We first address "institutions": Kirti Jain and Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry look at the consolidation of forms via curricula in the National School of Drama (NSD). As one of the oldest theatre training institutes of modern India, NSD is seen programmatically. It has been the locus of many conceptual shifts related to transmission and education since the 1950s. When a given project of formal theatre training/education is consolidated, a complex set of interdependencies needs to be recognized. These interdependencies are: content (what is taught), pedagogy (how it is taught), discipline formation, or what is considered knowledge worth transmitting, NSD's pedagogical practices have been both roundly rejected as well as clearly paralleled, indeed emulated, in the many training institutes across India.
To address "practices", I invite authors who might step out, who might deliberately take on what is outside of any institutional bind. The essays of Gargi Bharadwaj and Ashis Sengupta look at theatre practice from outside the frame of dominant grammar; and distinctly outside the prevailing notion of theatre purities.
Ashis Sengupta frames contemporary work within the discourse of postdramatic practices where he sees the postdramatic as a tendency that is outside of the narrative frame of identity and its equally common descriptor, hybrid. He sees it as unsettling at once the narrative based on the invention of tradition and its conceptual co-relate, modernism as rupture. By setting up a conjectural conversation between Indian theatre-makers and practices worldwide, he annotates (through interviews with practitioners) the very definition of the postdramatic as a dialogic rather than a narrative space.
Gargi Bharadwaj proposes an institutional critique. She elaborates the need of prising open the institutional space in order to reorder the meaning of training today. She looks at interdisciplinary, often intractable work that usually functions outside the regulations of formal (and even informal) structures, festivals and teaching programmes, and notes how these works are a provocation and demonstrate a complex relationship with state policy.
From a more general overview of changing practices, we move towards looking at select traditions and practices defined by regional identities in a section on "histories". Here featured is a short essay on contemporary theatre in Kerala by Abhilash Pillai and pieces on Assam and Manipuri theatre by Trina Nileena Banerjee.
In recent practice from Kerala, the regional and the international, the vernacular and the cosmopolitan, are constantly in debate. Different media, genres and styles, and the specific affects produced and reflected by them are in debate too. Abhilash Pillai reflects on this struggle of forms. As a practitioner himself he trains a lens on what is emerging: a combustive force of work that deals with the complexities of the now--often in a resistive mode and in a variety of tongues.
At the other end of India, Trina Nileena Banerjee looks at Assam and Manipur where theatre often marks an adversarial relationship with the state. Issues about subnationalism and such everyday violence that is played out as consequence, have put pressures on performance-making. In both these regions of northeast India there are histories, iconic practitioners, and well-accepted grammars. She, however, reflects on the more fraught and contesting energies. There is, for instance, in Assam, the mega commercial infrastructure of the Assam mobile theatre and side by side there is practice, literally within the forests, where the fragile relationship between ecology and theatre-making is explored.
In a final piece we return to "practices" through Ameet Parameswaran's exploration of circus forms that make their way into Shakespeare's The Tempest via Abhilash Pillai's Talatum. Circus remains outside of many socially acceptable spaces. Pitched at the outskirts of the town, the circus is at a distance from the semantic purities of conventional theatre languages. Sexualized acrobatics performed by contortionists and trapeze artists arouse desire and repulsion, anxiety and heart-stopping fear in the audience. Feelings from the gut, as it were. Here, bodily thrills are made explicit for giving pleasure to the working-class spectator-visceral display is in a way separated from the bourgeois notion of entertainment and pleasure. The Talatum project, Parameswaran argues, is multilayered in that it takes the popular into the arena of the epic and yet reveals the liminality of the circus performers themselves. For, their very livelihood is premised on extreme risk.
This magazine is based on a selection of themes that foreground disjuncture; even where the institution is addressed, it is in the form of a critique. But before I conclude, I need to signpost what has not been discussed here but is of course of the greatest importance: such other locations where there is a history of serious reflection on the dramatic conventions of modern theatre. In this context, and in an abbreviated space, I reference Marathi theatre. To develop, in performative and literary terms, a text of precise and complex action--this has been a well-established critical tradition in Marathi theatre. There has been a focused engagement to align acting traditions to writing traditions, and this, as we know in traditions of realism, is to find ways to express conditions of living that are unstated or sometimes not known. How to write up the inexpressible, as it were, is a question that Mahesh Elkunchwar often asks. In India the iterations and enduring attractions of realisms are endorsed via theatre as by the literature on realisms. Speculating on theatre practice in these terms has led to a finely calibrated discussion that precedes the contemporary and endures the critique.
To conclude on the editorial choices made in this volume, the reader will see that I attend more to the chaotic hurly-burly of the present. Shifting itineraries, turbulent substances--these create unresolved forms that must be inserted into contemporary genealogies. I place the many contradictions in the mode of abuttal.
Caption: 1. Talatum--The Circus, directed by Abhilash Pillai, 2016. Courtesy Serendipity Arts Festival.
Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.