TABLE OF CONTENTS
SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1. Theatre in India Before and During the British Colonial Period
1.2. Post-Colonial Theory and Decolonial Perspective
1.4. Research Question and Thesis Statement
1.5. Objectives and Significance of This Thesis
SECTION 2: THEORETICAL FRAMEWORKS
2.1. Post-Colonial Theories
2.2. Decolonial Perspective(s)
SECTION 3: SETTING THE SCENE — THE IPTA
3.1. Analysis of the IPTA’s Mission and Goals Through a Post-Colonial lens
3.2. Methods Used by the IPTA to Decolonize the Stage
3.3. The IPTA’s Appropriation of Western Performance Forms
3.4. The Ramifications of the IPTA’s Theatre From a Decolonial Perspective
3.5. Post-Colonial and Decolonial Discourse of Nabanna (1944)
SECTION 4: MODERN INDIAN THEATRE - THE IPTA’S LECACY
4.1. Defining Modern Indian Theatre
4.2. What is Modern Indian Theatre Now in Relation to the Contributions of the IPTA ?
SECTION 5: CONCLUSIONS
5.1. A Culminating Discussion on Decolonization of the Stage
5.2. Reiteration of the IPTA’s Contributions
5.3. The Deterioration of IPTA
5.4. Concluding Remarks and Discussion of the Research Question
SECTION 6: BIBLIOGRAPHY
The Indian People’s Theatre Association and the Aura of the Colonial Wound: A Post-colonial and Decolonial Discourse on the Evolution of Modern Indian Theatre
Section 1: Introduction
“Colonialism was made possible, and then sustained and strengthened, as much by cultural technologies of rule as it was by the more obvious and brutal modes of conquest that first esta- blished power on foreign shores... Colonialism was itself a cultural project of control”
- Shashi Tharoor, An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India
Before reading An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor, renowned Indian writer, politician and former diplomat, I always questioned the rhetoric of salvation and modernity introduced by the British and used by many colonial apologists to argue that India indeed benefited from colonization. Was there truly a bright flip side to colonization? Did the British educate us Indians? Are they truly to thank for westernizing the nation? Tharoor’s book provided answers. All this ‘good’ that the British did, was to exert control over the masses and silence their congenital thinking . Tharoor’s evaluation of colonialism highlighted more than just the mass starvation and brutality caused by the British. He unveils the systematic ways in which the British Raj took control of the country through economic and cultural hegemony. Colonialism was their cultural project, one which extended to the stage as well.
The first chapter of this thesis will provide a brief context of theatre in India before and during the British colonial period, including relevant definitions and contextual information. The two main theoretical concepts of Post-colonial theory and a decolonial perspective will be intro- duced. Lastly, I will give a brief explanation of the methodology used, followed by the introduc- tion of the research question and thesis statement.
1.1. Theatre in India Before and During the British Colonial Period: Definitions and Context
Before delving into its history, it is important to establish the meaning of the term ‘Modern Indian theatre.’ India is a diverse subcontinent, with many different states that have different cultures, religions, languages and therefore many different theatre traditions. The term does not refer to any one kind of theatre, but as Marathi playwright G.P Deshpande explains: “Each mode is uniquely important. Each one is uniquely Indian. In that sense there is no regional theatre in India. There are several, equally valid legitimate Indian theatres” (Bhatia, Modern XI).
Indian theatre emanated from the Sanskrit theatre of the 2nd century BC. The latter in- cluded dramatic narrative, text, music and dance, stemming from the concept of Natya, the Sanskrit word for drama (Westlake 30). The Sanskrit theatre provided a template for other theatre forms to develop around the subcontinent. Since India has always been linguistically and cultur- ally divided into different regions, theatre was as well. Non-commercial, regionalized folk the- atre was performed around India until the establishment of the British Raj; the period of British colonialism in India starting from 1858 to 1947 (Stein 239).
