
organized
political
institutions;
all
three
having
been
 imprisoned,
exiled
or
having
sought
asylum
at
some
time.
In
this
regard
they
 embody,
in
their
lives
and
their
careers,
the
stakes
of
political
theatre
in
both
 ideological
and
corporeal
terms.

 
 Vsevolod
Meyerhold
was
an
actor
at
the
Moscow
Art
Theatre
started
by
 Vladimir
Nemirovich
Danchenko
and
Konstantin
Stanislavski
from
1898‐1902
 and
left
to
start
his
career
as
a
director,
first
in
the
provinces
and
then
later
in
 Moscow.
He
became
a
member
of
the
Communist
Party
in
1918
and
Party
 leadership
commissioned
him
to
mount
a
production
for
the
first
anniversary
of
 the
October
Revolution
that
same
year.
Meyerhold
chose
Mayakovsky’s
Mystery
 Bouffe
and
in
some
ways
the
troubled
production
history
of
Mystery
Buoffe
is
 emblematic
of
Meyerhold’s
own
troubled
relationship
with
the
Bolsheviks,
 which
ended
with
torture,
the
murder
of
his
wife,
and
death
by
facing
the
firing
 squad
of
Stalinist
Russia
in
1940.
Edward
Braun,
theatre
scholar
and
Meyerhold
 historian,
writes
of
the
production:
 In September 1918 plans were made to stage the first-ever Soviet play, Mayakovsky’s Mystery Buoffe, to mark the first anniversary of the October Revolution. It was to be produced by Meyerhold with the assistance of Vladimir Solovyov and Mayakovsky himself. However, the Petrograd theatres were still maintaining a position of cautious neutrality and the production was boycotted by the vast majority of professional actors. Consequently, the organizers were forced to make a public appeal in order to complete casting. Eventually all but a few main parts were played by students, with Mayakovsky himself filling three roles in the opening performance at the Petrograd Conservetoire on 7 November 1918.

16

The Bolshevik Government was more than a little embarrassed by the enthusiastic support it was receiving from the Futurist artists, fearing that their uncompromising brutalist vision of the new mechanized age might prove insufficiently beguiling for the masses… Mystery Buoffe attracted violent criticism both from the left and the right, and it was taken off after three scheduled performances. Despite Mayakovsky’s strenuous efforts it was nearly three years before the play was revived in a new version in Moscow, again with Meyerhold directing (Braun 1969: 158-61). Kazimir
Malevich
designed
“Cubo‐Futurist
sets
(Gladkov
1998:
11)”
for
the
 Mystery
Buoffe
and
the
constructivist
set
became
one
of
the
characteristics
of
 Meyerhold’s
productions.
The
scale
of
these
large‐scale
structures
has
seldom
 been
replicated
in
political
performances
post
Meyerhold.
But
he
also
 “discarded
naturalistic
stage
settings,”
“eliminated
the
stage
curtain
in
an
 attempt
at
breaking
down
the
barrier
between
spectator
and
performer,”
used
 “music
[which]
would
become
an
integral
structural
and
aesthetic
part
of
the
 production,”
and
“eliminate[d]
the
proscenium,”
(Gladkov
1998:
4‐9)”
and
these
 innovations
were
to
have
a
lasting
impact
on
political
theatre.

 Meyerhold
also
revolutionized
actor‐training
methodology.
He
fused
the
 discoveries
of
two
Americans
working
in
different
fields
to
device
his
own
 system
of
‘biomechanics.’
The
first
was
industrial
engineer
Frederick
Taylor
 who
was
researching
movements
to
increase
efficiency
of
factory
assembly
 lines.
The
second
was
psychologist
William
James
working
in
the
field
of
 reflexology,
or
the
relation
between
motor
reflexes
and
emotions.
Biomechanics
 is
a
highly
codified
physical
system
where
each
gesture
is
part
of
the
larger
 language
of
“etudes.”
“Every
movement
is
a
hieroglyph
with
its
own
peculiar


17

meaning.
The
theatre
should
employ
only
those
movements
which
are
 immediately
decipherable;
everything
else
is
superfluous
(report
on
 Meyerhold’s
lecture
‘The
Actor
of
the
future
and
Biomechanics,’
Moscow
1922
 in
Braun
1969:
200).”

 Meyerhold
used
actors
trained
in
biomechanics
for
the
first
time
in
his
 1922
production
of
Fernand
Crommelynck’s
Magnanimous
Cuckold.
Lyubov
 Popova
made
a
constructivist
set
which
was
described
as,
“a
machine
for
actor’s
 to
play
(‘work’
in
the
Constructivist
terms)
[…]
By
defining
and
structuring
the
 spatial
limits
of
the
performing
area,
the
construction
aided
the
actors
in
much
 the
same
way
that
a
properly
designed
machine
enables
a
worker
to
produce
 more
efficiently
(Law
1995:
43).”
In
1925
he
produced
Nikolai
Erdman’s
The
 Warrant
on
a
revolving
stage
and
in
the
same
year
his
company
also
mounted
 Sergei
Tretyakov’s
Roar,
China!.
Inspector
General
in
1926
marked
another
 signal
change
in
Meyerhold’s
oeuvre,
where
he
adapted
Nikolai
Gogol’s
play
into
 a
montage
of
fifteen
scenes.
He
significantly
pared
down
the
sets
and
“began
 using
objects
more
sparingly
and
more
often
for
their
associative
power
(Law
 1995:
50).”
 
