Saturday, November 28, 2009

Antigone by Motley – the cold corpse of theatre to be buried

21antigone Sophocles, Antigone, Jean Anouilh, Satyadeb Dubey, Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak, Motley theatre Mumbai, and a house full audience filled with great expectations….How does it look like? A great show in the offing! But no, it turned out to be a tragedy, - a tragedy that not even good theatre resulted.

It was 7.00 pm 27th November 2009, Jt Pac Thripunithura, Kerala and Motley Theatre presenting their play Antigone, an adaptation of Jean Anouilh play directed by the veteran Satyadeb Dubey, with a star-steaded cast from Naseeruddin Shah, Benjamin Gilani, Ratna pathak and others. It was a dismay that such a feeble performance resulted. Still as a ritual the audience clapped, exchanged 2 or 3 weak smiles, mostly silence and sighs around, and left the place disappointed.

The performance has nothing much to show, other than the celebrities as cast. It was no tragedy, not even melodrama; there was nothing political (as expected from an Anouilh version), nothing spectacular as expected from a Greek play, neither poetic, yes it has a lot of dialogues that was about life, politics, happiness, rituals, absurdity, idealism, heroism, and what not. The whole performance was drowned in the cascade of dialogues that did not carry the meaning effectively.

The performance did not succeed to transform the text to action, the written text to a performance text, a dramatic text to an enacted text. The first half was dull and cold like the corpse of Polynices remaining unburied. Benjamin Gilani was summing up the introduction as fast as he could, but without passion so that it did not reach the audience and gets registered there.

Antigone appeared like a weak fragile creature, little crazy and foolish. The characterization was wavering in between playfulness, brief moments of heroism, but mostly looked lost in fate or in an indefinite inaction. It was neither confusion, nor countering the arguments of Creon, but inaction – ‘doing nothing’. The acting, body dynamics and overall performance of Ratna Pathak resulted in a weak character, tired and aged, not even standing upright on her backbone; but flimsy, fragile, a chicken-hearted soul, at times innocent and timid like a kid, who cannot understand the gravity of her action or the meaning of the discourse happening in dialogues.

In the second half Naseeruddin Shah tried to cover the coldness of the corpse with his experience and histrionics that is natural to him. But he too was not succeeding enough to shoulder the otherwise dead static play on his shoulders. He too looked uncertain what to do, - a tragic hero, a loving uncle, a tyrant, a manipulator, a philosopher who reads through the kitchen politics and truth of life.…The preciseness of gestures, the rhythm and timing of actions, the clarity and precision of characterization, and link between the internal of the character to the external behavior etc. that are the signature of the acting of the legendary Naseeruddin Shah was missing in this play. He was speaking his dialogues – of course with clarity of diction – and moving around pointing and shaking his hands to Antigone, leaning and sitting on the table and chair, stooping as a hopeless uncle, and wavering on his feet at moments of tragedy, and all these action was not connected to create Creon, the Sophoclean tragic hero or the political manipulator/tyrant of Anouilh. His character of Creon does not represent the ‘State’ through the acting, physicality, but is a loving middle-class uncle, who argues out to his insipid niece urging to keep her away from some stupid idiosyncrasy and fails.

It is clear from the editing of the text that the emphasis of the performance was on the argumentative unit between Creon and Antigone which allows the actors space to ‘perform’; the final portion and the deaths of Haemon and that of Eurydice is summarized by quick narration. The famous distinction between ‘tragedy’ and ‘melodrama’ spoken by the chorus in the Anouilh text is underlined in the dialogues; ironically, the scene of confrontation between the pragmatism of Creon and Idealism of Antigone slowly proceeds to melodrama.

The technical aspects also are not that much worthy to discuss. The columns, table, chair, and other materials look wooden and match the wooden coldness of the production! The mostly bare stage looked empty and vacuum, even if great talents were occupying the stage, and the lights should have at least hidden the vacuum and focused the audience attention to the actors. The space and time of action is nowhere, not Thebes, nor France or India, nor anywhere specific; it does not mean that it reveals a universal truth.