When the British entered the Indian cultural field, they overlooked the existing diversity of traditional theatre forms and imposed their own preferred styles. This came to be known as the modern theatre of the colonial era, which imposed Western dramatic models on preexisting Indian theatre traditions. Cities like Calcutta, Madras and Bombay were the forefront of the colonial stage as “Modern Indian theatre began in colonial cities set up by the British as commercial ports” (Mee 1). These cities were inhabited by urban middle class audiences, many of which were educated in westernized institutions around India, established by the British rule. Theatre in the colonial period was dominated by Western theatre traditions, with renditions of Chekov, Ibsen and Shakespeare intended for English officials and small groups of Western educated Indian audiences. The colonial theatre introduced Western aesthetics, dramaturgical structures and the proscenium stage into Indian theatre as well as commercialized theatre by selling tickets, which limited the range of the audience (ibid).
Subsequently, this led the development of an anti colonial sentiment, propagated by many revered freedom fighters such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru advocating for nation- alism and the rejection of Western ideology (Waltz 32). This inspired a surge of anti-imperialist, anti-fascist theatre using Western dramatic forms from the 1920s to reflect on social problems. Many of these plays were censored by the British Raj. They, however, still contributed to lifting “Indian drama from myth and superstition to political consciousness” (ibid). Out of the quest for national identity and freedom from colonial structures emerged the first Indian theatrical venture: the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) in 1943.
1.2. Post-colonial Theory and Decolonial Perspective
The impact of the British colonial rule in India cannot be forgotten after independence; colonialism will always be part of Indian history. This thesis asserts that Post-colonial theatre explorations by IPTA did not completely return Indian theatre to its traditional roots but helped to develop theatre into a new form of syncretic Indian theatre, fusing Western and traditional forms. To further critique these happenings from a modern day perspective, a Post-colonial framework will be used, as well a decolonial perspective. A decolonial perspective is relevant to this thesis as it steps beyond the Post-colonial perspective, criticizing the entire rhetoric of modernity. It “de-links and opens to the possibilities hidden by modern rationality” dictated by imperial European languages (Mignolo, Epistemic 46). In other words, the decolonial perspective acknowledges the continuing presence of the ‘colonial wound’ and the impacts of Western tradi- tions on the Indian stage. This perspective analyses the IPTA as grounded in the logic of colo- nialism.
Post-colonialism can be defined as a “politically motivated historical-analytical move- ment which engages with, resists, and seeks to dismantle the effects of colonialism in the material, historical, cultural-political, pedagogical, discursive, and textual domains” (Gilbert and Tompkins 2). Post-colonial theory is very broad. Therefore, Christopher Balme’s notion of syn- cretism, Homi Bhabha’s theory of hybridity and Helen Gilbert’s framework of Post-colonial analysis will be referred to in discussions of Post-colonial theory in the performing arts. Balme’s notion of syncretism refers to the merging of traditional forms “within the framework of the Western notion of theatre” (Balme, Decolonizing 1). He argues that syncretic theatre is an effec- tive tool of decolonization as it makes use of both Western and traditional performance elements in restructured way without any adherence to one particular tradition. Similarly, Homi Bhabha refers to the term hybridity to define the mixing of eastern and Western cultures. He views hy- bridity as a tool through which colonized people can take their power back. Hybridity helps to upset the imperialistic structures that were intended to remain ‘pure’ by mixing colonialist and traditional ways. However, often hybridity came as an unintended consequence, evident in cer- tain groups of colonized Indian males who became unintentionally westernized through the edu- cation they received. Many of the theatre makers who formed the IPTA received this kind of ed- ucation, which in turn ‘westernized’ their thinking, which arguably led to the formation of the IPTA (Bhabha, The Location 162) . Lastly , Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkin’s framework of Post-colonial analysis involves analyzing Post-colonial performances by distinguishing between its traditional influences, while at the same time recognizing how it diverges from these tradi- tions (Gilbert and Tompkins 9). This framework will be used to discern the Western from the tra- ditional performance elements as well as highlight the role that the culture context plays in the IPTA’s theatre.
While many scholars have contributed to the discussion on Post-colonial theatre, the ap- proaches mentioned above are broad theories that can be specifically applied to the context of Indian theatre. While Erika Fischer-Lichte’s approach of ‘interweaving performance cultures’ will not explicitly discussed, her ideas are alluded to, as other scholars who contributed to her book ‘The Politics of Interweaving Performance Cultures", like Helen Gilbert, Christopher Balme, Homi Bhabha are crucial to this analysis. I found that their ideas delve further into Fischer- Lichte’s notion of ‘interweaving’ and are sources of a more thorough analysis. Other theatre scholars and practitioners will also be referred to throughout this analysis such as Nandi Bhatia, Vasudha Dalmia, Erin B. Mee Jabbar Patel and others to support the analyses.
