Indian theatre is the largest voluntary enterprise in the world: MK Raina
Theatre actor and director MK Raina talks about the sad state of India’s “cultural infrastructure” and appreciates theatre artistes who are independently “producing wonderful work”.
I don’t think a lot has happened in theatre in India in the last few years, except that many theatre people are doing things on their own and experimenting with various forms [of theatre]. They are doing national and international collaborations on their own. The theatre academies, which are in every state [of the country], have absolutely nothing to do with all this. Actually, these academies should be taking the lead; they should be funding new projects. Across India, there are hardly any proactive academies that provide scholarships. As I call it, Indian theatre is the biggest and largest voluntary enterprise in the world.
Where is the cultural infrastructure in this country? We do not have a single theatre up to international standards. Big groups [from abroad] cannot even come if we invite them to perform here. Despite being the national capital, Delhi doesn’t even have an auditorium of international standards. In Mumbai, only the Tata theatre is a great theatre. We don’t have performance spaces. And rents are too high at the venues that exist, which only corporates can avail of. This is the condition of Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, so you can imagine what must be the state of other cities such as Bangalore, Thrissur, Trivandrum, Lucknow and Kanpur, where the potential for theatre is high, but there are no facilities.
On the other hand, young kids are writing their own scripts. Even that needs to get recognised by academies. There are autonomous bodies outside the government to do that, but they are not doing it. Everyone is on their own. Yes, with the help of corporates, Mumbai has emerged in a big way. But after the hard work people have put in, you just come to take the harvest and say let’s do a festival. But who is going to create new talent and nurture them. Our institutions have been collapsing. They are not being pushed to do what they are supposed to.
Imagine a place like Kashmir, which started the art camps in the country — it was Kashmir academy’s idea — but today they don’t even have an art gallery where they can display their work. A place like Lucknow doesn’t have an art gallery either. The condition is messy. Neither traditional nor contemporary culture is being supported.
The National School of Drama does some great work for three or four years when they get the funds. But after that, they are on the streets again. The Government of India has a scheme where they give grants to theatre groups who qualify according to their standards. Also, there is a salary grant for actors who are in repertory. And what is the salary grant for them? Rs. 6,000. Even a labourer who works on roads makes more money than that. And that is the kind of respect the government has for theatre artistes.
You know what is happening to all the auditoriums in Delhi? From 9 in the morning, they hold classes for chartered accountancy that hundreds of kids attend for hours. So, if I need a theatre, I’ll never get it at 9’o clock, because they are making more money by holding classes there. All the auditoriums in Delhi, for example Kamani, Shri Ram Centre and Pyare Lal Bhawan, are being used for that. They got this prime land in Delhi to promote our culture but they are running their families and making money, and nothing is spent from that money on theatre culture.
Whatever theatre we see is through individual effort. I salute all my theatre friends for doing things on their own in whatever conditions they are in and still producing wonderful work. We have made international connections on our own and are going to international seminars.
I feel every city in India should have a cultural complex with a library, a performance space and a rehearsal space, made in consultation with theatre people. We know what we want. It should be affordable for the common people. It is most needed now because theatre is undergoing a major transition. We have grown busy only with festivals, and don’t know what is happening at the fundamental level. These are big issues.