 Meyerhold
has
had
his
fair
share
of
critics
both
in
his
lifetime
and
after.
 His
name
was
cleared
and
he
was
rehabilitated
in
Russian
revolutionary
history
 in
the
first
wave
of
de‐Stalinization
in
1955.
In
subsequent
years,
rather
than
 ideological
battles,
criticism
of
his
theatre
has
tended
to
revolve
around
the


18

technicalities
of
his
method.
Biomechanics
is
often
seen
as
too
controlling
and
 limiting
of
the
actor’s
own
creativity,
and
large‐scale
constructivism
too
 spectacular
and
impractical.
But
successive
generations
of
directors
continue
to
 be
hugely
influenced
by
the
way
he
revolutionized
theatre
aesthetic,
even
if
they
 do
not
emulate
his
methods
exactly.
In
India,
as
I
discuss
in
detail
later
chapters,
 his
implicit
influence
is
evident
in
the
Indian
People’s
Theatre
Association
 (IPTA)
–
Shambhu
Mitra
used
a
revolving
stage
in
Nabanna
and
the
IPTA
also
 staged
Roar,
China!.
Safdar
Hashmi
of
Jana
Natya
Manch
frequently
cited
 Meyerhold’s
production
of
Mystery
Bouffe
as
the
first
instance
of
modern
 political
theatre. 1 
Meyerhold’s
model
of
an
urban,
often
open‐air
theatre,
using
a
 montage
of
scenes
rather
than
linear
narrative,
and
symbolic
props
has
become
 almost
de
rigueur
in
Indian
political
theatre.
 The
director/theorist
to
have
the
greatest
impact
on
political
 performance
in
India
is
perhaps
Bertolt
Brecht;
his
influence
in
the
 subcontinent
now
being
well
documented. 2 
Brecht
arrives
at
and
elaborates
on
 the
concept
of
Epic
theatre
first
formulated
by
his
friend
Erwin
Piscator
(1893‐ 1966).
Piscator
fought
and
was
wounded
in
the
First
World
War
and,
newly
 politicized
by
his
war‐time
experiences, 3 
on
his
return
to
Berlin
started
the
 Proletarisches
Theatre
with
Hermann
Schuller
in
1919.
They
evolved
a
mold
for
 






















































 
 1 “On the first anniversary of the October Revolution, Vsevold Meyerhold produced Mayakovsky’s Mystery Bouffe in which he combined elements of the tent show with revolutionary poetry and put it up in the city square for an audience of several thousand (Hashmi 1989: 10).” 2 C.f. Dalmia 2005; 1153—280. 3 “I too now had a clear opinion on how far art was only a means to an end. a political means. A propogandist means. A pedagogical means (Piscator 1963: 23)

19

topical,
mobile,
political
theatre,
later
to
be
widely
known
and
practiced
as
 agitational‐propogandist
or
agit‐prop
theatre.
Reading
a
description
of
those
 early
experiments
of
the
Proletarisches
Theatre
one
is
struck
by
how
closely
 they
resemble
contemporary
agit‐prop
practices
in
many
parts
of
the
world
 today:
 Proletarisches Theatre was conceived from the start as an agitprop group with the sole aim of developing class-consciousness and proletarian solidarity for the struggle ahead, and Piscator pioneered the material which by 1928 was being used by agitprop troupes in virtually every German town: short sketches in brief, simple scenes with typed characters and dialogue larded with direct appeals to the audience to respond to the communist message. He toured the working-class quarters of Berlin with a small group of actors and helpers doing one-night stands in halls and meeting rooms (Piscator 1963: 37-38). By
1925,
with
the
publication
and
popularity
of
Hitler’s
Mien
Kampf,
the
dangers
 of
Right‐wing
ideology
were
already
apparent
in
Germany 1 
and
progressive
 writers
and
artists
were
trying
to
band
together
to
form
a
united
front
to
 counter
the
popular
seduction
of
Nazism.
Piscator
gathered
his
writings
on
and
 experiences
in
theatre
in
haste
and
published
The
Political
Theatre
in
1929,
 which
he
later
revised
and
rereleased
in
1963.
In
it
he
reflected
on
the
 






















































 
 1 Piscator writes of that period: By 1929 it was already clear that a considerable number of Germans have learned nothing from the FIRST World War. Delusions of national greatness – one of the main causes of that war – were spreading to an extent that gave cause for alarm and were being turned into apolitical formula by the National Socialists. The chaos that would ensue if this “movement” ever came to power was clear beyond any shadow of doubt to anybody who had read Hitler’s Mien Kampf. But how many people had read that tedious rubbish? Was it really as few as was maintained after 1945 in Germany? It seems to me that not a few Germans wanted chaos inasmuch as they wanted Hitler: and not not wanting Hitler was tantamount to wanting him (emphasis in original, 1963: vi).

20

techniques
and
lessons
of
his
production
of
Alfons
Paquet’s
Flags
at
the
 Volksbuhne
(People’s
Theatre)
for
which
he
was
stage
director
from
1924‐27:
 Flags as a drama represented the first consistent attempt to get away from the established pattern of dramatic action and put the epic progression of events in its place. Seen in this light, Flags is the first consciously epic drama […] Flags was in a sense the first Marxist drama, and this production was the first attempt to make the forces of materialism tangible and comprehensible. […] I was now able to develop a type of direction which, years later, was proclaimed by others to be “epic theatre.” What was it all about? Briefly, it was about the extension of the action and the clarification of the background to the action, that is to say it involved a continuation of the play beyond the dramatic framework. A didactic play was developed from the spectacle-play. This automatically led to the use of stage techniques from areas which had never before been seen in the theatre before. It had started, as has been mentioned, in Proletarisches Theatre. At the Volksbuhne I could see what tremendous possibilities the theatre offered if you had the courage to extend your forms of expression. I had broad projection screens erected on either side of the stage. During the prologue at the beginning, in which the play was introduced with character sketches of the figures were to appear, photographs of the persons in question were projected on the screen. Throughout the play I used the screens to connect the separate scenes by projecting linking texts. To my knowledge, it was the first time that projections had been used in this way in the theatre. Apart from this I restricted myself to staging the play, which had a cast of fifty-six, as clearly and objectively as possible (Piscator 1963: 74-76). In
1931
Piscator
moved
to
Russia
and
then
in
1939
to
the
United
States
seeking
 asylum
from
Nazi
Germany.
During
this
time
he
collaborated
with
Lena
 Goldschmidt
on
An
American
Tragedy,
a
stage
adaptation
of
a
novel
by
Theodore
 Dreiser,
which
opened
on
Broadway
for
a
short
run
of
nineteen
shows
under
 the
direction
of
Lee
Strasberg
as
The
Case
of
Clyde
Griffiths.
While
in
New
York
 Piscator
started
the
Dramatic
Workshop
at
the
New
School
for
Social
Research,


