by Zohra Malik
How much do we really know theatre and theatre-makers in India? Documenting theatre is vital. Yet, a casual Google search in all likelihood will yield little documenting of solid value. Research & Praxis is such a vital strand of the programme at the DSM because it addresses this imbalance. It also embeds students in the living culture of theatre-making and encourages them to document, research and record the work of numerous individuals who stand at the edge of the spotlight.
Ramu Ramanthan – writer, respected journalist, playwright and mentor – developed this research module. He trains students in research methodologies, helping them create strategies to document as well as represent these lives as they occur and their relation to theatre practice today.
Batch 2016-17 decided to shine a light on the lives and practices of the following individuals:
Ventriloquist, Puppeteer, Puppet-maker
Researcher: Abhishek Chauhan
Ramdas Padhye was one of the first people to create puppets with contemporary Indian identities. As a child, Padhye was consistently disassembling and reassembling toys. Encouraged by his father, who was also a well-known magician and puppeteer, Padhye went on to do engineering. He then took to puppetry in order to talk about small big problems of India’s middle class – family planning, saving money and education. Though, Padhye’s work has been featured across the globe,
Actor, Director, Theatre-maker
Researcher: Chrisann Pereira
Faezeh Jalali is certainly not an unknown name. Her recent productions – 07/07/07 and Shikhandi have got audiences and critics alike raving. But Chrisann’s research looks at her directorial style from the perspective of a student of the art. It focuses on the aesthetic values that guide her work but also on how everyone on stage behaves in a certain way for a reason.
Image Expression Artist, Drama Based Learning Facilitator, Dance Drama Storyteller
Researcher: Deepmala Khera
Chetna Mehrotra has an incredible amount of experience in applied theatre – which applies principles of the performance space to the enable transformation of individuals, communities and society at large. Mehrotra’s work stems from the belief that theatre is not just to entertain but a medium to empower and to evolve. She is one of the leading practitioners in this emerging field and works extensively in learning & development, therapy and training. Knowing of her work and of others like her is vital to many of us who often restrict the scope of theatre to the stage.
Journalist, Theatre Critic
Researcher: Khushbu Baid
The career and contribution of Utpal Bhayani, one of the foremost authorities on Gujarati theatre. He has written several papers and critiqued Gujarati theatre extensively for about forty years or so, thus providing a fresh new perspective to the way one sees this regional form of theatre. His words and his influence are still relevant and ever-present to this day, as Utpal Bhayani continues to write a column for the Gujarati newspaper, Janmabhumi. Research and documenting of Utpal Bhayani’s work tells us how to critically appreciate theatre. It also holds the mirror up to the evolution of culture through movements on stage.
Theatre director, Playwright, Actor, Film-maker
Researcher: Komal Khanna
You may recognise him from the various films he has been a part of, but Manav Kaul has been a significant contributor to the development of theatre in India. Komal’s compilation of anecdotes from his life (what better way to get to know a man and his practice) cover everything from his beginnings in Kashmir, the growing camaraderie between him and Kumud Mishra and the moment he realised that theatre was what he wanted to do. His writing, his process, his fascination with the bizarre and his response to criticism, all come together to inspire those who have just begun wading in to the deep waters of the performing arts.
Dr Arvind Ganachari
Researcher: Adarsh Gourav
Dr Ganachari is a noted scholar, specialising in Modern Indian History. He wrote highly insightful pieces on India’s socio-economic and cultural history for the Economic and Political Weekly magazine. He guided Adarsh through a discovery of political and moral censorship in Indian performing arts. According to him, “Although there is much debate about censorship attacking the fundamental right of “freedom of speech”, it is necessary and has to be there. Every freedom has a limit. A person has freedom and has their rights but if it infringes upon somebody else’s right or freedom,censorship comes into use. It is a very thin line.”
Theatre and film critic, Author, Scriptwriter
Researcher: Shruti Khandelwal
If you have seen a show at the NCPA, Mumbai, you’ve experienced Deepa Gahlot’s vision for theatre. She is the Head of Programming at the NCPA and has also translated and adapted several works for stage. Her critical writings not only display an awareness of the technicalities but also a certain esoteric knowledge that only those who are completely in tune with their field of expertise possess. Shruti’s research focuses on Gahlot’s propensity for promoting critical dialogue around the performing arts.
Editor, Theatre critic, Translator, Teacher, Director, Designer, Columnist
Researcher: Shruti Sunder
Arun Naik has had a massively versatile career in theatre for the past forty years. He has directed critically acclaimed pieces of theatre and contributed to The Oxford Companion to Theatre in India. Through him we can track the history of the resurgence of Marathi theatre and the integral role of the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh in the city’s performance culture.
Sunderlal Shyamlal Valmiki aka Sunder Chacha
Caretaker (Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh)
Researcher: V. Vidyuth
It seems fitting to close this little list of theatre lives with Sunder chacha. Apart from having achieved some amazing theatrical feats, Sunder chacha has been a caretaker of the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh for over 40 years. Vidyuth, as a researcher, makes a cogent point that while there are those who contribute to theatre in a more creative capacity, it’s also necessary to appreciate the ones who’ve helped preserve it for so many years. Not only has Sunder chacha taken care of one of Mumbai’s oldest theatre spaces, he has (and continues to do so even today) helped build sets, set up lights and sound and managed backstage processes.
These final projects are essentially profiles of very diverse individuals; names we need to remember, names we need to learn from as makers and consumers of theatre. Each of these lives builds the larger picture of the context, history and social reality of theatre. This research is a responsibility that students have been accepting as part of their education for the past 4 years. It tells the story of a city, its long tradition of theatre and it also tells a story of how theatre continues to grow into what it is today. And it is vital that we all, not only understand but also contribute to the research and documenting of these strands.