Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Contemporary Indian Theatre: An Overview

Sova Sen in Nabanna, 1944

Sova Sen in Nabanna, 1944


From the 1850s, we begin to see a number of Indian theatre enthusiasts on their own private endeavors staging their own plays, in their respective languages, in the Western proscenium style, not only in Calcutta but also in Bombay, and several parts of North and South India. The most noteworthy fact here is that none of these new efforts came at the cost of the extinction of other, pre-existing folk forms. The folk forms continued to survive in myriad shapes and forms and there was always a direct aesthetic connection between the so-called Western style Indian theatre and the folk forms. Western style Indian theatre, thus, from its very inception called for a certain kind of active hybridity in its aesthetic expressivity, claiming for itself a unique definition that was neither Western nor indigenous, but rather a‘new’ form of emergent Indian aesthetic. In the 1870s, this hybrid formation of an “Indian” (though) proscenium-style theatre changed homes and hands, moving from the mansions of the rich to the ticketed theatre. By the last quarter of the 19th century, proscenium Indian theatre had gone public and turned itself into a commercial outfit that was capable of clothing and feeding those who worked for it.

The situation changed with the turn of the 20th century and World War I. This commercial, urban, Western-style theatre industry was finding itself stuck within the confines of the theatre auditorium and plays were becoming commodities for sale, repeating themselves with formulaic lighter fares, allowing the winds of commerce to decide the future of the industry. The light of creative discovery that had given birth to this theatre in the 19th century was dimming out and that is around when, from the early 1920s through the 40s, the freedom movement in India was gaining momentum as well. Then came World War II.