21

which
trained
a
host
of
actors
who
were
to
have
a
huge
impact
on
American
 theatre
such
as
the
screen
superstar
Marlon
Brando,
founder
of
the
Living
 Theatre
Judith
Malina,
Jamaican
musician
and
social
activist
Harry
Belafonte,
 and
prominent
playwright
Tennessee
Williams.
Piscator’s
return
to
West
 Germany
in
1951,
like
his
friend
Brecht’s
eventual
return
to
East
Germany
after
 fleeing
America
in
1947,
was
prompted
by
the
spectre
of
McCarthyism,
which
 was
ascendant
on
the
American
cultural
horizon.
He
became
the
director
of
the
 Freie
Volksbuhne
in
West
Berlin
in
1962
and
in
1963,
thirty‐three
years
after
 the
original
publication
of
his
Political
Theatre
wrote
on
the
continuing
need
to
 practice
and
develop
epic
theatre:
 The justification for epic techniques is no longer disputed by anyone, but there is considerable confusion about what should be expressed by these means. The functional character of these epic techniques, in other words their inseparability from a specific content (the specific content, the specific message determines the means and not vice versa!) has by now become largely obscured. So we are still standing at the starting blocks. The race is not yet on … (Piscator 1963:viii). Brecht
adopted
and
extended
many
features
of
Piscator’s
technique
such
as
a
 dramatic
prologue,
character
sketches,
incorporation
of
projected
text
that
 linked
scenes
or
the
practice
of
titling,
etc.,
but
these
were
in
his
later
plays.

 Brecht,
born
in
Augsburg,
Bavaria
and
went
to
university
in
nearby
 Munich.
The
first
full‐length
play
he
wrote
was
Baal
in
1918.
He
followed
this
 with
Drums
in
the
Night
and
In
the
Jungle
between
1922‐24.
His
early
career
in
 the
theatre
was
also
influenced
by
his
brief
participation
between
1920‐21
in
a
 political
cabaret
lead
by
Karl
Valentin.
In
1927
Brecht
joined
Piscator’s


22

ensemble
and
wrote
that
same
year,
“It
is
precisely
theatre,
art
and
literature
 which
have
to
form
the
‘ideological
superstructure’
for
a
solid
and
practical
 rearrangement
of
our
age’s
way
of
life
(Brecht
1957,
1992:
23).”
He
had
already
 arrived
at
the
means
of
altering
this
ideological
superstructure,
in
other
words
 hegemony,
through
his
theatre.
In
the
next
sentence
he
says,
“epic
theatre
is
the
 theatrical
style
of
our
time
[…]
The
essential
point
of
the
epic
theatre
is
perhaps
 that
it
appeals
less
to
the
feelings
than
to
the
spectator’s
reason
(Brecht
1957,
 1992:
23).”
Some
of
these
principles
are
evident
in
Brecht
and
composer
John
 Weill’s
Three
Penny
Opera,
which
premiered
at
the
Theater
am
 Schiffbaurtdamm
in
1928.
In
his
adaptation
of
John
Gay’s
The
Beggar’s
Opera,
 Brecht
turned
Gay’s
Baroque
satire
into
a
biting
analysis
of
class
politics
using
 music
as
commentary,
an
episodic
structure
and
memorable
characters
such
as
 Macheath
and
Polly
Peachum
who
seem
driven
to
their
action
by
their
 circumstance
and
not
by
the
externalization
of
their
inner
psyche.
 In
1930,
following
Piscator’s
The
Political
Theatre,
Brecht
outlined
“The
 Modern
Theatre
is
the
Epic
Theatre”
 1 
theoretically
fleshing
out
the
concept
of
 Epic
Theatre
in
a
way
that
Piscator
was
yet
to
do.
Brecht
provides
the
following
 table
of
distinction
between
dramatic
theatre,
one
that
functions
through
 empathy
by
making
an
appeal
to
emotions,
and
epic
theatre,
whose
purpose
is
 to
make
the
audience
think.
 
