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Girish Karnad

Edited by Ananda Lal
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 462, Rs. 895.00

Edited by Nandi Bhatia
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 487, Rs. 487.00


The appearance of The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre in 2004 was hailed as a landmark in the historiography of Indian theatre. This accomplishment of Ananda Lal, who had conceived the project and edited the volume single-handed, deserved the accolades it received for being reminiscent of the great editorial achievements of the nineteenth century. The volume was such a success that Oxford University Press decided to bring out a more affordable edition to reach out to a wider audience. This was good news and one looked forward to the spin-off with immense anticipation. One is glad to note that the new volume, called Theatres of India: A Concise Companion, retains much of the valuable material in the parent volume, more succinctly presented. I would particularly like to recommend the excellent contributions by K.D. Tripathi on Sanskrit theatre and the related literatures like the Natyasastra, that combine scholarship, lucidity and immense readability. That said, one must confess that all is not well.   The original Companion had an openness, an inclusiveness and, yes, even a sense of chaos, which caught the excitement of contemporary Indian theatre. The new volume, along with the condensation, has a hidden agenda. Lal uses the success of the Companion to arm-twist his readers into accepting as valid a version of twentieth-century drama which is highly questionable.   Let me first explain. The beginning of the twentieth century saw the commercial theatres in Bengal and western India at the peak of prosperity. Although many realized that the fare provided by these purveyors of entertainment was often coarse and tinselly, few resisted it. Among those who did and tried to provide an alternate body of drama were Rabindranath Tagore and a much-less renowned Marathi playwright called Divakar. By the end of the thirties, the ‘talkie’ films, capable of providing gaudier songs and dances at cheaper rates, had dealt a mortal blow to the commercial theatre. The next important moment in the history of Indian theatre was the formation of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, active again in Bengal and western India, which produced the epoch-making play on the Bengal famine, Nabanna, in 1944. Soon, Independence saw new forces shaping the theatre scene: first came the Sangeet Natak Akademi, followed by the National School of Drama, under the dynamic leadership of Ebrahim Alkazi. The SNA took the entire swath of performing arts under its care. The NSD focussed on teaching drama. ...

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