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A clarion call for university theatre

The University Ibsen Theatre Festival, which aims to revive college plays, starts in Delhi today. Proyashi Barua talks to Nissar Allana, festival director, Delhi Ibsen Festival and finds out what the colleges have planned

education Updated: Sep 19, 2012 17:14 IST
Hindustan Times

When & Where Date: September 19, 2012 onwards
Time: 7pm
Venue: Little Theatre Group, Mandi House

Lady Shri Ram College for Women

-Burn is an adaptation from two plays — Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen and Look Back In Anger by the famous British playwright John Osborne. Burn builds upon the striking similarities in the individual plays, particularly the triangular structure of relationships.

“The claustrophobia of triangular passion is the overriding essence of our play,” says Neel Chaudhuri who is directing the play. “Our play adapts scenes from the two original plays and unfolds in the setting of a contemporary boarding school in India,” says Chaudhuri. He continues, “Academically, there’s a lot of emphasis on experimenting with structure. Plots of this play are nowhere relevant when compared to the structure.” Talking about her experiences, Ananya Tripathi a student of Ambedkar University and an alumna of Lady Shri Ram College for Women, who plays the lead role, says, “One of the most interesting aspects of this play is that the male characters are invisible. Usually whenever a play is staged by an all-girl’s college the male characters are enacted by girls. But we choose to be different. Since the male characters of our play are invisible the challenge throughout was to deal with abstract entities and depict progressions. Talking and emoting with invisible characters was exciting and challenging.”

Jai Jawan Party
Ramjas College

An adaptation of Ibsen’s The League of the Youth, this play is about an ambitious young man who poses as a political idealist and forms a new party. The play aims to bring many reforms in the society and shifts the focus from the elderly to the youth in terms of transformation. The original League of Youth, which is based in a small Norwegian town, has been adapted to the Indian context. The adapted play unfurls in a present day village located in Uttar Pradesh. Shubham Bhatia a student of Ramjas College and one of the characters of the play, says, “Our play draws inspiration from the political scenario prevailing in the Norway in the past and adapts the context to a contemporary village in Uttar Pradesh. Interestingly, we found a lot of inherent similarities in terms of the political scenarios of the past of Norway and contemporary Uttar Pradesh, which reiterates the fact that Ibsen indeed dealt with the universality of human nature. Even the characters had strong similarities in terms of psyche. For instance, the character of the village Pradhan and the character of the Chamberlain is very similar.”

An Enemy of People
St Stephen’s College

A classic play of Henrik Ibsen’s, An Enemy Of People explores the extent to which individual desires and beliefs are compromised by society. “The adaptation of this play presents various aspects of social activism, popular behaviour and ecological concerns,” says Samik Dasgupta, one of the actors and student of St Stephen’s. The play is still very popular even though it was written out of frustration with drama critics and the liberal press. With the help of characters, scenes and images from other Ibsen plays, this adaptation is an attempt to comment on the contemporary Indian discourses of technology, wealth and community. “The play employs imagery and water is the central image that binds the diverse settings and events of the play together,” says Dasgupta.

Maitreyi College

An adaptation of yet another Henrik Ibsen play, this play broadly carries all the trademark effects - a hard look at Victorian values, psychological conflicts, and a powerful woman believing in self sacrifice; a woman’s duty to her father and husband and her sexuality only in terms of child bearing. Hedda, the central character, is implicitly presented as a deviant character according to the standards of society. This adaptation of Ibsen examines whether the perception of a woman has changed from the 19th to 21st century. It is the journey of self in the process of realisation of complete freedom of the woman. “At one level the play is an attempt to look beyond the obvious and explore the dynamics and interplay of man woman relationships,” says Sukriti Khurana, assisting director of the play and student of Maitreyi College.

Lady from the sea
School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Adapting the renowned play The Lady From The Sea, keeping the complexities of the characters intact and exploring their turmoil through the metaphor of the sea, is the essence of the production.

‘Focus on the stage’

Nurturing university theatre is imperative for developing and professionalising theatre in India. This reasoning has inspired the University Ibsen Theatre Festival which precedes the Delhi Ibsen Festival, to be staged in December, after a gap of two years. An initiative by Dramatic Art and Design Academy (DADA), this university theatre festival blends Ibsen’s dramatic literature with actual productions. Giving details, Nissar Allana, festival director, Delhi Ibsen Festival and Director of Dramatic Art and Design Academy, says, “Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright whose works had a strong influence on Indian theatre till the 1960’s. Because his plays are essentially based on pure realism, they resonate with human sentiments and contexts on a universal plane defying time and demography. For the festival, students from participating colleges got an opportunity to research on different aspects of Ibsen’s work and create scripts which are adaptations of his original plays and characters. In short, this festival is an initiative to facilitate deeper insights into Ibsen’s work and its relevance with contemporary society. Exploring inherent interrelationships with cultures is another objective.”

Talking about the importance of reviving university theatre Allana says, “Lots of people in our country who dabble in amateur theatre have the potential to take theatre as a full-fledged career option. But many get deterred because they simply don’t know how to progress. University theatre is a link between amateur and professional theatre. Hence, developing university theatre is imperative in terms of developing a professional climate of theatre in India.” According to Allana, the festival is also aimed at training students in the logistics of theatre production. “They have been involved in planning the sets, costumes and light and sound acoustics. In fact, participating students have initiated blogs about the rehearsal process where they talk about these planning experiences.”

A pan-India university festival is on the anvil. “We want to influence a deeper approach to theatre study and encourage research and the institution of a master’s programme in theatre,” Allana concludes.

First Published: Sep 18, 2012 13:24 IST