“Theatre is a wonderfully hybrid, contaminated medium.” Warming up to a chilly winter morning at her office, with the Twelfth Bharat Rang Mahotsav set to open on January 6, Anuradha Kapur, director, National School of Drama, steers to the thought behind the festival.
Around this event — the epicentre of all action at the school — Kapur takes stock; of the festival, its genesis and elegies to theatre. The festival began over a decade ago to be a platform for the students, to acquaint them with trends in contemporary theatre, both national and international. It was window for them to link their training to practise, to soak in the craft of the masters and feel the pulse of young artistes.
“After all we teach contemporary theatre. It (the festival) prepares a young person to deal with it,” she says. Over time with the event spreading out its arms, students were subsequently involved in discussions, projects and other activities.
Though the festival is at the core of learning for students, the selection of plays spurs diverse opinions. At BRM this year, close to 90 plays will come to town, including 13 international productions. If the selection committee draws out broad parameters on the nature and trends to streamline on, this time a handful of plays doing the rounds in the Delhi circuit come to the festival too.
“There may be plays which were staged in Delhi for one night and then travelled to the rest of the country,” points out Kapur about getting a few of them at BRM. Legendary presence is marked with Ratan Thiyam and S. Ramanujam bringing back their “When we Dead Awaken” and “Veriattam” respectively.
“In India, it is very difficult to keep a play alive” says Kapur, adding it is a duty to gather and stage plays like “Veriattam” which has withstood time and is close to 30 years old. “These plays have become classics,” she adds. Staging them allows them to seen from a novel dimension, says Kapur.
As it evolved, the festival has set aside considerable stage time to upcoming directors. This year too, the works of ten directors will be showcased under “Young Experimenters” component. With the segment name self-explanatory, Kapur says, “Contrary to the obituaries written for theatre, there is dynamic, risky and political work done by youngsters. It is important to bring in that changing energy, the new grammar set by these young people.”
That takes the director to another frequently discussed aspect of theatre — the level of experimentation. Theatre today assimilates multimedia, other arts and post-modernist techniques weigh on them strongly. Kapur addresses it with a measure of practicality. “Theatre is subjective. In a large audience, there will never be two people who felt exactly the same way about a play.” Kapur adds what is experimental for some, will not be so at all for others.
For her, it is the volatility of theatre which distinguishes it. “Theatre is never exclusive, it is wonderfully hybrid; mime, dance and music were always part of it. It is all a mix and there is no one way of doing theatre,” she says.
On losing lot of their trained people to television and films, Kapur says, “Theatre should not be quarantined from other forms. The economic pressures in the Hindi speaking region are very real.” She picks out traditional theatre strongholds like Assam where distinction between various avenues of performance is not vehement. “We should try and work towards possible traffic between cinema, television and theatre,” she says.
If NSD’s outreach initiatives seeped in well into the North East, only more such programmes in other parts could make a generation “acquaint with the language of theatre”, she says.
Being a nodal institute of theatre in the country, NSD, Kapur says is now moving towards saving theatre culture for posterity. A vital part of the upcoming BRM will be ‘Natya Naad’ a move towards documenting and archiving the rich music tradition in drama. Performances based on the music in the works of B.V. Karanth, Bhaskar Chandavarkar, K. N. Panikkar and IPTA music will be part of the event.