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Power of Performance

Saugata Mukherjee

By Nandi Bhatia
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 206, Rs. 495.00


The power of performance can never be minimized and theatre as a form of cultural production has always been right at the forefront of any ‘people’s revolution’. Nandi Bhatia’s book tries to realize the historical import of theatre in the awakening of ‘nation’ and also takes a deeper look into the understanding of the social crises that dotted the colonized state. The author tries to locate alternative histories through cultural texts and reiterates her firm belief in the Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities) assumption that a novel (theatre in her case) offers ‘spectacular possibilities for the representation of simultaneous actions in homogenous empty time.’ And since theatre has had an important role to play in the social milieu of even pre-colonial India, in the form of puppet theater, folk drama, or mythological drama, Bhatia’s endeavour does indeed have socio-political significance.   The book is divided into five chapters which examine the politics of colonial censorship following the official banning of Nil Darpan and the rise of nationalist drama; local hybrid reconstructions of Shakespearean plays; grassroots performances organized by the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA); a theatrical reassessment of the 1857 mutiny; and women’s street theatre in post-independence India. The author tries to bring into focus the import of gender, caste and religion in her book through her reification in the concept of subaltern resistance.   Through a detailed study of Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nil Darpan Bhatia brings in the interconnections between the banning of the play in 1861 and the subsequent rise of nationalist drama. Nil Darpan was published and circulated in an English translation by Reverend James Long of the Church Missionary Society in 1860. The circulation of the play generated hostility from indigo planters, who brought a lawsuit against the Reverend following which he was sentenced to one-month imprisonment and a fine of a thousand rupees by the British India government. It is most interesting to note here that in spite of his writings, Dinabandhu Mitra had immense ‘reverence for the Raj’ and his attacks were more liberal-humanist in character. Even though the play spoke about the atrocities carried out by the planters, it exhibited faith in the government, more so the Christian religion. In fact, when it was first published in Dacca, the play roused a very lukewarm response from the Calcutta intelligentsia since it was not credited with too much literary /artistic merit. In terms of information ...

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