Debayan Deb Barman and Susanta Kumar Bardhan. Edited. Post Independence Indian Theatres: Critical Perspectives. Jaipur: Yking Books. Pp. i-xi + 272. 2020. ISBN: 978-93-87945-85-2. ₹1825/-

Abhisek Das, Assistant Professor in English, Govt. General Degree College, Narayangarh

In the “Introduction: Reacting (to) Empire” of Post Colonial Drama: Theory, practice, politics, Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins have expressed their inability to contain the vast and rich tradition of Indian drama in details as only a part of their book and further added that “since its history/practice is extremely complex, it is impossible to do justice to Indian drama in a broadly comparative study” (7). However despite its rich cultural tradition Indian theater has not seen much critical forays into its theoretical explorations before the onset of this current century. For a long period of time Indian theatre has remained unnoticed in the broader spectrum of contemporary world theatre. Aparna Bhargava Dharwadkar in her book Theatres of Independence: Drama, Theory and Urban Performance in India since 1947 has pointed out―

The reasons for this obscurity lie in the linguistic plurality of Indian theatrical practice, the difficulties that attend any rigorous historicization of “Indian theatre” and the intensely problematic relation of such concepts as modernity, contemporaneity, and postcoloniality to drama, theatre, and performance in present-day India. (2)

In the same book she has further clarified that ‘simultaneous existence’ of ‘more than two millennia of texts and performance practices’ has resisted any proper chronological mapping of Indian theater to take shape. Thus the theoretical engagements inquiring into different constituent factors of Indian theater, although relatively latest developments, have effectively started the process of critical study of various indigenous theatrical forms like nautanki, yatra etc. and several other contemporary adaptations of both these and different Western productions. Such critical ventures into the intricacies of Indian theatre have further expanded its scope of explorations of content and form along with responses to different emerging social issues.

Our present book of concern Post Independence Indian Theaters: Critical Perspectives edited by Debayan Deb Barman and Susanta Kumar Bardhan and published by Yking Books may in its own right claim to have done justice to such studies of Indian theater. This book comprises of twenty-five critical essays on eleven post-independence Indian dramatists and theatre personalities such as Sombhu Mitra, Habib Tanvir, Mohan Rakesh, Badal Sircar, Asif Currimbhoy, Vijay Tendukar, Girish Karnad, Manoj Mitra, Mahesh Elkunchwar, Heisnam Kanhailal and Mahesh Dattani and some of their select works and performances. Most of these essays are thought-provoking creating new areas of understanding in the field of Indian theater from divergent theoretical perspectives. Ashish Sharma through his essay explores Habib Tanvir’s works from multilingual and multicultural perspectives with a comprehensive take on the spatial dimensions of the performance of a play. In the process of concretizing his well-conceived argument focusing exclusively on Tanvir’s theatre, Sharma discusses pre-colonial traditional Indian performances like folk and Sanskrit theatre on one hand, while on the other shows how British proscenium theatre has been deconstructed and appropriated in post-independence arena of Indian theatre to provide necessary platform for the strategic experimentations with availabale resources. Rupayan Mukherjee bolsters his argument with the detailed theoretical framework of eco-criticism and deftly puts forward his argument about Mohan Rakesh’s play in the essay contributed by him. Dwelling on the binary of ‘natural’ and the ‘cultural/ political’, Mukherjee’s essay explores the nuances of human as a ‘bio-centric subject’ drawing his sustenance from the world outside. Kalidasa’s departure from ‘natural persona of the poet’ to ‘the political centre of power’ has been here pitted against the ‘organic natural’ Mallika to problematize man’s condition with respect to his relation with Nature. Debojyoti Dan’s use of Foucauldian concept of ‘biopolitics’ to critically analyze female subjugation in a blatantly patriarchal society deserves a particular mention here. His article seeks to depict Miss Benare’s essential self as continuously at war with a phallogocentric world on the basis of various Westren cultural and sexual theories. S. Annapoorni’s use of Gerard Gennette’s theoretical notion of ‘paratexts’ to discuss the social realism in Mahesh Elkunchwar’s Old Stone Mansion provides us with the option of an alternative reading of the text. She has gone beyond the apparent textual framework of an Indian play to include many epitextual elements like performance, stage props, photographs, interviews etc. into her discourse to posit an all-encompassing study.

However in this book not all the articles are at par with the promise of opening up new vistas of critical enquiries into any post-independence drama. There are certain essays which right from the beginning slouch and struggle to establish their proposed arguments. In one essay concerning Girish Kranad’s play, the contributor dilly-dallies almost first two pages of the article in mapping this renowned playwright’s oeuvre of works taken together before arriving at the moot point of discussion. Some essays like “Karnad’s Tughlaq: A Political Allegory” are all too obvious right from their titles. They fail to get over the simple undergraduate level titles and present an argument that may come up to the critical acumen of the readers. In Gour Chandra Ghosh’s article the repetitive use of the phrase “colonial masters” to implicate the British colonizers in a way seems to betray the contributor’s innate sense of colonial legacy. This is somewhat incongruous with the basic temperament of such a post-independence or rather post-colonial critical venture that attempts at bringing Indian theatre out of its supposed ‘obscurity’. In the same essay, Bohurupee’s production of Bijan Bhattacharya’s play Nabanna has been spelled in three different ways (Nabannya in p.10, Nabanya in p.12 and finally Nabanna in p.13) which should have been avoided. In Kyamalia Bairagya’s article references of in-text-citations are missing and in Ankur Konar’s and some other contributor’s articles the page numbers after the final punctuation marks in in-text citations are  some of the areas that the editors should have taken care of.

Other than such minor issues, this is a neatly bound and meticulously edited book projecting post-independence Indian theatre from multiple and hitherto unexplored trajectories. By providing its readers with newer theoretical dimensions to their understanding of the same in its pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial appropriations of both the theme and the performance, this book acquires a particular niche of its own among many such other scholarly endeavours. It covers a vast period of Indian theatre since independence working specifically on eleven theater personalities and their contributions from varied theoretical perspectives. Thus, going in tandem with the expectation of the editor-duo as put forward in the “introduction” section, it successfully creates sincere spaces of newer dimensions to the study of post-independence Indian theatre and turns out to be a must-read for the academicians as well as other theatre enthusiasts in general.

Works Cited

Bhargava Dharwadkar, Aparna. Theatres of Independence: Drama, Theory and Urban Performance in India since 1947. University of Iowa Press, 2005.

Deb Barman, Debayan and Susanta Kumar Bardhan. Post Independence Indian Theatres: Critical Perspectives. Yking Books, 2020.

Gilbert, Helen and Joanne Tompkins. Post Colonial Drama: Theory, practice, politics. Routledge, 2002.