It is a common saying that theatre presents a stark picture of the society like no other form of literature can. However, if thought about the Indian Theatre, the shift from the age-old form of Classical Sanskrit Theatre to the Modern Indian Theatre hasn’t been an easy one. Although newer issues and concerns were always dominating the Indian Theatre too, the first remarkable shift was noticed before and during the Naxalite Movement—during the heydays of Marxist politics in India. Let’s have a look at some of the Indian playwrights who revolutionized the Indian Stage—
At a time when dramatists around the country were still vested in performing the old Classical Sanskrit Plays, Prithviraj Kapoor hit it out with his plays that were mostly a product of the social condition that India was steeped in at that point of time. From urging the people to participate in the Quit India Movement and the Indian Independence Movement to portraying the social backlog of the post-independence India, his were the plays that were for the common people of India, and hence, stood out among the rest!
A well known dramatist from Bengal, Bijon Bhattacharya was an active member of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, the Marxist wing of culture. And, hence, needless to say, this association indeed shaped his plays. Among all his plays, it was Nabanna, based on the Bengal Famine of 1943, which had indeed stood out and shaped the ideology of many playwrights and film directors to follow!
The pioneer of the Modern Indian Theatre, Utpal Dutt, started his career with the English plays (mainly those by Shakespeare and the father of Epic Theatre, Bertolt Brecht) before switching over to socio-political plays which would uphold his Marxist ideologies. In fact, he was one of the founding members of the IPTA. Among all his plays, our recommendation for you would be Kallol which was banned for months by the then Congress-led West Bengal Government.
Here is another stalwart who was instrumental in shaping the Modern Indian Theatre. Mitra, too, was associated with the IPTA; however, he left the organization due to some inner tiffs and formed his own theatre group, Bohurupee which produced numerous famous plays, including a rendition of Ibsen’s Doll’s House (Putul Khela) and An Enemy of the People (Dashachakra).
A notable modern Indian playwright, Vijay Tendulkar’s plays too had a strong socio-political message inherent in them though they were far from being Marxist—they mostly presented the audience with a slice of stark reality! Among all the plays by this social commentator, we’d recommend you to watch (or read) his Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe, and Shakharam Binder.
His are the plays which synthesized mythology and history with the contemporary to carve out the harsh socio-political truths of this age. Although he mainly writes in Kannada, his plays have been translated in many languages, including English, to reach out to the theatre enthusiasts all over the world. We’d recommend you his Hayavadana.
His plays do not deal with any kind of political issues, but the social evils and trauma inherent in the affluent middle and upper middle class of the society troubles him the most, and a glimpse of this is what we get in his plays. Dance Like a Man and Tara are two of his notable plays!
If you could strike a chord with Jimmy Porter (protagonist of Osborne’s Look Back in Anger) or could well understand the depth of the Absurd Theatre of Samuel Beckett or even Harold Pinter, then we’re sure you’d be moved by Sarkar’s plays as well which pondered on the hopelessness and nothingness of life while commenting on the socio-political scenario of Bengal in the 70s. Evam Indrajit is what we recommend for you!