 






















































 
 1 C.f. Brecht 1957, 1992: 33-43.

23

DRAMATIC
THEATRE 
 plot 
 implicates
the
spectator
in
a
stage
 situation 
 wears
down
his
capacity
for
action 
 provides
him
with
sensations 
 experience 
 the
spectat or
is
involved
in
something
 
 suggestion 
 instinctive
feelings
are
preserved 
 the
spectator
is
in
the
thick
of
it,
share
 the
experience 
 the
human
being
is
taken
for
granted 
 
 he
is
unalterable 
 eyes
on
the
finish 
 one
scene
makes
another 
 growth 
 linear
developmen t 
 evolutionary
determinism 
 man
as
a
fixed
point 
 thought
determines
being 
 feeling 
 
 
 EPIC
THEATRE 
 narrative 
 turns
the
spectator
into
an
 observer, 
 but 
 arouses
his
capacity
for
action 
 forces
him
to
take
decisions 
 picture
of
the
world 
 he
is
made
to
face
somethi ng 
 argument 
 brought
to
the
point
of
recognition 
 the
spectator
stands
outside,
 studies 
 
 the
human
being
is
the
object
of
the
 inquiry 
 he
is
alterable
and
able
to
alter 
 eyes
on
the
course 
 each
scene
for
itself 
 montage 
 in
curves 
 jumps 
 man
as
a
process 
 social
b eing
determines
thought 
 reason 
 
 
 
–
Emphasis
added,
Brecht
1957,
1992:
37.
 In
the
box
above
I
highlight
some
of
key
characteristics
of
Brechtian
theatre.
It
 as
a
theatre
that
appeals
to
reason
through
presenting
an
argument
in
a
non‐ linear
narrative
form
through
an
episodic
structure
so
that
it
incites
the
 spectator
to
think
and
affect
a
change
in
her
own
material
circumstance.

 Brecht’s
vision
of
the
Epic
Theatre
was
to
be
most
fully
realized
in
his
 own
plays.
From
1933‐1945
Brecht
fled
Nazi
Germany,
living
in
Sweden
and
 Finland
briefly
and
then
in
the
United
States.
During
this
period
he
wrote
some


24

of
his
most
significant
work
–
Galileo
(1937‐38),
Mother
Courage
(1938),
The
 Good
Person
of
Szechwan
(1942)
and
The
Caucasian
Chalk
Circle
1944‐45.
 Mother
Courage
was
written
in
reportedly
little
over
a
month’s
time
in
response
 to
Germany
invading
Poland.
Set
against
the
backdrop
of
the
Thirty
Year
War
 between
the
Protestants
and
the
Catholics,
the
play
is
about
the
fortunes
of
 Anna
Fierling
or
“Mother
Courage,”
a
canteen
woman
with
the
Swedish
Army.
 Through
the
course
of
the
play
her
three
children
–
Swiss
Cheese,
Eilif
and
 Kattrin
–
are
all
killed
in
the
war,
but
Courage
trades
on
saying
“I
must
get
back
 into
business,”
wheeling
her
now
nearly
empty
cart
at
the
end
of
the
play.
 Brecht
and
Erich
Engel
first
produced
Mother
Courage
at
the
Deutsches
Theatre
 in
Berlin
in
1949,
where
post‐war
Brecht
had
returned
to
set
up
his
own
theatre
 company
called
the
Berliner
Ensemble.
His
wife
Helen
Weigel
unforgettably
 played
the
lead
role.
The
production
was
meticulously
documented
and
 photographed
as
part
of
the
Couragemodell,
which
serves
as
a
model
of
the
play
 to
posterity.

 Brecht
writes
of
the
concluding
bit
of
stage
action
in
the
play,
“many
 actresses
playing
Courage
find
it
easier
and
more
congenial
to
play
this
final
 scene
simply
for
its
tragedy.
This
is
no
service
to
the
playwright.
He
doesn’t
 want
to
detract
from
the
tragedy,
but
there
is
something
that
he
wants
to
add:
 the
warning
that
Courage
has
learnt
nothing
(emphasis
in
original,
Brecht
1957,
 1992:
221,
Note).
The
comment
above
I
think
captures
much
of
the
spirit
of


25

Brechtian
theatre.
Mother
Courage
is
an
exemplar
of
the
methodology
of
 historical‐materialism,
which
Brecht
so
vigorously
adopted
in
his
own
 playwriting
and
proposed
as
the
function
of
all
political
theatre.
This
little
 directorial
observation
also
elucidates
Brecht’s
formulation
of
the
 Verfremdungseffect
or
the
effect
of
distanciation
where
the
actor
at
key
 moments,
through
gesture,
establishes
critical
distance
from
the
character
 thereby
making
strange
for
the
audience
an
action
that
was
once
familiar.
 Brecht
developed
his
theory
of
the
importance
of
the
verfremdungseffect;
 misleadingly
translated
by
John
Willet
as
the
Alienation
effect
which
has
now
in
 English
become
the
common
term
for
the
technique,
through
his
observation
of
 the
Chinese
actor
Mei
Lan‐Fang.
Brecht
describes
the
technique
as:
 The alienation effect intervenes, not in the form of absence of emotion, but in the form of emotions which need not correspond to those of the character portrayed. […] The achievement of the A-effect absolutely depends on lightness and naturalness of acting. […] The A-effect was achieved in German epic theatre not only by the actor, but also by the music (choruses, songs) and the setting (placards, film, etc.). […] Among other effects that a new theatre will need for its social criticism and its historical reporting of completed transformations is the A-effect (Brecht 1957, 1992: 94-99) The object of the A-effect is to alienate the social gest underlying every incident. By social gest is meant the mimetic and gestural expression of the social relationships between people of a given period (Brecht 1957, 1992: 139). Brecht’s
influence
in
the
theatre
in
general
derives
from
these
precise
 techniques
that
he
develops
for
the
theatre.
Like
Meyerhold’s
biomechanics,
the


26

principles
of
acting
Brecht
underlines
became
much
used
by
actors
in
the
later
 twentieth
century
and
beyond.

 But
Brecht’s
contribution
to
world
theatre
extends
beyond
scripts,
acting
 techniques
and
directorial
insights.
His
theory
of
theatre
represents
a
paradigm
 shift
in
the
discussion
of
political
performance.
He
resuscitates
the
notion
of
 enjoyment
to
the
practice
of
didactic
theatre,
arguing
that
the
activity
of
 teaching
and
learning
that
the
actor
and
audience
is
engaged
in
can
and
should
 be
fundamentally
pleasurable.
“Theatre
remains
theatre
even
when
it
is
 instructive
theatre,
and
in
so
far
as
it
is
good
theatre
it
will
amuse
(Brecht
1957,
 1992:
73).”
Theatre
as
an
embodied,
social
art
is
predicated
on
entertainment,
 and
when
it
ceases
to
engage
its
viewer
and
descends
into
a
harangue
it
looses
 its
effectiveness.

