Native - Alien Encounter and Urdu Theatre
Presently, there is no fixed focus on a particular style in our theatre. The best we get at a playhouse is that of a `unifying image' (to borrow a phrase from Peter Brook) which enhances the quality of production as well as the communication of messages in the play itself. India, being a land of varied cultural ethos and the home of endless traditional folk forms, can never have a universal signature or fixed characteristics in a theatrical production. We are bound to find semblances of native and alien influences, or for that matter, native and native encounters, co-existing in a production if the present stylized version of play, born out of the traditional theatre and western sophisticated canons, takes us closer to the reality of events shown, we are safely home with it's contemporary relevance. If the play presented becomes too didactic and the daring experiments appear repeated sequences of the director's trademark, we are sure to get bored in the final analysis and effect.
In short, I mean to say that there is, and will always be, a possibility of similarities and parallelism in the domain of theatre. In recent times we have seen a kind of revivalism of traditional and folk forms in the hands of directors like Girish Karnard, Habib Tanveer, Rattan Thyium, Jabbar Patel, B. V. Karanth and others. They have skillfully explored the possibility of using native idioms effectively in their plays to express their ideas about inner reality of contemporary life. Traditional forms got modified in the hands of these masters and theatre appeared a rewarding aesthetic experience. The fusion of two opposing aspects of presentation, to a great extent, yielded positive results in the print media and in the minds of a select few. When the same experience became more dogmatic in form without any comprehensive sign or symbols of communication, the play failed to establish any link with our past. Such a play does not even earn the tag of being contemporary in nature. Hence valid theatrical experience fizzles out and the play is presented in national and international festivals as museum pieces. In my opinion, the fusion of different forms of theatre with a contemporary emphasis on the contents of the written words is far more refreshing than trying to create a form in vacuum.
The tricky word in the topic is encounter. Generally
it means a conflict or confrontation. It also refers to a confluence or
co-existence or even facing something difficult. In any case, the word
'encounter' in its reference to conflict or confrontation is sure to
give birth to a third or new form. In theatre I take it to be the
emergence of a new form as an extension of our time-tested classical
theatre and the various folk forms of theatre. Inpersuance of the
meaning that I am inclined to take, I would like to discuss a play I
have seen in the recently concluded Nandikar theatre-festival in
Calcutta. The play is "Naurldin-er-Sarajiban". The script was authored
by a Bangladeshi playwright. The play was directed by Mr. Sudipto
Chatterjee, a Calcuttan, now based in U.S.A. It was presented by epic
actor's workshop and choir (USA) with the local involvement of a
Calcutta-based theatre-group. The cast included artistes of Indian,
Bangladeshi and American origins. It was a bilingual play. Everything in
the play provided a true picture of using form for the better treatment
of the play. Here was a confluence of traditional Indian theatre and the
experimental American/ European theatre. The sets, the scenery, the use
of slides to decode the dialect of the play and the lighting technique
created a meaningful spectacle for the eye. Thematically the play
depicted the insensitive treatment of the Indians at the hands of the
British's and the rebellion and sacrifice of the central character
Nuruldin. The director seems to have accepted the principles of
co-existence with regard to forms in theatre. The play, in its
presentation, drew support and sustenance from both worlds and once the
coexistence is established, all the flimsy contrast between the two
disappeared. The play becomes effective in expressing the content of
written text at a Trans-cultural level.
The logic of the development of performing arts
suggests that these forms of theatre were present even when Muslims
ruler came to rule India (8th Century onwards). Theatre-culture suffered
because the Muslims patronized dance and song instead of theatre whereas
the Hindu monarchs religiously patronized theatre to develop it freely
in the length and breadth of the country. The rest is the history of
modern theatre as modelled by the colonial powers. When the English men
brought their plays and theatrical devices, the indigenous art forms,
however raw and uncultivated they were, they were swallowed by the alien
encounter. It is common knowledge that the elites tended to separate
themselves from the masses and the native elements receded into the
background. There was, in fact, no resistance of our weak and raw
performing arts when the English men began to regale the urban
audiences. Even in Bengal, there was no confrontation or encounter of
any kind. The European theatrical canons established themselves firmly
and playwright of the stature of Michael Madhusudan Dutt, too, with his
education and upbringing, labelled the indigenous forms as bad theatre.
