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In the middle of the 19th century the Western literature and the feelings of nationalism and pride of the glorious past of the country equally influenced Indian Theatre. Indian theatre and drama got a new footing, when Sangeet Natak Akademi was started in January 1953. Later, the National School of Drama under the directorship of Ebrahim Alkazi did much for the growth and promotion of modern Indian theatre.

In the 1960s, by suitable mixing of various styles and techniques from Sanskrit, medieval folk and western theatre, the modern Indian theatre was given a new, versatile and broader approach at every level of creativity. Among other pioneers of the dramatic revival are Ranchhodbhal and Nanalla Kavi in Gujarat, Verasalingam, Guruzada Appa Rao and Ballary Raghavachari in Telugu, Santakavi Varadachari and Kailasam in Kannada, Laxminath Bezharua in Assamese, Kerala Varma Thampuran and C.V.Raman Pillai in Malayalam, Ramshankar Rai and Kalicharan Patnaik in Oriya and P.Sambandha Mudaliar in Tamil.

The year 1972 turned out to be a landmark for the Indian vernacular theatre when Vijay Tendulkar's Marathi play 'Ghashiram Kotwal' made waves by its brilliant use of traditional folk forms in modern contemporary theatre. This led to the birth of a new breed of directors like B. V. Karanth, Habib Tanvir, Bansi Kaul and Rattan Thiyyam. Feroz Khan is another accomplished playwright who has to his credit several outstanding plays like Tumhari Amrita, Mahatma vs. Gandhi and Salesman Ramlal.  The last play is a Hindi adaptation of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

In Calcutta, the Hindi theatre got a boost with the launching of the theatre group Ranga Karmee in 1976 by Usha Ganguly and her husband Kamal Ganguly.

     A Scene from the play 'Andorra'                 

In the recent years the country has also produced talented playwrights who have chosen English as their medium. Manjula Padmanabhan was the first Indian to earn international acclaim with her play 'Bitter Harvest' , a futuristic play that deals with the exploitation of the human body in the 21st century, which won the highest Greek honour. Another talented upcoming playwright is Mahesh Dattani who has produced thirteen plays, including one play called Do The Needful for the BBC. He touched upon the sensitive issue of communalism in his play 'Final Solutions', which won him the Sahitya Akademi Award. 

Although the emergence of cinema had given an elbow jerk to the popularity of theatre as the main medium of popular entertainment, several film personalities themselves had contributed for the growth and promotion of theatre.  They include Arvind Deshpande, Vijaya Mehta, Jabbar Patel, Satyadev Dube, Vaman Kendre, Dr Shriram Lagoo, Girish Karnad, Pearl Padamsee, Amol Palekar, Shashi Kapoor, Satish Kaushik, Farooq Shaikh, Naseeruddin Shah, Jaya Bacchan (Dr. Mukta, Ma Retire Hoti Hai) and Shabana Azmi (Tumhari Amrata, Waiting Room). 

Theatre continues to attract a new bread of young and talented actors, directors and playwrights. Anahita Uberoi, who is the daughter of the legendary Marathi theatre artist Vijaya Mehta, is one such upcoming and talented theatre personality who has acted in several noteworthy plays like Glass Menagerie, Seascape with Sharks, Dancer and Going Solo. Sanjana Kapoor, daughter of Shashi Kapoor, is another such artiste who manages the Prithvi Theatre and provides a platform to several newcomers.  Her children's play The Boy Who Stopped Smiling has recently completed 100 shows throughout India.  Chetan Datar is a young and acclaimed playwright and director of Marathi theatre.  His Gandhi-Ambedkar ran for more than 80 shows. Rajat Kapoor, who is associated with Chingari, a leading theatre group of Delhi, has translated into Hindi Waiting for Godot, The Taming of the Shrew and Jean Genet's The Maids and Deathwatch. He has also produced a highly dramatized play C for Clown.  Tara Deshpande has acted in Once Upon A Fleeting Bird, which is an English adaptation of Vijay Tendulkar's Ashi Pakhare Yeti. The play was screened recently during the Indo-American Theatre
festival held in New York.

Rael Padamsee, the daughter of Alyque and Pearl Padamsee, has a fancy for producing plays targeted at young kids. Her important plays in this category include Alladin and his Magic Lamp, Alibaba and the Forty Thieves and Babloo the Bear.  She draws the stars mainly from her immensely popular 'Little Actors Club', which trains pre-teens for professional acting. She also did plays with serious themes like Betrayal, Games People Play, Acts of Faith and Extremities. Royston Abel bagged the first prize at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for his role in the play Othello -- A Play in Black & White.  He is coming up with another play called Goodbye Desdemona.

The All India Radio was also instrumental in popularising drama for a long time through its national and regional broadcasts. The Television also provided the much-needed succour to the theatre artistes by way of Tele-serials and Mega-serials and Soap Operas. However, today there are relatively few commercial theatre companies in India. Calcutta is said to have the most, approximately 3,000 registered amateur groups, Mumbai has around 500, and Chennai has about 50 while Delhi has got hardly a dozen.  Some serious theatre groups like the Indian National Theatre, the Prithvi Theatre, Chingari and others are contributing greatly to popularise theatre.  Some of these companies, like the Prithvi Theatre have gone online, making themselves known globally by utilizing the explosion in the information technology.


During any discussion about the future of theatre in India, people talk about its marginalisation by the film world. The exodus from the theatre to films is not a new phenomenon. But of late, television, video, film and the satellite channels have attracted the maximum number of people from the theatre to these options because of more money, glamour and market opportunities. As a result, theatre activities have suffered a severe setback in the last 15 years or so. The situation, however, has started changing slowly again. The audience appears to be fed up with the small screen. Theatre being a live and direct medium and always operating on human level with its audience can never die. Even after innumerable obstacles and upheavals in history, it has always emerged as a winner in the end.

However, one pertinent question relates to the identity of Indian theatre today. India being a vast country with 22 languages and as many different cultures, the theatre cannot be identified with one uniform element. In India, the concept of National Theatre has to be seen purely in regional terms. In the post-Independence period conscious efforts were made to evolve the concept of a 'National Theatre' by breaking these barriers of language and region. Slowly many writers crossed these barriers of regionalism and produced many good works at national level. Badal Sarkar, Girish Karnad, Vijay Tendulkar, Mohan Rakesh, Adya Rangachari and Dharamveer Bharati are the few among them.

Today, it is not uncommon to find leading companies and organisations supporting efforts like holding a theatre festival or carnival of plays. The Prithvi Theatre has so far run twelve such festivals called the Prithvi festivals.  It was also able to organise the "Bol Jamoore" - the national festival of Street Theatre - with the help of organisations like Child Relief and You (CRY). These festivals are set to move from Mumbai to other parts of the country like Bangalore, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai. Nandikar, Rudra Sengupta's well-known Calcutta group, has also been putting up festivals of Indian plays for the last 12 years.

Thus, the theatre continues to show its survival instincts in the contemporary times, as it has been doing so since the time immemorial.

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