Antigone 1

The costumes are also a mix up western outfits, cowboy boots; contemporary army uniform, north Indian Shervani and shawls, Muslim veil and Burqua etc and do not pitch the play anywhere specific.

In brief I have to summarize that this production from the highly rated and respected company of artists do not belong to good theatre, but is very ordinary. This is not the best of Indian theatre not even unto the ordinary material from beginners. It is high time that someone tell Motley to have a serious look onto the kind, nature and quality of the theatre they are doing and is expected from them. Forget about the rave reviews and blind superlatives from the print/visual media that the stardom of Naseeruddin shah and others in the company fetches

Also I am to clarify that I am not a person who enjoy criticizing others; I have taken this response and position after much thought; I have to tell nothing but the truth, in the good spirit of it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sanskrit Plays; Text and Performance

Below is the gist of my Talk on Sanskrit plays, text and performance at Kadavallur, Trichur Kerala, on 16th November 09, as part of the famous Kadavallur Anyonyam. The performance of the play Karnnabharam followed after the talk.

karnnabharam kadavallur (22)

Text and performance are the two aspects of dramatic expression. The relationship between these two and their divergence is always a matter of discussion, in all traditions of dramatic endeavors- Text is the domain of the playwright (words, language) and the other is that of the actor (acting, performance, histrionics). In classical and Sanskrit theatre this discourse gains special meaning and relevance.

The first one (Text) is permanent, intelligent and poetic; the second one (performance) lives for a moment, emotional in nature, is crafty, skillful and dexterous in nature. The poet is more philosophical and he speaks about human life and its fate through his writing. In this pursuit he transforms the stories of Gods and Noble Kings down-to-earth, so as to portray the human situation- he brings human elements, character and dilemmas into the story of gods and their great lives to discuss the conflicts and limitations of human life in its social, political and philosophical perspective. Thus the playwright brings down the Gods to the Earth, demystifies them, humanizes their story to match the life of the reader and relate to his mortal, experiential reality.

At the same time, the actor performing the same role is trying to grow into a higher plane, to lift him to the upper limits, to grow from the ordinary human situation to match the super-human persona and supreme entities – it is an extension upwards. He cannot ‘act’ and behave in his mundane/ordinary life style to represent such ‘great’ characters; the audience may not ‘believe’ nor accept such a blunt and morbid portrayal. He achieve this ascend with his craft, special talents, histrionics, and other attributes that ordinary human in the audience can not achieve, cultivated by intense, systematic training and hard work. In this attempt to grow upwards, the performance uses techniques, craft, and customs that may be symbolic and/or representative, that can cover up the mundane ordinary entity and persona of the performer. It can be a ‘forged, and bogus’ existence, - a divine lie’ - tricky and crafty and at the same time exceptional, extraordinary. The ability of the actor to dance, sing, perform extraordinary feats, do jugglery, mastery over language and literature, power to improvise and interpret, sense and application of humor, and similar traits make this upward growth from a usual being to a performer blessed with extra-human power and privilege.

In short while the text tries to bring down the Gods down to the human nature, the performance tries to lift the actor/character to the gods or an equivalent supreme situation. One can say that this is true to any classic drama; be it Greek or Sanskrit and even Shakespeare. May be, the elevation and the desire of the actor to be worshiped in the star-status is embedded here.

The role of the director is to make these two perceptions moving in opposite directions, to blend and unite; to relate the meaning of the text with the aesthetics of performance and with the craft of the actor. That means to relate the text and its meaning to the reality of life and the period, but expressed through the actor’s craft, abilities and resources.

Sanskrit drama has a history from 2nd century to 11th century with great playwrights like Sudraka (3rd-6th century), Kalidasa 4th or 5th century; Harsa 7th; Mahendravikramavarman 7th , Kulasekhara Varman -11th etc. A close look onto this history reveals that the progress of Sanskrit drama is in leaps, not in a continuum... The change from Kalidasa to Kulasekhsra Varma is vast and diverse; the Sanskrit drama of Bhasa is much different from that of Kalidasa, which is very much different from that of Mahendravikrama Varma or Kulasekhara. There are more differences between them than similarities. We can see that the focus is being shifted from the text to the performance, as we move from the history of Sanskrit theatre from 2nd century to the 11th). So where to place the tradition of Sanskrit drama and its performance? I can very well say that the notion of a single notion of a monolithic structure for Sanskrit drama/theatre is false; there is not ‘one Sanskrit theatre’, but there are many Sanskrit theatres to make it in the right perspective!

