Chronicler of the golden period of Indian theatre

A committed theatre practitioner, Kavita Nagpal will be remembered for her electrifying presence and perceptive reviews

November 28, 2021 03:19 am | Updated 03:19 am IST

Kavita Nagpal Special Arrangement

Kavita Nagpal Special Arrangement

The Delhi theatre scene suffered an irreparable loss when eminent critic and theatre practitioner Kavita Nagpal passed away this Tuesday after a prolonged illness. Very much like Nemi Chandra Jain and Romesh Chander, Kavita was a chronicler of the golden period of Indian theatre whose perceptive and in-depth reviews greatly contributed to the contemporary Indian theatre movement.

Their impact was so significant that the late thespian, B.V. Karanth, once said it was the voice of the critics that dominated the theatre scene in Delhi.

Born in Kanpur in 1942, Kavita was a complete theatre artist in the true sense of the word. She was an actor, writer and director, with knowledge of music and training in dance. An all-round creative person, she illuminated multiple fields of art with her contributions.

Making her debut with the Darpan group in Kanpur, she performed with prestigious theatre groups of Delhi such as Yatrik, Dishantar, Abhiyan and Delhi Arts Theatre, and was one of the founder members of Jana Natya Manch.

Artistic vision

Her artistic vision was largely influenced by the work of Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, poet, critic and playwright, which inspired her to work with progressive theatre groups.

Kavita performed with big names such as Gyan Dev Agnihotri, Satyadev Dubey, Shiv Puri, T.P.S. Jain, Sai Paranjpye, Rajendra Nath, Sheila Bhatia and B.M. Shah. She directed a number of plays that were performed in prominent theatre festivals, including the Bharat Rang Mahotsav.

A great admirer of the theatrical art of Ratan Thiyam, she penned a book on Chakravyuha, the internationally acclaimed piece of theatrical art.

A bold theatre critic, Kavita would not spare even eminent theatre directors, including foreign ones who performed in Delhi, in her reviews. Her presence, both in the auditorium and on the stage, was electrifying.

Eminent director and playwright Bhanu Bharti recalled, “In the 1970s when I was new to the theatre scene in Delhi, every newspaper was alive to the happenings in the art world, particularly theatre. Critics would rush to their respective offices to write about the play they had watched that evening. There were Nemi Chandra Jain, Romesh Chander, and the vivacious Kavita.”

Kavita’s views were the most controversial among the theatre practitioners, he said. “She had strong likes and dislikes and did not mince her words. Nevertheless, she had a strong presence and we became friends. This friendship continued all through, despite all the quarrels and disagreements. I will greatly miss her and so will Delhi’s theatre.”

Courage of conviction

In a similar vein, Devendra Raj Ankur, former director of the National School of Drama, said: “Kavita had the courage of conviction to call a spade a spade.”

This writer had the privilege of watching drama shows alongside Kavita for several years. After the show, we would briefly discuss the production in question. She was a star critic; the writer was a novice but she would listen to his views with respect.

We came close when her husband Vinod Nagpal, a veteran film and theatre actor, was acting in B.M. Shah’s Rajula Malushahi opera, produced by the Parvatiya Kala Kendra.

Kavita took a keen interest in the month-long rehearsals. She was particularly interested in the folk music of Uttarakhand. It was a different Kavita, an enthusiast with a deep love for folk music who watched with keen interest the way Mohan Upreti was composing music for the opera.

Those were the days of great discoveries, innovations and experiments in theatre and Kavita was a witness as well as a participant in that creative saga. Her incisive reviews reflected the spirit of the time.

Kavita was arguably the only theatre critic in the country who was invited to watch theatre in some of the European countries and the U.S. She watched Peter Brook’s 1985 mega-production of the Mahabharata, staged at Avignon, France. Her review was an insightful critique of an Indian epic, projected by a foreign director. She was also invited to attend the Edinburgh Theatre Festival.

She was honoured by a number of cultural bodies, including Pratibimb Kala Darpan, which conferred on her Lifetime Award in 2011; the best critic award by All India Critics Association 1979-80 and the best critic award by Natsamrat Theatre in 2008.

In recent years, she was suffering from a chronic disease. She would attend the shows on a wheelchair, accompanied by an attendant, but her writing remained sharp. Physically she became weak, her voice feeble, but her passion for the theatre never dimmed.

Kavita is no more but her reviews and writings will continue to inform and inspire theatre scholars and connoisseurs of the art.

(The writer is a seasoned theatre critic and a Sangeet Natak Akademi fellow)

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