The decolonial perspective used in this thesis derives mostly from Walter Mignolo’s Epistemic Disobedience and the Decolonial Option. The manifesto asserts that modernity and coloniality in Post-colonial countries are the same thing due to the role that colonization still continues to play today in the modern world. This perspective views modernity “as something that emanates from colonization,” and therefore, decoloniality is the process that does not allow for the “operation of the logic of coloniality” (Mignolo, Epistemic 46). Decolonial thinking emerged at the very foundations of colonialism as a counterpoint. The decolonial perspective ac- knowledges that the violence and havoc that takes place in former colonial countries have their roots in colonization. The decolonial perspective looks not only at the “rhetoric of salvation and progress,” but also examines “Eurocentrism as a hegemonic structure of knowledge and beliefs” (Mignolo, Epistemic 45). This perspective acknowledges the continuing presence of the ‘colonial wound’ in India even today, which adds a new perspective in addition to the Post-colonial framework used.
To better understand IPTA in regards to their mission, the ways in which they attempted to decolonize the stage and their performance styles; a historical approach will be taken, involv- ing analyzing some of their official documents, a performance and their performance elements. These will also be scrutinized through a decolonial and Post-colonial lens.
The Post-colonial analysis will comprise of discourses by theorists such as Christopher Balme, Homi Bhabha and Helen Gilbert and Joanne Thompkin. The decolonial perspective will be integrated into the thesis through analysis of Walter Mignolo’s notion of ‘decoloniality’ in relation to the IPTA and post- independent India. These perspectives are secondary sources, which I will use to construct an ideological and hegemonic inspired analysis of the IPTA and their impact on modern Indian theatre.
Moreover, to establish the extent to which IPTA’s performances were a reflection of both traditional Indian folk styles as well as Western theatre traditions, and how this manifests as a “colonial wound,” the aforementioned theorists' research will be utilized, specifically focusing on Balme’s notion of ‘syncretism’, Bhabha’s theory ‘Hybridity’, Helen Gilbert’s framework of Post-colonial analysis and Mignolo’s notions of coloniality and the decolonial turn in relation to the IPTA.
1.4. Research Question and Thesis Statement
This thesis aims to answer the following questions: To what extent were the Indian Peo- ple’s Theatre Association (IPTA) successful in diminishing the effect of the British colonial shadow in their Post-colonial theatre explorations from 1943 to 1948 and how did this lead to the development of modern Indian theatre as an amalgamation of traditional and Western performance forms? In what ways did British colonialism influence the theatre of the IPTA? How did Western forms of theatre merge with preexisting theatrical traditions in India to create new forms of theatre?
With the achievement of political independence in 1947 and the end of British rule, “India stepped on to a phase of massive reconstruction of the nation” (Banerjee 1007). Despite IPTA’s mission to decolonize the stage and revive traditional forms of Indian theatre, the effect of the colonial shadow/ coloniality cannot be completely erased. This thesis intertwines Postcolonial and decolonial perspectives to decipher the amalgamation of Indian and Western theatre traditions that resulted in the creation of new, more contemporary forms of theatre, evident in the work of The Indian People’s Theatre Association.
1.5. Objectives and Significance of this Thesis
The objectives of this research are to 1) Establish how successful the IPTA was with achieving their objectives 2) Examine the IPTA’s Western and Indian influences and how they are evident in their work and 3) Define Modern indian theatre by examining IPTA’s contribu- tions.
This thesis aims to contribute to ongoing discussions in the fields of Post-colonial and decolonial studies. I found that while there is a lot of research on Post-colonial Indian theatre, there was a lack of research on the decolonial perspective regarding Post-colonial India, and would like to apply and critically extend these theories to India as a special case. I would also like to contribute to research on the IPTA by linking them to contemporary theatre, as most of the research about the IPTA is historically based. More importantly, I would like to emphasize the present day need for a more comprehensive national Indian theatre, through reinvigorating and underlining the efforts of the IPTA to form a cohesive national theatre company.
