Anuradha Kapur, former director of the National School of Drama, on theatre as a mirror of changing India

Just back from the International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) in Thiruvananthapuram where she organised the colloquium along with Professor Jane Collins and Dr. M.V. Narayanan, Dr. Anuradha Kapur, theatre practitioner and former director, National School of Drama, is more convinced than ever that “we are privileged to live in a country that has so many forms and modes” of performance art.

Apart from her presence as a leading organiser and speaker at the colloquium, the NSD Repertory production “Virasat”, directed by her, also featured at ITFoK. It is about half a year now that she retired as director of the National School of drama, where she spent about three decades, the first two-and-a-half of them as a teacher. Being freed of administrative responsibilities of such a pivotal institution has not only allowed her to get back to focus on her own work but also to have a “point of reflection”, she concedes, and she has been reading and thinking of new projects “that look at the history of modern Indian artworks.” Among these she mentions one on Ramkinkar Baij that she hopes will materialise soon. She is also “looking at a small scrap of history” regarding the jute workers in India. Known for associating with artists across genres, she says her upcoming projects too will be collaborative ones.

While at The Hindu’s Lit for Life festival in New Delhi this Saturday, Kapur will be moderating a discussion, “Theatre — Art of Performance or Provocation”, the themes on which this year’s ITFoK focused were “Transition, Gender and Spectatorship”, and the colloquium topics too looked at these themes in different ways.

Transition and gender are subjects perennially relevant to Indian society, but sometimes the view is voiced that theatre along with other arts is becoming an elite medium. Theatre is recognised as a medium that fearlessly holds up a mirror to society and acts as a catalyst to churn and perhaps change its thought processes. On whether she feels theatre artists are upholding this aspect of the art enough, helping to awaken society to its flaws and the possibility of remedying them, Kapur says, “I think it is a mirror and that’s why theatre has to deal with censorship of various kinds.” She points out, however, “The question is what kind of mirror you want to use, because there isn’t one kind of mirror.”

Whatever the kind of theatre — whether expressing ideas, say, in an abstract manner, or taking up issues in a direct way, adopting the street theatre or proscenium format, or looking at an old text with contemporary sensibilities — “all are socially grounded,” she emphasises. “I don’t think there is a given form to be socially connected, I don’t think that to be socially relevant is to have a particular form.”

Along with the privilege of having so many performing existing forms comes the responsibility to “protect” their multiplicity, she notes — “never to be prescriptive” about what constitutes theatre and what doesn’t. “Its many lives are what keeps it going,” she adds, since what is seen as ‘not’ theatre may be due to a large number of influences including taste.

“It (theatre) is a mirror of a very rapidly changing India,” she concludes, “and if we don’t find the forms that say it we are in danger of relegating ourselves to a limited vision.”

Anuradha Kapur will moderate the discussion, “Theatre - Art of Performance or Provocation” featuring Maya Krishna Rao and Sudhanva Deshpande, between 3.20 and 4.10 p.m., February 8, at Lit for Life, Siri Fort auditorium II. The festival begins at 10.15 a.m.