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A Search Beyond Theoretical Closures

Neelam Man Singh

By Bishnupriya Dutt and Urmimala Sarkar Munsi
Sage, Delhi, pp. 332, Rs. 995.00


Performance studies in India should be very pleased with the intervention made by Bishnupriya Dutt and Urmimala Sarkar Munsi. Taking the elements of search as well as identity quite seriously, the authors have managed to keep their work and explorations away from the theoretical closure that often accompanies such endeavours. There is a search, a constitutive fragmenta-tion (as Samik Bandyopadhyay says in the Foreword), to the entire text and this is a political move. The micro-histories of tendencies in Indian theater and dance are highly understandable for a practitioner in the arts, and both the writers have experience as practitioners, which shine through in their way of avoiding any totalizing meta-narrative telling of performance history that is often oriented towards closure and not openness. The authors tell us that the central question of their pluralistic approach is to highlight what roles the actress-dancer-performer played in shaping the colonial, and subsequently the nations culture? This is a question that can only be answered through subtle unravelling; otherwise it often ends up with clichs about liminality and transgression, which this book avoids. The book has eight chapters, each tentatively recreating a particular moment of this journey, evoking a microscopic and untold history. The first chapter, much like our own modern history, begins with the Englishand the role of the English actress in shaping the geography of the colonial city. The authors go beyond a mere archival analysisthey recreate the entire semiotics of an actress in an emerging urban topography, and trace the unfolding of history, and its inherent tensionsthe professional lives create certain imbalances and problems, which could challenge closely monitored categories (p. 45). The second chapter begins by looking at the first generation of Indian actresses, with specific reference to what they call the actress-prostitute debate, whichas the authors point outis engendered by the dynamics of gender representation and its replication on stage (p. xvii). Sometimes, many tensions are resolved through the idolization of the domestic set-up and the fetishization of Hindu conjugality. They quote Jyotrindranath Tagores play, Sarojini NatakFlames burn higher burn higher // The widow has come to immolate herself (p. 65). The third chapter positions itself in the transition point between colonial and post-colonial modernity. This transition, much like many at this time, takes place through the intervention of politicsThe Indian Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA), and its particular self nomenclatures and articulations. This chapter investigates how some of Rabindra-nath Tagores text ...

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