Section 2: Theoretical Frameworks
In the following chapter, the relevant Post-colonial and decolonial theories employed throughout this study of the IPTA will be discussed. Key concepts from the theories and neces- sary definitions will be provided, and a framework for how these theories relate to the IPTA will be stipulated. Other relevant theorists who contributed to the fields of Post-colonial studies will be briefly mentioned, followed by why their theories were not implemented for this discourse analysis. The section concludes with the objectives, contributions and relevance of this thesis.
2.1. Post-colonial Theories
Theories by four prominent scholars relevant to the field of Post-colonial studies in Theatre and the Performing Arts are examined throughout this thesis: Christopher Balme, Homi Bhabha, Helen Gilbert, and Joanne Tompkins. Balme proposed that decolonization of the stage can be achieved by “the combination and amalgamation of indigenous performance forms within the framework of the Western notion of theatre” (Balme, Decolonizing 1). This recombinative process is termed ‘Theatrical Syncretism.’ It is the mixing of performance elements from different cultures without any adherence to one particular culture. The term carries some religious connotations, but for the purpose of this research the term is just referring to the homogenizing of performance forms from different cultures. However, the IPTA intended to “revive the lost in that heritage by re-interpreting, adopting and integrating it with the most significant facts of our (Indian) peoples’ lives and aspirations in the present epoch” (Bhatia, Acts 76). Balme writes that syncretism takes place under the framework of the Western notion of theatre. While some schol- ars might question the IPTA’s use of Western theories and conventions, it is important to recog- nize that many of the founders of the association studied in metropolis cities and received Western style education due to subjected colonization. Moreover, with British laws banning many regional performances, the IPTA performed Western plays to disguise their themes to circumvent censorship (Bhatia, Acts 89). I would like to propose the term ‘forced syncretism’ as an addition to Balme’s, as he does not acknowledge this hybrid form of theatre as an unintended side effect stemming from years forced suppression and colonization. On the other hand, an alternative to Balme’s Syncretism is Homi Bhabha’s notion of Hybridity. Bhabha acknowledges inherently colonial ways of thought, and proposes hybridity as a way to upset imperialistic structures.
Hybridity is Bhabha’s term used to describe the mixing of eastern and Western cultures. Hybridity is a condition that challenges the ideological validity of colonialism (Bhabha, Of Mim- icry 23). He recognizes that certain groups of colonized people became increasingly ‘modern’ through Western education and views hybridity as a tool through which colonized people can take their power back. In his book The Location of Culture, he proposes the term ‘Ambivalent Mimicry’ which is when colonized subjects start to adopt the culture and mannerisms of the col- onizers. Through exposure with western culture, many Indians became increasingly westernized, many of who were intellectuals from the IPTA. This renders itself on the Indian stage through the appropriation of Western performance styles. The imperialistic structures, that were meant to stay pure by mixing traditions get disrupted: resulting in a hybridity. The IPTA appropriated Western theatre to “advance their counter-hegemonic struggle” (Bhatia, Acts 84). They challenged the dominant imperial theatre by performing Western plays but violating Western performance con- ventions and challenging the notion of a “superior west” (ibid) which will be elaborated on later in this thesis during the discussion of their play Nabanna (1944). Bhabha’s Hybridity is an inclusive term, taking into account the history of colonization in India and the effect it had on the people. Hybridity manifests itself within works of the IPTA due to the unavoidable effect of the colonization. It calls for a recombinant way in which colonized subjects define themselves, by challenging Eurocentric ways of thought; which is also what theatre scholars Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins propose.
Gilbert and Tompkins’ book Post-colonial Drama introduces their framework of Postcolonial analysis which involves differentiating between traditional and colonial influences. The most relevant part of their framework to the IPTA is the idea of implementing “a culturally spe- cific approach” instead of an anthropologically one (Gilbert and Tompkins i). The British colo- nizers invalidated the histories and myths of India as these were not written down, and relied primarily on oral tradition. They brought in their own documented stories, and disregarded the oral forms and brought in their own written histories. However, they also applied their “unequiv- ocal concepts of linear time and segmented space to regions which had always calculated time and space differently” (Gilbert and Tompkins 107). When the British entered the Indian cultural field, they ruptured it. Their ideas were not culturally compatible as they were based around the Enlightenment and Rationalism, which was not relevant to Indian audiences back then. India had its own methods of storytelling that did not fit with the European way. In their productions, the IPTA attempted to voice the concerns of all classes and castes, which diverged from the Eu- ropean performance model imposed on the Indian cultural field (Patel). Gilbert and Tompkins bring attention to the importance of using a culturally specific approach, which is what the IPTA attempted to do with their platform.