 Brecht
made
his
argument
for
pleasure
in
and
as
learning
in
the
larger
 arena
of
Left
cultural
ideology.
Successive
Communist
leaders
of
international
 prominence
such
as
Vladimir
Lenin,
Joseph
Stalin,
Mao
Zedong
have
strived
to
 define
a
clear
role
for
culture
in
realizing
the
socialist
revolution.
Cultural
 theorists
have
taken
these
discussions
further,
enriching
them
with
their
own
 cultural
practice.
The
most
memorable
of
the
debates
on
culture
within
the
Left
 itself
is
perhaps
between
Georg
Lukacs
(1885‐1971),
the
Hungarian
Marxist
 literary
critic
and
Brecht.
Lukacs,
writing
in
reaction
to
Ernest
Bloch’s
Erbschaft
 dieser
Zeit
(Heritage
of
Our
Times,
1934),
critiqued
what
he
saw
as
the
rise
of


27

German
Expressionism
in
modern
literature.
Lukacs
position
was
that
 Expressionism
operated
from
a
subjectivist
standpoint
and
therefore
 obfuscating
the
objective
reality
of
social
conditions.
He
urged
German
writers
 to
reread
and
emulate
canonical
writers
such
as
Honore
de
Balzac,
Charles
 Dickens
and
Leo
Tolstoy.
His
critique
did
not
stop
at
the
German
Expressionists,
 but
also
extended
to
the
“‘bourgeois
refinement’
of
Thomas
Mann
and
with
the
 Surrealism
of
[James]
Joyce
(Lukacs
in
Bloch,
Lukacs,
Brecht,
Benjamin
and
 Adorno
1977:
34).”
In
other
words
Lukacs
was
critiquing
the
forms
of
 modernist
writing
that
were
emerging
in
the
early
twentieth,
which
shared
in
 his
estimation
the
feature
“that
they
all
take
reality
exactly
as
it
manifests
itself
 to
the
writer
and
the
character
he
creates
(Lukacs
in
Bloch,
Lukacs,
Brecht,
 Benjamin
and
Adorno
1977:
36).”
Against
this
indulgent
practice,
Lukacs
argued
 for
a
more
stringent
and
penetrating
analysis
of
social
reality
through
Realism:
 What has all this to do with literature? Nothing at all for any theory – like those of Expressionism or Surrealism – which denies that literature has any reference to objective reality. It means a great deal, however for a Marxist theory of literature. If literature is a particular form by means of which objective reality is reflected, then it becomes of crucial importance for it to grasp the reality as it truly is, and not merely to confine itself to reproducing whatever manifests itself immediately and on the surface. If a writer strives to represent reality as it truly is, i.e. if he is an authentic realist, then the question of totality plays a decisive role, no matter how the writer conceives the problem intellectually. Lenin repeatedly insisted on the practical importance of the category of totality: ‘In order to know an object thoroughly, it is essential to discover and comprehend all of its aspects, its relationships and its “mediation.” We shall never achieve this fully, but insistence on all- round knowledge will protect us from errors and inflexibility’

28

(emphasis in original, Lukacs in Bloch, Lukacs, Brecht, Benjamin and Adorno 1977: 33). Lukacs
himself
rigorously
practiced
this
in
his
own
writing
and
in
his
seminal
 works
History
and
Class
Consciousness
(1923)
and
The
Historical
Novel
(1937)
 made
the
first
sustained
and
systematic
efforts
in
literary
criticism
to
show
the
 relation
between
ideology
and
literary
form.
 
 Brecht
agreed
with
Lukacs
on
the
need
for
Realism
in
the
modern
arts
 but
took
the
latter
to
task
for
his
“formalist”
approach,
that
is
his
focus
on
the
 novel
as
the
only
viable
vehicle
of
Realism.
For
Brecht
the
validity
of
the
 authorial
voice
and
the
relevance
of
a
work
of
art
must
be
judged
afresh
in
each
 instance,
rather
than
succumbing
to
formulaic
arguments
of
genre
for,
 “Criticism,
at
least
Marxist
criticism,
must
proceed
methodically
and
concretely
 in
each
case,
in
short
scientifically
(Brecht
in
Bloch,
Lukacs,
Brecht,
Benjamin
 and
Adorno
1977:
78).”
Realism
becomes
a
question
of
content
and
not
of
form,
 an
end
which
can
be
achieved
through
various
means.
In
his
argument
Brecht
 makes
a
valuable
defense
for
experimentation
in
the
arts,
saying
that
a
few
 failed
examples
is
not
reason
to
dismiss
the
method
behind
these
practices.
In
 doing
so
he
also
dispenses
with
Lukacs’s
basic
advice
of
turning
to
the
classics
 as
a
source
and
model
for
literary
inspiration:
 We must not derive realism as such from particular existing works, but we shall use every means, old and new, tried and untried, derived from art and derived from other sources, to render reality to men in a form they can master (emphasis added, Brecht in Bloch, Lukacs, Brecht, Benjamin and Adorno 1977: 81).