The texts of Sanskrit drama available today do not suggest a clear idea about the mode of performance of the period. What is known to us is from treatise like Natyasastra, excerpts of plays and other related material, commentaries and from references regarding performance; but that too mostly focuses on the abilities and skills the actor, his training etc.

Natyasastra and its interpretation by Abhinavagupta are giving light onto the performance aspects of Sanskrit tradition. Here we find singing and dancing was getting fused into acting; or the concept of acting/performance is a fusion of the three.

Then we have the living traditions like Kutiyattam which are derivatives of Sanskrit tradition of performance, interactions and extensions on performance by the Kerala theatre; it seems to be enlarged and blown-up version of Sanskrit drama itself (this enlargement and magnification might have been an inherent characteristic of Sanskrit tradition itself.)

In Kutiyattam, the text and performance have completely separate lives, priorities and approaches in attributes like dialogue, story and elaboration of the plot. Elaboration of a Sloka into a days performance complete within itself, and placing an act as an independent performance, may hamper the concepts of plot development and its effect – the basics of the dramatic theory based on the Rasasatra, characterized by Panchasandhi, Avastha and Prakriti as elaborated and defined in Natyasastra itself; the wholistic understanding and continuity of the plot development is submerged in this kind of elaboration, characteristic to Kutiyattam tradition of performance. In other words the text gets underdone with performance. And the journey of Sanskrit theatre from the beginning through the centuries was precisely doing this.

Sanskrit Theatre as a Ritual

It is understood that the performance of Sanskrit plays happened along/with ritual sacrifices, and then later was developed/ substituted as a ritual itself. (Remember the concepts of Natya-Yajna or Natya-Veda). We can identify the various elements and characteristics of ritual being incorporated into the body of performance. In a ritual the most important attribute is to the exact execution of even the minute details according to set rules, since the ‘result’ or ‘outcome’ of a ritual depends on its correct execution. Any deviation or an erratic action will be a ‘sin’ or at least a ‘malpractice’ that cannot be allowed. This kind of a demeanor of perfect execution and detailing in a ritual, results in emphasizing the form over its meaning. As in ritual, the performances of a Sanskrit play also emphasizes on the form over the meaning communicated. In the text of a play and the literary form the meaning is the supreme.

How much Sanskrit is present in a Sanskrit play?

The big amount of Prakrit spoken by lesser characters like heroin, women, and ordinary mortals (Kutiyattam the Vidushaka speaks fully in Malayalam), in concord with the ‘Sanskrit tradition’ encoded in Natyasastra, makes a Sanskrit play a mixture of Sanskrit and other vernaculars in terms of the spoken language. Thus the term Sanskrit in connection with Sanskrit drama does not relate to the issue of the language, it is more to the philosophy, aesthetics, sociology, politics, and the technique of performance. It is about an attitude and ideology than of a language, which leaves out lots of spaces for further understanding of the form and practice of this genre of theatre itself.

karnnabharam kadavallur (45)

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Delhi Ibsen Festival 2009

I would like Spacing Theatre to be an open forum/journal where anyone can write about theatre/performing arts, share news/views/experiences around us. It would be great that many writers from around the world can write and send relevant material to me so that it get posted here. Elizabeth Ike has send me a first report on the Ibsen festival at New Delhi which you read below. Thanking Elizabeth and other future writers to write in Spacing theatre, I reiterate that the ideas/opinions expressed in such articles will be of the writer and not of spacing theatre.

