Tuesday 30 September 2014

Report – Guest lecture by Dr. V. Shivaraman on 16 July 2013

Dr. V. Shivaraman, M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the Department of English, Presidency College (Autonomous), Chennai.  His doctoral research was centred on the plays of renowned Kannada playwright Girish Karnad, and he has published several scholarly articles and books on Indian theatre.  Dr.Shivaraman is also visually challenged and has held several honorary positions with organisations working for the welfare of the differently abled.

Dr. Shivaraman primarilyargued that certain playwrights in post-independent India made an “earnest attempt” to “nativise” Indian theatre.  While making a special reference toKarnad, he also noted playwrights such asHabib Tanveer, Chandrashekhar Kambar, Vijay Tendulkar, Mohan Rakesh, Mahesh Elkunchwar and K. N. Panikkar for their endeavour to nativise both theatrical content and form by wresting them from colonial influences.He excluded certain figures from this distinctioneither on the grounds that they wrote in English (e.g. Mahesh Dattani) or that they merely nativised themeswhereas their characters spoke like the British (Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghose, etc.).

The speaker commenced by emphasising the needto read plays not simply as written texts but more comprehensively as performances/productions.  Moreover, he stressed the significance of approaching Indian theatre with the aid of Indian theoreticians(such as Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker) as against the Western-oriented theories typically employed for research in English Studies.

Thespeaker then drew the audience’s attention to the paradigm shift in recent times from the category of “Indian writing in English” to more inclusive areas such as India Studies, regional literatures, Indian literatures in translation, etc.  He situated this shift within the larger movement to a post-theory era of Cultural Studies and specifically applied it within Indian theatre by identifying the post-Independence shift fromindiscriminate imitation of Western drama to substantial attempts at nativisation.  In this regard, he also remarked that India no longer worships English as an icon but instead treats it as a weapon against colonial strategies.

Thereafter, the speaker explored various sources through which India’s pre-colonial past could be reclaimed in theatre.For this purpose, despite problematising classical sources (concerns around the hegemony of Sanskrit)as well as folklore (folk forms,e.g.yakshagana, koodiyattam, tamasha and nautanki, survive only in the oral tradition, and are not documented), he stronglyadvocated the need to revisit them for nativisation, especially folklore, since it remains completely insulated from colonial ravages.  Healso proceeded to demonstrate how despite being politically irreconcilable, there exist cultural/theatrical similaritiesbetween these forms, e.g. anti‑realistic performances and stylisation found in both classical texts and folklore, though executed differently.

The speaker then went on to quote Dharwadker in espousing the idea of many regional Indian theatres that are “linked intra-nationally by complex commonalities and mutual self‑differentiations.”  Hefurther argued that such commonalities are not superimposed but in fact inherent in these theatres, e.g. they all start with an invocation and end with a kind of benediction.  The speaker also opined that theatre is one of the key spaces in India where artists can respond to politics (not to be confused with politicising theatre).

Lastly, the speaker discussed how playwrights that attempted nativisation responded to both the commonalities and peculiarities of Indian theatres and emerged with a syncretic theatre that mingled folk forms with Western proscenium stagecraft through transcultural appropriation.  With specific examples from Hayavadana and The Fire and the Rain, he further illustrated how Karnad is able to balance these seemingly incongruous patches, and appears to be at once fiercely anti-colonial and, paradoxically, slavishly colonial.  The speaker also noted how despite invoking myths, Karnad is vehemently anti-backwardness, anti-caste and anti‑feudalism.  He concluded with the assertion that the process of nativisation of Indian theatre is at its core a search for a theatre of the roots and a pan-Indian identity through eclecticism.

The lecture was followed by a short interactive session during which the speaker responded to the audience’s questions and observations.

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