29

The
last
sentence
provides
us
the
key
to
Brechtian
philosophy
of
artistic
 practice.
His
quibble
with
Lukacs
over
an
overly
formalistic
approach,
is
a
 springboard
to
a
much
larger
question
than
methodology.
It
is
about
the
basic
 character
of
socially
revolutionary
art.
Proceeding
from
his
own
experiments
in
 developing
a
total
language
of
the
dramatic
arts
through
his
concept
of
the
epic
 theatre,
Brecht
expands
the
boundaries
of
Realistic
practice
beyond
the
private
 written
page
of
the
novel
to
the
world
of
the
stage.
Theatre
is
a
democratic
art
 form,
unlike
practices
of
readership
that
presuppose
literacy,
The
conceit
that
 anyone
can
view
and
enjoy
theatre
holds
strong
for
Brecht.
It
also
ties
in
with
 the
fundamental
purpose
of
Realistic
art,
which
is
to
portray
socio‐economic
 conditions
in
a
manner
that
can
be
easily
apprehended
by
all,
and
hence
 changed.
For
him,
Realistic
art,
to
be
effective
and
realized,
must
be
popular,
 that
is
gaining
the
widest
possible
audience.
Brecht
defines
and
relates
the
two
 concepts
thus:
 Popular means: intelligible to the broad masses, adopting and enriching their forms of expression/assuming their standpoint, confirming and correcting it, representing the most progressive section of the people so that it can assume leadership, and therefore intelligible to other sections of the people as well/relating to traditions and developing them/communicating to that portion of the people which strives for leadership the achievement [sic] of the section that at present rules the nation. […] Realistic means: discovering the causal complexes of society/unmasking the prevailing view of things as the view of those who are in power/writing from the standpoint of the class which offers the broadest solutions for the pressing difficulties in which human society is caught up/ emphasizing the element of development/making possible the concrete, and making possible

30

abstraction from it (Brecht in Bloch, Lukacs, Brecht, Benjamin and Adorno 1977: 81-82). The
debate
in
aesthetics
gets
carried
on
beyond
the
Brecht‐Lukacs
exchange,
 most
notably
in
the
dialogues
between
Walter
Benjamin
and
Theodor
Adorno.
 These
philosopher
critics
of
the
Frankfurt
School,
the
informal
name
given
to
 the
collective
of
scholars
at
the
Institute
for
Social
Research
from
the
mid
1930s
 to
the
mid
1960s,
were
engaged
in
applying
and
extending
traditional
Marxist
 theory
to
the
newly
emerging
discursive
fields
of
the
twentieth
century,
such
as
 physchoanalysis,
avant
garde
art,
cinema
and
modern
musical
trends
like
jazz.
 Benjamin
on
the
one
hand
was
fascinated
with
the
revolutionary
capacity
of
 cinema
to
reach
unprecedented
masses
of
people
thereby
making
it
a
truly
 popular
artform.
Adorno
on
the
other
hand
aligned
with
the
new
avant
garde
 represented
by
writers
such
as
Kafka,
placed
critical
faith
in
post‐generic
 experiments
in
artistic
expression.
 Brecht
too
was
not
without
critics
who
detect
a
“definite
populist
strain”
 in
his
work,
most
notably
with
Adorno
complaining
of
“the
‘trivialization’
of
 fascism
effected
by
Arturo
Ui,
the
willful
crude
‘analyses’
of
plays
like
Saint
Joan
 and
Mother
Courage,
the
constant
recourse
to
archaism
of
different
kinds
 (Adorno
in
Bloch,
Lukacs,
Brecht,
Benjamin
and
Adorno
1977:
147).”
Yet
his
 work
provides
us
with
some
of
the
most
compelling
historical
examples
of
the
 union
of
genuine
popularity
with
a
robust
Realism
on
the
world
stage.
Frederick


31

Jameson,
Marxist
cultural
scholar,
writing
in
1977
has
this
to
say
about
Brecht’s
 lasting
relevance
to
the
theatre:
 The process of ‘knowing’ the world [beomes] a source of delight or pleasure in its own right; and this is the fundamental step in the construction of a properly Brechtian aesthetics. For it restores to ‘realistic’ art that principle of play and genuine aesthetic gratification which the relatively more passive and cognitive aesthetic of Lukacs had seemed to replace with the grim dilemmas of a didactic theory of art (to teach or to please?) are thereby also overcome, and in a world where science is experiment and play, knowing and doing alike are forms of production, stimulating in their own right, a didactic art may now be imagined in which learning and aesthetic, indeed the idea of realism is not a purely artistic and formal category, but rather governs the relationship between the work of art to reality itself, characterizing a particular stance towards it (Jameson in Bloch, Lukacs, Brecht, Benjamin and Adorno 1977: 205) Brecht’s
demands
of
experimentation,
evolution,
education
and
entertainment
 in
political
theatre
have
propelled
the
field
to
grow
and
explore
in
different
 ways.
This
Brechtian
ethic
underlies
the
fundamental
premise
of
this
 dissertation,
which
is
that
different
political
configurations
of
power
require
 and
demand
different
responses
from
political
theatre
practitioners.
There
can
 be
no
structural
uniformity
in
the
forms
political
theatre
takes.
Some
are
more
 successful,
some
more
long
lasting;
but
failure
and
brief
life
spans
cannot
be
 used
per
se
as
disqualifiers
of
the
political
enterprise
of
culture.
As
Brecht
says,
 each
case
must
be
examined
separately.
This
dissertation
also
hopes
to
restore
 the
joy
of
political
theatre,
both
in
creating
and
viewing
it,
to
academic
 discussions
of
it.