We, urban educated playwright, simply followed English theatre without
any resistance. The western ethics and technique became our source and
native elements alien. Thus with Herashim
Are the traditional styles and techniques relevant today or how much of the presentation of recent past remains traditional? In my opinion our sincere-attempt should be to make theatre a living art by bringing it closer to the general audience. In a play presentation we have always a kind of explicit or implicit concern for bringing order into the lives, thought emotions and desire of our ignorant masses. Political theatre amply I demonstrates this. It is not a personal triumph of aesthetic excellence in art or putting theatre of abstract ideas in our mind. It is also the purpose of our living theatre to make life more tolerable to the theatre people. Artistic activities of our masters must reach to the simple down-trodden people and not be bottled up in the select pockets only. There must be a humanitarian appeal n all our aesthetic activities for the wide variety of people instead of only intellectuals and the learned. It is to make them aware of the conditions they live in.
How far have we succeeded in creating a tradition to salvage the common people from unsatisfactory conditions? To what extent have our exercise in creative expressions and play-presentation given us sustained aesthetic exaltations and social awareness? Have we provided them anything concrete, even by way of a tradition in theatre arena, any kind of ling art that can lead ordinary people to a better, enduring and meaningful life? Are our performances simply endorsed as artistic cliches apart from providing them cheap commercial stuff? Have we explored the possibility of a stage for the ordinary play - going public, apart from recommendations of the revival of traditional forms of theatre or marching with bloated ego in the theatre festivals, both national and International?
A little scrutiny of the theatre movement in general and the overall Bengali production in my region convinced me that contemporary theatre is a product of alien - Native encounter. Nearly SO% of the productions in Bengali are translations and adaptations, many of them without any relevance to the contemporary situation. Even a recent adaptation of Dario Fo's "An accidental death of an anarchist" in Bengali and Hindi could not rise above the ordinary. Since the days of Herashim Lebedeff's staging of the Bengali version of "The Disguise" (1795) there has always been a conscious effort to write or stage plays in the European moulds. It is not a case of simple imitation; it is also the simple joy of sharing such plays meaningfully. Barring a few original plays (like Ebong Indrojit/Pagla Ghora, which incorporates traditional structure rather unconsciously*) there is a steady flow of. adaptations and translations. Modern plays, sensitivity, too, demonstrates a western liberal upbringing and orientation. Indian audiences, particularly the urban audiences have seen some of the stimulating vibrant theatrical presentations by some of the masters of the craft. These masters have tried to create an indigenous idiom by presenting plays in different folk forms. The plays, which acquired currency, can be counted on ones' fingers. We have seen Vijay Tandulkar's "Ghasi Ram Kotwal" directed by Jabbar Patel in native form. We were thrilled and illuminated by the pure Chattsgarhi folk form * The past never dies. It is always there in one way, or the other, even if it emerges from our sub-conscious. of Habib Tanveer's "Charandas Chor". We were also excited by the powerful impact of Girish Karnad's "Hayavadana" in Yagshagana style. We watched with awe and reverence, Jabbar Patel's "Teen Paisa ka Taamasha", B. V. Karnatha's "Barnam Vana" and Rattam Thyyum's "Chaker Viuya" including his recent production "Uttara priyadarshani" in traditional Manipuri dance drama. The wind of change was blowing and we all, mostly urbanites, found them extraordinary, exhilarating and almost creating the much sought - after intensity of our nation theatre. A keen sense of the past lurked hopefully but left us too soon and too ominously. In order to evolve a vibrant theatrical idiom, they all assiduously embraced folk forms. I do believe that these efforts were graceful, towering and magnificent but I hasten to add that the powerful play did not create a path with all the required songs, codes and symbols for theatre practitioners to follow. The directors' brilliant trademark added colour and vibrancy on the stage. They still haunt me. But they failed to become trailblazers. They remained exceptions without setting any trends. Further more I feel that these dedicated and brilliant directors began to repeat themselves in their later plays.
My Question is: Of what use are the magnitude and
variety of dramatic experimentations if they did not become trendsetters
and pioneering in their approach? I do not find much sense in repeating
the same achievements in subsequent productions. Hence the spectacularly
choreographed productions appear to me to be negligible in comparison to
the effort given and within the total scheme of presentations it proved
to be nothing more than a vanity fair.
