In this age of technology, it is contended that society is gradually losing touch with its roots and it is a general perception that the link to tradition should be re-established. But can theatre among all other mainstream options help this search, and that too the much local form of folk theatre or theatre of the roots?
This is the focus of the three-day National Theatre Conference organised by the Department of Indian Theatre (DIT) of Panjab University that commenced in Chandigarh on Thursday.
“There is nothing called mainstream, all forms borrow from each other. In villages, one notices that at religious events such as Ganesh Visarjan (Ganesha idol immersion) songs from films are being used. It is an amalgamation of the traditional and the modern. The modern borrows a lot from the traditional and vice-versa. This has to happen because only that form will survive which evolves and grows,” said actor and Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher, who was the chief guest at the inaugural ceremony.
Folk theatre in modern times
Radha Vallabh Tripathi, a former vice-chancellor of the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, says: “The search for roots is being done through a lot of fronts. But theatre is important because it is physical and live unlike movies. Folk theatre signifies the diversity of this country. It represents the people and their lives therefore a lot can be found here."
Can folk theatre survive the onslaught of the film industry? “It’s true that people are gravitating towards movies but films don't represent the people, and when people realise this, they automatically will come to theatre,” Tripathi said.
Theatre artiste Gurcharan Singh Channi believes folk theatre is much prevalent in India than reported and cites Kuddiyattam of Kerala and Yakshagana of Karnataka. “The need is to bring folk theatre forward. One has to evolve with time. The technology that we have at our disposal can be an effective medium to propagate our roots. Celluloid is the easiest way to show tradition of one part of the country to others,” said Channi, who runs the Seva Drama Repertory in Chandigarh.However, he warns against 'museumisation' of folk theatre: “We should not use folk theatre as an artefact. By staging folk performances on stage, we rob it of its essence."
So will our cities accommodate folk theatre, which for most part is unknown to the urban population? “Yes, this is a problem. It can be solved if folk theatre is marketed properly and in this the government has a major role to play,” said Tripathi.
Channi agreed, “Cities have to make space for folk theatre to keep our tradition alive. We should take folk theatre to children, who are our best bet.”
Participants will hold free folk theatre performances of Saang, Bhanthara, and Naqaul and Bhand Mirasi, which belong to Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, respectively.
“This is our initiative towards educating people about theatre,” said Dr Navdeep Kaur, assistant professor, DIT and convener of the conference.
Career in theatre
The importance of folk theatre as being a vessel for our tradition is undoubted but is it lucrative enough for artistes to pursue a career?
“It is true that people come to theatre with dreams of entering Bollywood. But it is upon entering it that they realise its vastness,” said Himanshu Dwivedi, who like many entered theatre for glamour of films, but is now a multiple award winning theatre artiste.
Meanwhile, Navdeep contends that theatre can be a career. “Nowadays, multinational companies are hiring theatre artistes to take workshops on people skills, so there are avenues,” she added.