32

Indian
Theatre
Since
Independence:
the
Politics
of
Nation
 
 
 Indian
performance
historiography
(in
English)
is
a
relatively
recent
 phenomenon.
Rich
regional
texts,
treatise,
commentaries
and
histories
have
 existed
in
the
South
Asian
subcontinent
for
millennia,
if
one
accepts
the
 authorship
of
the
Natyashastra,
the
seminal
Sanskrit
tract
of
performance
 aesthetic
attributed
to
the
person,
school,
or
serial
writers
(con)figured
as
 Bharata
Muni,
as
dating
to
the
second
century
B.C.E..
But
there
are
immediate
 problems
with
tracing
a
linear
and
continuous
history
of
performance
from
that
 text.
It
is
symptomatic
of
a
larger 1 
rhetorical,
if
limited
strategy
that
has
often
 been
used
to
construct
the
contours
of
a
mythic
nation
‘Bharat’
or
‘India’
whose
 inhabitants
could
then
be
mobilized
against
the
common
colonial
enemy
 through
invoking
this
shared,
once
glorious
heritage.
The
Natyashastra
was
 literarily
discovered
and
made
available
to
an
Indian
readership
in
modern
 times
through
the
efforts
of
Western
Indic
scholars
in
the
nineteenth
century.
 However
its
fragmentary
and
uneven
excavation,
much
like
Aristotle’s
Poetics,
 has
not
diminished
its
importance
as
a
key
performance
theory
text
in
South
 Asia.
It
was
only
in
the
twentieth
century,
particularly
around
the
time
of
 national
Independence,
that
performance
scholars
and
practitioners
worked
 backward,
manipulating
contemporary
practice
to
conform
to
the
diktats
of
the
 






















































 
 1 For a discussion of the precise mechanisms of the rhetorics of nation formation and it current troubling Hindu nationalist appropriations c.f. Goswami 2004: “Space, Time and Sovereignity in Puranic-Itihas,” “India as Bharat: a Territorial Nativist Vision of Nationhood 1860-1880, pages 154- 208.

33

Natyashastra.
They
were
aided
in
their
(re)constructions
by
their
readings
of
 Abhinavagupta
(ca
950‐1020)
and
his
commentary
on
the
Natyashastra
called
 the
Abhinavabharati.
As
Edwin
Gerow
argues
in
Indian
Poetics,
several
such
 commentaries
existed,
though
few
have
been
recovered.
Abhinavagupta’s
 discussion
of
rasa,
or
the
essence
of
aesthetic
enjoyment
based
on
nine
 emotions,
has
been
hugely
influential
in
the
performing
arts
in
South
Asia.
 There
are
several,
recent,
excellent
studies
on
how
this
process
of
shaping
 practice
to
theory
has
been
particularly
pronounced
and
premeditated
in
the
 various
Indian
dances
that
have
been
formalized
and
had
their
repertoires
 canonized,
such
as
the
temple
dances
of
Bharatnatyam
(literally
the
dance
of
 Bharat,
India
or
of
Bharata,
the
author
of
Natyashastra)
and
Odissi.
For
example
 Richard
Schechner’s
essay
“Restoration
of
Behavior
(1980),”
Sunil
Kothari’s
 New
Directions
on
Indian
Dance
(2004),
Janet
O’Shea’s
At
Home
in
the
World:
 Bharata
Natyam
on
the
Global
Stage
(2007),
and
Arunima
Banerji’s
doctoral
 dissertation
“Odissi
Dance:
Paratopic
Performances
of
Gender,
Law,
and
Nation
 (2009).”
 Moving
from
the
realm
of
theory
to
performance
practice,
Sanskrit
 drama
is
a
highly
poetic
theatrical
genre,
exemplified
in
the
works
of
Kalidasa,
 which
were
composed
in
early
400
C.E..
Kalidasa’s
plays
too
were
translated
 and
published
by
scholars
from
colonial
institutes
such
as
the
Asiatic
Society
of
 Bengal
in
the
first
couple
of
decades
of
the
twentieth
century.
The
production
of


34

Sanskrit
theatre
in
medieval
times
is
largely
unsubstantiated.
It
is
thought
to
be
 mostly
associated
with
performances
in
royal
courts
and
households.
One
need
 only
look
at
Barbara
Stoler
Miller’s
Theatre
of
Memory
to
realize
that
the
plays
 of
Kalidasa
and
other
Sanskrit
dramatists
such
as
Bhasa
and
Shudraka
persist
 through
complex,
compound,
non‐linear
oral
traditions
rather
than
through
 reliable
textual
documentation.

 This
in
itself
is
a
recent
insight.
Even
a
cursory
glance
at
the
proceedings
 of
the
first
Drama
Seminar
organized
by
the
newly
instituted
Sangeet
Natak
 Akademi
(Academy
of
the
Performing
Arts)
in
1954,
show
the
general
 acceptance
of
the
idea
that
Indian
drama
had
incontrovertible
roots
in
Sanskrit
 drama.
The
Seminar
was
a
gathering
of
theatre
stalwarts
charged
with
steering
 modern
Indian
drama
into
the
postcolonial
era,
and
its
accounts
now
reveal
the
 earnest
postcolonial
desire
to
construct
a
national
culture
through
the
erasure
 of
the
intervening
colonial
years
and
a
‘return’
to
a
glorious
past.
S
 Radhakrishnan,
Vice
President
of
India
from
1952‐62,
in
his
inaugural
speech,
 set
the
characteristic
tone
for
the
proceedings.
For
him,
as
for
many
of
the
 participants,
as
I
discuss
in
greater
detail
in
Chapter
2
of
this
dissertation,
 “While
the
film
is
a
modern
invention,
the
drama
has
been
with
us
for
a
long
 period.
Indian
tradition
[is]
preserved
in
the
Natyashastra
(Sangeet
Natak
2004:
 8).
The
internal
mechanisms
of
the
Drama
Seminar
and
the
ideology
of
its
 participants,
along
with
their
lasting
implications
for
Indian
theatre,
have
been


35

extensively
explored
in
Aparna
Dharwadker’s
2005
volume
Theatres
of
 Independence.