It was in the fifties that Urdu theatre regained some of the lost prestige in the hands ofHabib Tanvir. He presented "Agra- bazar" and "Shatranj Ke Khiladi" for Jamia Millia and I.P.T.A. Theatre immediately became vibrant with the confluence of the native and alien elements. But he soon left Urdu Stage to find his own "Pure" chattisgarhi style, which has become history. Even when he came back with a full length Urdu play "Jis Ne Lahore Nahi Dekha" in collaboration with Wajahat Mirza, it was labelled as a Hindi production on occasions. Naming the language does not seem necessary to me anymore. However Urdu theatre had to take refuge in hands of literatures and under the canopy of A.I.R. Such plays made deep in-road lines for Urdu theatre and Md. Hassan (Kohre Ka Chand, Zahaq etc) Ibrahim Yusuf (Parchayoon Ke Peeche and other play) Quratul Ain Haider (Pali Hill Ki Ek Raat) Anwar Azeem (Brechtian Translation of Arturou and Awazoon Ke Qaidi) Sagar Sarhadi (Tanhai & Other plays) Kumar Pashi (Andhere Ke Qaidi & other plays) Zahida Zaidi (Doosra Kamra, Sehra-e-Azam and many translations of important European plays) Afaque Ahmed (Drama Adhura Hai and European Translations) Iqbal Niyazi (Jalianwala Bagh and adaptation of short stories) Javed Danish (Hijrat Ke Tamashe etc.) Kamal Ahmed (Ek Tha Raja and other plays) and Zahir Anwar (Naqqara, Qaidi, Black Sunday and Translations/ Adaptions of European and Bengali plays) are some of the major contributors who need serious attention. These plays did not relate explicitly to the traditional forms but went on to explore multiple layers of meaning in Contemporary Indian life. Even regional plays were explored and we can locate playwrights and stage presentations with native influences on a native language itself.
The numerous translations and adaptations of European plays also added colour to our theatrical conventions. Some of these were for reading and others stageable. Firaq Gorakhpuri, Sagar Nizami, Ateeq Ahmeed Atteq, Akhtar Hussian Raipuri and others translated plays, which were proof of their erudition. Some of the major European plays were translated by Zahida Zaidi (Checkov, Sartre, Ionesco, etc.) Qudsia Zaidi (Shaw/ Ibsen), Anwar Azeem (Brecht/ Gorki) Rawish Taqi (Edward Albee) J. L. Kaushik (Lorca) Jav,ed Danish (Soyinka) Zahida Zaidi took up the responsibilities of translating of translating modern master-pieces with a fair amount of success. My own adaptation/ translation of Feydeau, Camus, Dario Fo and TawfiqueAl-Hakim had a fair run in Calcutta and other states. These plays created a kind of multiple image of Urdu theatre.
Last but not least, one area that needs our concern is the influence of opera in Urdu. It would be unfair not to endorse the efforts of Rifat Sarosh, Ameeq Hanfi, Sagar Nizami, Abdul Aziz Khalid and others in this form of theatre. Their expressions in this form will inspire better artistes in future. This is not a really popular form in the present situation. However, the poeticplayss/ opera of Rifat Sarosh like "Jahan Ara", "Hubba Khatoon" and others were hailed as interesting experiments.
The immediate cause for the failure of this form emerging under the influence of west is that poetry seems to appear more as an external decoration and embellishment .rather than any awareness of the - gulations of plain drama or drama proper. These, poetic cotpositions with delicatemovements of opera and loose theaterical framework do not appear to be woven into any kind of rich or coherent mosaic. T.S. Eliot preferred poetic dramas because it could express the innermost layer of human nature Here the text, though poetical and rhythmic, does not transcend the ordinary and the superficial. In the absence of any strong tradition it does not reveal subtle nuances and the inner realms of a universal life through its resources of symbols and images
In the end I wish to see the avenues of Urdu theatre should be explored in a systematic and enthusiastic way, both on a personal level and by the guardian-angels of our culture. We must come up with strong recommendations to create a stage for Urdu and avenues must be explored, too, for a direct contact with the folk forms of our land. There is a plethora of ideas because it has a direct relation with the man in society. We should be careful not to allow the sensibilities of a great language to die painfully in utter thankless humility.