On 27 March, the world would wake up to the call of theatre. The day is celebrated every year as World Theatre Day. In India, notwithstanding the global message, theatre would once again be relinquished to a dark, solitary seat reserved for the niche in the corner.
Performing arts has been the vortex of a vociferous debate for long and this time, the proposed cut of 44 per cent from the budget allocated to the National School of Drama (NSD) under the Union Ministry of Culture has added fodder to that debate. This is a setback especially when the erstwhile UPA Government had agreed to establish at least four NSDs across the country.
“Yes, our policy on culture has been weak in addressing a field that has had such serious ramifications upon our history. Theatre has had so much to do with establishing a tradition to this country but our policy and funding seems to suggest a different treatment. This has been a source of discussion for long,” says Aditi Roy Maelzer, a second-year student at the NSD.
It isn’t that the NSD hasn’t had a lot to battle with ever since its inception. The history of the institution itself has been marred with setbacks, misappropriation of funds, infighting and lobbying.
“Institutions like these, which are supposed to make major contributions to the field of drama, are not doing much artistically. They are concentrating on technicality. I admit that they know some music and choreography but these are not the only tools to be used. If they get one lakh rupees as budget then they use these tools to showcase philosophical ideas. As a result, the drama that they compile does not address the real audience. That was never the theoretical or theatrical idea behind a performance. Of course, they would be supported by like-minded people from the academia but that will never reach the emotions of people,” says an agitated veteran playwright and novelist, Rajan Thiruvoth.
Post-Independence, the Indian nation-state attempted to court culture; as a result, a cluster of institutions such as the National Museum, the Sahitya Akademi, the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Lalit Kala Akademi were set up with the primary aim of involving the state apparatus with the cultural and creative hubs of activity. It was at this important juncture that the NSD had taken birth with the idea of being a single sphere for theatre among India’s cultural infrastructure.
Established in 1959 under the auspices of the Sangeet Natak Academy, the NSD had humble beginnings as the first aided central institution for theatre training. However, in 1962, under the guidance of its director Ebrahim Alkazi, it had started on its path as an autonomous institution of promise for budding artistes across the country. Under Alkazi’s watchful eyes, a strong tradition of developing the finesse around the craft and inculcating a sense of professionalism was started with much gusto. This, in turn, rooted the tradition of theatre in India and fashioned it as an ‘Indian, Hindi’ form of sorts. For example, Alkazi’s own production Ashadh Ka Ek Din had in effect initiated the modern Hindi play. In time, it was this establishing spirit of creating the notion of a unified Indian theatre that unsettled an important aspect –diversity.
“There is a kind of concentration of power that is happening with theatre. You place it through NSD in Mandi House, Delhi and it by default gets the tag of elitism. As theatre practitioners, our duty must begin with decentralising this kind of power, develop it and fashion it to along the line of participation,” says Robin, 27, a development research consultant, theatre practitioner and an avid theatre follower. Since its beginning, any attempt at fashioning the NSD as a Central University for theatre training in Delhi had garnered widespread criticism. While an earlier attempt to provide deemed status to the NSD was scuttled by Alkazi himself, in 2005 the proposal had resurfaced. Subsequently, artists working with various theatre groups had united under the banner of ‘Abhivyakthi Abhiyan’ to mobilise opinion in favour of theatre emerging from other states across India.