 Often
the
dense,
diverse
and
discrete
folk
traditions
of
the
South
Asian
 subcontinent
are
seen
as
derivative
of
Sanskrit
aesthetic
theory.
In
these
 arguments
folk
forms
are
either
corrupt
versions
of
Bharat’s
rasa
theory
or
 systems
of
oral
transmission
for
it.
For
example
the
1883
essay
“Natak
 (Theatre)”
by
the
Hindu
reformist
Bharatendu
Harishchandra,
which
was
to
 influence
many
writers
and
commentators
of
Hindi
theatre
in
the
early
 twentieth
century. 1 
Another
approach
to
the
question
of
the
rich
and
regionally
 variant
histories
of
folk
performances
in
India
has
been
to
trace
the
influence
of
 the
two
Indian
epics
–
the
Ramayana
and
the
Mahabharata
–
in
their
narrative.
 This
is
complicated
by
the
absence
of
any
one
authoritative
account
of
these
 epics,
different
Indian
regions
having
their
own
versions
in
their
own
languages.
 While
the
basic
story
may
remain
the
same,
the
specific
episodes
or
minor
 characters
of
these
epics
are
often
locally
inflected.
This
is
significant
when
it
 comes
to
performance
genealogies
precisely
because
these
regional
variations
 are
often
the
grist
for
performance
narrative
or
improvisation.
Regardless
of
 whether
the
‘folk’
performances
are
revered
or
denigrated
by
theatre
scholars,
 the
urge
to
reconcile
and
insert
their
vibrant
performance
repertories
into
the
 larger
rubric
of
contemporary
Indian
theatre
is
undeniable.
This
has
lead
to
on
 the
one
hand
highly
nuanced
and
localized
studies
of
indigenous
performance
 






















































 
 1 C.f. Dalmia 2005: 34-72.

36

such
as
Richard
Schechner’s
“Ramlila
of
Ramnagar:
An
Introduction”
in
 Performative
Circumstance
(1983),
Anuradha
Kapur’s
Actors,
Kings
and
Pilgrims
 (1990)
and
Kathryn
Hansen’s
Grounds
for
Play
(1992).
On
the
other
hand
there
 have
been
scholars
administrators
like
Kapila
Vatsayan
and
Suresh
Awasthi , 
 undertaking
pan‐Indian
studies
in
which
they
look
for
thematic
contiguities
 between
the
various
folk
forms
in
their
Traditional
Indian
Theatre
(1980)
and
 Performance
Tradition
in
India
(2001)
respectively.
Rustom
Bharucha,
in
an
 article
where
he
traces
the
mechanisms
through
which
the
‘folk’
was
 interpolated
into
modern
Indian
theatre,
observes
of
the
near
ubiquity
of
the
 term:
 It is not clear when the term “folk” entered the vocabulary of the Indian cultural worker. Certainly, it became popular during the IPTA movement when urban artists were compelled to discover their “roots’ in rural cultures. What needs to be emphasized is that the ‘folk” has become an established category in the Indian theatre today. Actors and directors use it freely without questioning its obvious, yet diffused links to the word “people.” Nor is its assumed to be a “foreign” word anymore so than “tradition,” which is used more readily than the Indian equivalents of parampara or sampradaya (Bharucha 1989: 1909). The
folk
trajectory
in
modern
theatre,
with
Sanskrit
drama
and
the
epics
as
its
 intertextual
referents,
became
instituted
as
ill‐conceived
cultural
policy
in
the
 1980s
whereby
the
state
awarded
incentives
and
rewards,
through
its
 institutional
arms
such
as
the
Sangeet
Natak
Akademi,
to
directors
willing
to
 recover
and
revive
their
“roots.”
Officially
called
the
“Scheme
of
Assistance
to
 Young
Theatre
Workers,”
the
program
ran
from
1984‐1994.
The
central
trope
of


Full document contains 495 pages
Abstract: Contesting Capital: A History of Political Theatre in Postcolonial Delhi explores political theatre of the post-Independence era both on stage and on the streets of India's capital city. Taking cue from Gramsci's conception of Left progressive culture work as challenging and changing the existing hegemony of the dominant classes, my primary concern is with the efficacy of political performance. I argue that dramatic practices are embedded in the dynamics of state and popular power, and locate my analysis at the nexus of theatre and organized politics. I examine the work of the Indian People's Theatre Association, Habib Tanvir, Bengali diasporic theatre, theatre of the women's movement, the theatre of Safdar Hashmi, and Jana Natya Manch, the group he founded. My analysis questions the category of the 'political.' What it means to be political at different times is interrogated through how theatre has responded to Delhi's shifting configurations of electoral power. Contesting Capital extends the study of modern Indian theatre beyond the well-made play to include street theatre and other forms of protest performance. It goes beyond text and playwright to analyze the stagecraft of the director and bodily practices of the actor. I propose political performance as a new paradigm for understanding and negotiating the impasse between 'traditional' theatre and 'colonial' influence. In the postcolonial era, political performance, with it's at once local constituencies and its international ideologies, subverts the official imperatives for a homogenous 'national culture' and aligns itself with the people by creating a vernacular, relevant, heterogeneous aesthetic with a popular and didactic appeal. Through the social, participatory and popular medium of political performance, I also provide a portrait of a city. Delhi has been the capital of successive empires. Since Independence it has (re)invented itself as a global megapolis through bureaucratic intervention and capitalist enterprise. Under these twin pressures, how does political theatre carve a space for dissent within its increasingly policed commons? Contesting Capital, through an examination of the ways in which people mount local strategies of resistance to neocolonial and corporate power, is also the history of the politicization of a Delhi city.