Delhi Ibsen Festival 2009 – Elizabeth Ike


The Delhi Ibsen Festival was started in 2008 by The Dramatic Art & Design Academy (DADA) under the auspices of the Norwegian Embassy. The focus of the festival therefore is to look and explore the dimensions of theatre through a playwright like Ibsen, who is considered to be at par with Shakespeare and the playwrights of such stature. The Delhi Ibsen Festival will be a calendar event which takes place in the month of December each year, and will continue for the next four years.

Last year, the festival showcased 6 Indian and International productions. This included commissioning of 3 established directors from around the country – Neelam Mansingh, Ratan Thiyam and Anuradha Kapur, to do a new Ibsen production of their choice. DADA considers the commissioning productions of Ibsen as an essential part of my presenting a new approach to Ibsen’s writings, in a modern and contemporary context. The impact of the Delhi Ibsen Festival 2008, was extraordinary and generated much discussion in theatre circuits in Delhi, and other parts of India. This year, we grow in strength, and the audiences will get to see 9 productions of Ibsen – 5 Indian, and 5 International.

DADA is now making preparations for the second Delhi Ibsen Festival in December 2009. Much time has passed since the early years when directors used to do Ibsen in the 60's and 70's. Now not only has the theatre movement in India matured, but distinctive styles in the work of a second and third generation of theatre directors after Independence, is much more evolved and identifiable.   These directors who began their professional work in the later 1960’s and early 1970’,s stylistically developed with their own personal signatures, and identities.

The relevance of Ibsen in the Indian context has also changed. His contribution to Indian theatre from the 1930’s to the mid-1960’s had undoubtedly been seminal, but the challenge of doing an Ibsen in the 21st century is different. Ibsen's writing now has a different resonance in the contemporary scenario of Indian theatre, in a country that celebrates an emerging democracy, grappling with a new social and political order. Re-looking at Ibsen will be more interesting now from a socio-economic and political viewpoint.

One of the highlights of the Delhi Ibsen Festival 2009, is the decision to present the work of 4 young directors from diverse backgrounds, with well-defined individual preferences and a predominantly modern approach. The festival also celebrates plays from many Asian countries, which will present an Asian Inter-cultural perspective, rather than looking at Ibsen from a Western standpoint.

The festival highlights the work of a younger generation of urbanized Indian theatre directors, selected for their modern approach to theatre. Hence, 4 young and upcoming directors from diverse backgrounds have been selected. Each of them has their own distinctive styles, and has developed new and path breaking approaches to theatre. Their craft is more identifiable to audiences and evolves into unique pieces, stylized to suit the modern day set up. In our opinion, the re-looking at Ibsen in the current context will be exciting as well as challenging.

The Ibsen Festival is being organized in December this year, from the 3rd till the 13th. Following are the details :

Dates : 3rd - 13th 2009

Venue : Kamani, LTG, Meghdoot Auditorium

Time : 7pm onwards

Contact Details : 9871419481, 9958111319, 9810166643

E Mail : Website :


Elizabeth Ike is doing her M.Phil In theatre and performance studies, at the school of arts and Aesthetics, JNU, New Delhi.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our Stage - Pleasures and Perils of Theatre Practice in India

I am glad to share the news of release of a book which really discusses, trying to theorize, critique, and lament on the state of theatre practice in India. This is an off-shoot of a seminar that was called ’Not-the-Drama-Seminar’ held at Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka  in March 2008, organized by The India Theatre Forum. The book summarizes what all were the ‘happenings’, discourses, ‘performances’, monologues and dialogues at the event. Flipping through the pages of the book I could revisit all the passion, heat, dust and the words/faces of people/characters, theatre activists/theoreticians I could meet/glance/view/see in the event. And I remember the warmth of the whole locale and the near ones with whom there were long discussions that were not echoed aloud to a camera or a recorder. I remember that the event clarified my position in/of theatre further, and was revitalized.

