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Modernity and Indegenity in Indian Theatre

Joya John

By Lakshmi Subramanyam
Srishti, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 254, Rs. 295.00


Lakshmi Subramanyam’s book, Modern Indian Drama:Issues and In-terventions is a welcome endeavour given the lack of substantial theoretical work on postcolonial Indian drama. So does Subramanyam’s book break new ground in undertanding drama, theater and performance studies in India? Perhaps a closer look at the book could provide answers. The editor has put together 12 articles prefaced by an introduction in which she delineates her project. Subramanyam begins by briefly placing modern Indian drama in a wider context of European modernism while drawing our attention to the specificities of postcoloniality that mark modern Indian theater. The coordinates for this center around questions of language,cultural policy, the experience of modernity and indigenety. The introduction goes into greater depth when discussing articles that deal with debates around indigenety and interculturalism. The detailing in this section of the introduction is also an indicator that it is these issues which form some of the most vibrant sections of the book. It is perhaps obvious that one expects such a book to have some sort of regional representativeness to it. The articles cover a range of theatrical practices and biographies of practitioners from Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharastra. Of course as is evident from this list, a number of regions and practitioners in various Indian languages find no mention. It seems that a book on modern postcolonial drama cannot escape reiterating the importance of the work of certain playwrights. There are as many as three articles that look at the work of Tendulkar, Dattani and Karnad. The book opens with an interview, conducted by Subramanyam, of well known Manipuri directors H. Kanhailal and Sabitri. The interview offers some fascinating insights in evolving performative spaces through the body and using it in emotive contexts. The quasi spiritualistic tenor of Kanhailal and Sabitri’s methodological orientation is balanced with a committment to the political, though as Kanhailal states himself, not in any programmatic way. The second article by Sudhanva Deshpande provides a rich biographical essay on Habib Tanvir, actor-director-manager and playwright. Deshpande’s use of the term ‘plebian’ for Tanvir’s dramatugy is an interesting contrast to the use of ‘folk’ in most other articles and it would have been interesting to have Subramanyam tease out this difference in her introduction. Clearly, what we have here is not just a difference of semantics. The third article by Tripurari Sharma gives ...

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