It is worth mentioning some other theorists from the field of Post-colonial studies whose theories were consulted when writing this thesis. Frantz Fanon, is a key figure in the field of Post-colonial studies, however his work was less relevant to the IPTA as he focuses more on the psychopathology of colonization and it’s impact on black America. While extremely interesting and influential I found it less theoretical and not so relevant to India. Gayatri Spivak’s theory of ‘Strategic Essentialism’ which calls for the minimization of inter group diversity to support the essential group identity was quite relevant to the IPTA but I found her work focused mainly on cultural depictions of the ‘other.’ This thesis does not concern itself with how colonial subjects are depicted and perceived to the Western eye, which is what Spivak specializes in, thus her theo- ries were not the most applicable to this thesis.
2.2. Decolonial Perspective(s)
Mignolo’s notion of ‘decoloniality’ recognizes a relation between modernity and colo- niality in Post-colonial countries. Modernity emanates from colonization, therefore decoloniality can be defined as the process that does not allow for the “operation of the logic of coloniality” (Mignolo, Epistemic 46). The decolonial perspective concerns itself more with ac- knowledging that the residual violence and societal issues in a Post-colonial country are due to the ‘colonial wound’ left in the country. Moreover, Mignolo labels “Eurocentrism as a hegemon- ic structure of knowledge and beliefs” (Mignolo, Epistemic 45). The IPTA attempted to circum- vent the logic of coloniality, by providing alternative retellings of historical and political events to call for participation of all people in the political process. They traveled around the country in attempt to bring awareness to hegemonic structures that impacted the masses. Their performances addressed food shortages, debt, exploitation of workers, partition and other current events (Bhatia, Acts 79). They decolonized their retellings of events, best represented with their performance of Nabanna (1944), which will be discussed further in later sections. In the performance, they educate the masses about the true reasons for the Bengal Famine of 1943: which they assert was made due to colonization and various other international developments (Bhatia, Acts 83). The wounds of 1947 deeply impacted intellectuals and artistic life in India, who now aimed “to reconnect to the past from which it had been cut off by colonial intrusions” (Rubin et al. 144). The IPTA founders shared this mindset, acknowledging the presence of a ‘colonial wound.’ They aimed to heal this wound by educating and empowering the masses to decolonize their thought processes.
Section 3: Setting the Scene —The IPTA
In this third chapter, I will start by analyzing three primary source documents of the IPTA using a Post-colonial trajectory, followed by a discourse on the methods that the IPTA used to decolonize the stage and revive traditional theatre forms. The implications of their theatrical ex- plorations will be examined from a decolonial perspective followed by a discussion of the IPTA’s most significant performance: Nabanna (1944). The chapter will end with an analysis covering how their performances convene and stray from traditional Indian and Western styles.
3.1. An Analysis of the IPTA’s mission and goals through a Post-colonial lens
The IPTA was founded on anti-fascist and anti-imperialist ideologies. These were clari- fied in their published documents: ‘Draft resolution of the All India People’s Theatre Conference’, ’Historical Background: First Bulletin of the Association ’ and ‘Organization Principles. ’
The Draft Resolution of the All India People’s Theatre Conference was formulated in Bombay in 1943, and led to the formation of the IPTA. It recognized the need for a national people’s theatre movement which would “serve as the organizer of our people‘s struggle for freedom, economic justice and a democratic culture” (Pradhan 129). Furthermore, the document ad- dresses “the external aggression by the fascist hordes...and internal repression by an alien Government which seeks to hold our people in subjection and prevents them from organizing an ef- fective defense of their own home-land” (Pradhan 131). When analyzing this through a Postcolonial lens, the concept of hybridity comes into play. Homi Bhabha was instrumental to the IPTA, suggesting the name ‘People’s Theatre’, as he was inspired by Romain Rolland’s book The People’s Theatre f Bhatia , Acts 79). According to Khwaja Abbas, a founding member of the IPTA, the group was influenced by leftist political theatre groups around the world, especially those in Russia and communist China (Waltz 32). Their leftist ideologies were shared by the founding members of the group, who were educated intellectuals. Their interactions with the col- onizers through their British education resulted in “a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” (Bhabha, Of Mimicry 128). While the group was founded by intellectuals, it was designed to serve and educate the uneducated masses. The impact of colonial education on the founders of the IPTA resulted in a sense of hy- bridity in their mission right from it’s inception. Their use of European theories and will for a counter hegemonic struggle emerged as a symptom of their colonial education.