A note on the book is added below. You can read my arguments in the response to the session ‘Assertions’



Theatre practice in India is like the country itself—vast, diverse, pulsating. Theatre in India happens anywhere and everywhere—in badly designed auditoria, in schools and colleges, in parks and gardens, in restaurants, on rooftops, in the open fields, on the street corner, and even, sometimes, on moving trains. At times, it gives pure delight and touches aesthetic peaks, at others, it is brazen, rude, outspoken, blunt—or both simultaneously.
And yet, surprisingly, the actual practice of theatre in India—beyond the work of this or that practitioner remains vastly under-theorized.
In OUR STAGE: Pleasures and perils of theatre practice in India, leading theatre practitioners, administrators and scholars, social scientists and activists interrogate theatre practice in India around the themes Locales, Experiments, Assertions, Pathologies, New Realities, and Training Institutions. They also interrogate the implicit and explicit premises and projections of the 1956 Drama Seminar. Together, they give a fascinating insight on how theatre happens in India, as well on the most important issues animating this practice.

rajarajeshwari, revathy, bandhu prasad, indira chandrasekhar

Edited by Sudhanva Deshpande (of Leftword and Jana Natya Manch, Delhi), Akshara K (of Akshara Prakashana, a prominent Kannada publishing house) and Sameera Iyengar (a Ph.D focusing on theatre in India from the University of Chicago, and Director Projects, Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai), the book has contributions from Aijaz Ahmad, Akshara K. V., Amitesh Grover, Anmol Vellani, Aparna Dharwadker, Chandradasan, Channakeshava, Dakxin Bajrange, Devi, Ekbal Ahmed, G. P. Deshpande, Gopal Guru, Koushik Sen, Makarand Sathe, Moloyashree Hashmi, Prabir Purkayastha, Pralayan, Ram Bapat, S. Raghunandana, S. Ramanujan, Sadanand Menon, Sanjoy Ganguly, Shanta Gokhale, Shiv Visvanathan, Shyamala Vanarase, Siddharth Narrain, Sudhanva Deshpande, Sundar Sarukkai, Sushma Deshpande, Vikram Iyengar, and Vivek Shanbhag.

with jehan manekshaw at ninasam


  • Paperback : 236 pages
  • Author/Editor : Sudhanva Deshpande, Akshara K. V. and Sameera Iyengar
  • Year of Publication : 2009
  • Publisher : Tulika Books, New Delhi
  • Language : English
  • Product Dimension : 9.5 x 6.25 inches
  • Shipping Weight : 500
  • ISBN Number : 9788189487614
  • Price : Rs 350

The book is available at, and that the url for the book page is

The photos are moments from the seminar…..

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Karnnabharam @Kadavallur Anyonyam


Lokadharmi presents the play Karnnabharam at Kadavallur, Trichur, Kerala as part of Anyonyam at 7.00 pm, on 16th November 2009. There will be a talk on ‘Sankrit plays – text and stage’ by Chandradasan, before the play.

KARNNABHARAM (The anguish of Karnna), The Malayalam adaptation of the Sanskrit Classic Performed by Lokadharmi Kochi Kerala is based on the translation into Malayalam by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar. The Music is scored by Bijibal, Lighting by Gireesh Menon, art by Anup S Kalarikkal, and the Design & Direction is done by Chandradasan.

  • This play has won the prestigious awards for Best play, best stage design & best costume design from Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards 2008.
  • Also nominated for best Actor, best Ensemble and best Choreography in the festival

Lokadharmi had performed Karnnabharam widely all over in India including Visakhapatnam, Hyderabad and Vijayanagaram in Andhra Pradesh, Kolkota (Bengal), Mysore, Bangaluru, Gulbarga, (Karnataka), Jagdalpur (Chatisgad), Cuttack (Orissa), Patna (Bihar), New Delhi, and Kurukshethra (Hariyana).

This play is performed widely in major theatre festivals all over India including Bharath Rang Mahotsav New Delhi 2006.

This is the 321st show of the play.


The artists traveling to perform the play are Sudheer Babu, VR Selvaraj, Sijin Sukumar, Madan Kolavil, Sebastian K Abraham, Charu Narayanan, Jolly Antony, Shyju T Hamsa, Vysakh Lal, Sumesh Chittooran, Santhosh Piravam, Ajaikumar Thiruvankulam, Sanosh Palluruthy, Aadarsh Madhav, Jebin Jesmes, Gireesh Menon, and Chandradasan.