Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Kerala Theatre in the 21st century
Those who are closely watching Kerala theatre for last few years would observe interesting changes emerging. Young Malayalee directors who have good exposure to national and international art world and deep roots in Malayalam theatre have begun to distinguish themselves with wonderful productions. And they are also creating their audience who are receptive to the new language they are creating. You can see the confidence appearing in young theatre workers….Yes it’s a time for change.
Though the mainstream discussions on theatre were always loud about how the experiments in theatre have distanced the theatre goers, and how it was close to the audience at the time of social movements. It is interesting to see how this discussions are placing experiments in opposition to realism. The basic arguments that run through these discussions are that the experiments inherent in movements like Kalari, Thanathu or dramatic works influenced by academic learning have alienated the common people from theatre! The proof produced in support of this notion is that the number of viewers has reduced to their hundreds while it was in the thousands in early 1950s. Is it possible to evaluate or judge any art form going by the number of people who appreciate it or attend a show?
Yes, Modern Theatre has established itself with its secular colour. It was considered as a form which can be appreciated by the masses and theatre has always been considered a tool to influence the consciousness of society. The adoption of Kalari movements theatre in the 1960s has for the first time attempted to take Kerala Theatre out, from textual language to visual text. That was a huge change, in theatre as an art form. Thanathu Movement or the search of for native roots and creating a national theatre came as a part of Nehruvian policy. Experimentation in theatre form and developing a theatre as a continuation of our culture, happened almost simultaneously after the 1960s. It took time to conceive and shape the form. Naturally theatre changed its face. It is not any more an item for entertainment just before a public meeting or a tool for changing their politics. Theatre had begun to stand on its own as a form with its own concerns of visual text and search for connection with roots.
The !970s and 1980s were again the time for new social movements. Plays created during that period combined of both the trends. Brehtian theatre language along with Kerala folk theatre, together shaped most of the street plays along with Kalari inputs. Viewers of these plays again were restricted to the community of the region. It was not mass attendance like that of the earlier audience for drama advocating social movements. Nexalite, Feminist, Environment and Dalit movements considered theatre as a potent device for effecting communication. Again, it is important to note that the very concept and form had changed much from the days of the early social plays like Ningalenne kammunistakki or Ethu bhoomiyannu. The expectations of the audience were different now from what it was before and in that sense we can see the real shift in the taste of theatre audience.
What we provided for audiences outside Kerala is also an interesting subject to look at. What was Kerala theatre like, for a national-level audience? They were familiar with Thoppil Bhasi, G Sankara Pillai and K N Panikkar. That was the situation till the last decade. Kerala theatre scenario has begun to change over the last few years. Several directors like Abhilash Pillai, Chadrahasan, Naripatta Raju, Jyothish M J, Deepan Sivaraman, Suveeran, Shanker venkiteswaran, Shylaja, Sudhi C V, Mini I G all are well known at the national level. Actor/Directors like Sreelatha S, Raguthaman, Shaji Kariyat, the present writer, and many more have added their experience, buttressed by inputs from national and international theatre, to Kerala theatre. light designers like Sreekanth, Jose Koshy,Musicians like Chandran have enriched Kerala theatre music with their invaluable international experience. They all are dealing with the issues of a globalised world and are trying to find a new language for their medium of art. Their challenges are much tougher than before. They are always open to traditional forms and also to new media. That is the world they all are living in. That is why this generation is open in incorporating all forms of art in theatre.
Again, if we come back to the discussion of the Kerala audience, it is easy to see how warmly such nationally acclaimed productions like Sidhartha, Spinal Chord, Sahyante Makan were received by the audience. What is lacking in Kerala is good theatre space to perform all these well designed productions. Some of these productions, even though well known at the national level, are still waiting for the Kerala audience to watch them, for want of proper theatre facilities. Are these new trends happening just because our directors are always trying to establish their work on par with national or international theatre productions? There is an argument that what we are lacking is small productions which can be go around and perform all over Kerala villages, which can produce real magic of theatre. It is also interesting to see that lots of good productions are coming from villages, developed by skillful directors like Naripatta Raju, Suveeran and Promod Payyanoor. Here, the village artist who has training in theatre by practice, find resources at the local level to work with these directors. These productions are also equally competent at the national level.
Different levels of theatre works are happening in Kerala, and several full-time theatre artists are struggling for survival. What is still lacking is a meaningful support for their artistic pursuit.