The document Historical Background: First Bulletin of the Association was issued in July 1943. It specifies the IPTA’s aim to “revive the lost in that heritage by reinterpreting, adopting and integrating it with the most significant facts of our people‘s lives” (Pradhan 129). The IPTA is calling for a culturally specific approach to their theatre, highlighting the need for the reinter- pretation of history due to the role that Western narratives played in colonial India. This type of approach is part of Gilbert and Tompkins’ Post-colonial analysis. Local Indian indigenous histo- ries were replaced with Eurocentric accounts of the past. The IPTA wanted to revitalize lost Indian history while accommodating “not only the key events experienced by a community (or individual) but also the cultural context through which these events are interpreted and recorded (Gilbert and Tompkins 107). The importance of a contextually appropriate retelling of events is evident in the bulletin: “we shall have to compel our writers to help us to experiment in drama and so evolve a new drama; one that will be essentially Indian, bringing forth real creative talent that will base itself on both tradition and technique” (Pradhan 241). The association wants their plays to revive history, but in a way that will be of interest to this post-colonized society. They were interested in experimenting with the combination of classical dramas with modern stage techniques (ibid). However, they employed a cultural specific approach in many of their performances, which can be seen in the way they contextually adapted their plays for different regions based on language and socio-economic status of the audiences. This will be elaborated on later in this thesis.
The IPTA’s Organization Principles, cited as a whole in Nandi Bhatia’s Modern Indian Theatre, was formulated as a draft for discussion during the 7th IPTA conference (Bhatia, Modern 457). Their principles can be summarized as four main objectives: 1) a linguistically divided theatre, 2) reviving traditional forms and developing them in a modern light 3) staging well re- hearsed productions and 4) educating masses to take the initiative to launch united movements. The IPTA wanted to cater to Indian masses on a large scale.
Due to India’s linguistic divide, the IPTA formed provincial squads, that focused on their respective states and performed in the regional language. The British Raj established English as the official language of India, which restricted the amount of people who could understand and appreciate the colonial stage. The majority of people living in rural India had no access to theatre nor received an Anglophone education. The British imposed an “overarching power of an imperial tongue...and forbidding people to speak their own tongues is the first step in the destruction of a culture” (Gilbert and Tompkins 164). The IPTA circumvented this by creating regional the- atre troops that performed in local languages.
Furthermore, the IPTA’s mission to revive traditional forms by developing them in a modern light and their goal to stage well rehearsed productions can be attributed as a type of Forced Syncretism. Syncretism results from “the interplay between the Western theatrico-dra- matic tradition and the indigenous performance forms of a Post-colonial culture” (Balme, Syn- cretic 209). The IPTA wanted to revive lost traditional forms of theatre, but needed to do so in a recombinant way for many reasons. First, audiences that lived in metropolitan cities ruled by the British became increasingly westernized and no longer were aware of traditional forms of theatre (Patel). The IPTA also had to form repertoire based on ‘modern’ tastes of these educated masses, however they attempted to do this outside of the Western notion of theatre by prioritizing cultural and traditional forms. This new form of theatre they created represents Forced Syncretism, as it manifested as a side effect of colonialism. Lastly, the IPTA aimed to educate the masses and en- courage them to decolonize their cognitive processes and knowledge of history. They did this through the retelling of historical events, which disturbed imperial structures of knowledge and destroyed preexisting narratives of a “superior west” (Bhatia, Acts 84). The IPTA’s mission was to encourage people to let go of colonial structures of knowledge and heal the ‘colonial wound’ by empowering the masses to decolonize their thought processes.