Reflections, Reflections, Reflections

So I’ve realized that it’s about time I wrote my first reflections post. Now I had planned to write a reflections post sooner but I guess I never really got around to it…which is why now is a perfect time to start!

You’re probably wondering what is a reflections post..well in this context I’ll be talking about generally how the course is going, what were the highlights, the drawbacks, the fun times, etc etc.. I’m sure you get the point, its reflections just like I said. Simple right? Since I do have a tendency to ramble I’m going to organize my thoughts into points, starting with…

*drum roll*


Honestly, the course has been going pretty good. We’ve been following a set pattern with classes well planned out and full of discussion, and the great part is the teacher encourages us to voice our opinions and he actively inculcates dialogue in class; I never realized how much other people’s takes on the same text could be such a learning experience. Usually the class consists of either reading a text/discussing theory or a text/powerpoints/ videos or movies./random tangents (unavoidable). Now I’m not a huge class participator, and I don’t see why we’re graded on participating in class, but during the course I’ve actually contributed in ongoing class discussions..semi-actively (yay me). I also like how the course has progressed slowly, not going too fast or rushing through plays but spending quality time on each text, reading it in class and then voicing our own opinions. I’ve been exposed to Indian playwrights that I didn’t know anything about, and overall the flexibility in class structuring has been’s pretty awesome not to have your hand spasming after class because of all the notes you’ve taken (as a psych major, it happens to me all too often). The grading components (2 Assignments, 1 final assignments) have been well spaced out, and proportional to the work load, and all in all I think I’ve really enjoyed whats been happening.


Well where to start! We hit the ground running, starting with readings from the very first class (Seymour Chatman), readings on folk theater and performance, plays (Ghashiram Kotwal, The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui, Kichakvadh) along with presentations, videos and short films on playwrights/plays/folk drama and theater. There hasn’t been too much additional reading material and the readings we’ve read have really helped understand discussions we have in class (especially the folk performance readings). I’ve quite enjoyed the plays too, maybe not so much Kichakvadh, but the other two have been really great and introduced me to different drama forms. The videos we’ve watched mainly consisting of short clips of the plays we’re reading have helped visualize the stage as we’re reading, and I also liked the BBC documentary we watched on Bertolt Brecht, it was quite good. –> you’ll find the documentary here!


Definitely the plays, especially Arturo Ui, I think it really put out a message to all of us and Brecht did an amazing job with the setting and use of dialogue. If you’ve read some of my other posts theres a ton of stuff on folk theater too which I found really interesting, I mean living in India of course you hear about it from time to time but actually reading plays and researching for my assignment I came across a ton of new information and the whole topic is fascinating in how much there is to it. I thought the videos were informative too, the ones on tamasha were pretty good, and it breaks up the monotony of constantly talking. I think talking about plays people have watched, in class, has also been fun because we get to hear about their experiences and get to know of plays that sound really interesting.


Honestly, not much, I think the course has gone quite well.  I mean I didn’t enjoy Kichakvadh as much as the other plays, but I suppose that can’t be helped.I do wish we watch some more videos in class, and documentaries, about the playwright and his life. It really helped understand Arturo Ui when we watched the documentary about Brecht because I got to understand him as a playwright and a director and how he developed his own form of theater as well the times he lived in, which just served to enhance my reading and understanding of the play itself.I think that maybe spending a little more time on the Dramatic Performance Act and seeing how it relates to society now, is it still as relevant and necessary in today’s times, how has it affected plays or the message certain plays are trying to put across and so on might have been good. Its too bad that there hasn’t been a sort of field trip thing where we all go together to watch a play as a class, I think that would be a really memorable experience but maybe a bit tough to fit in what with different schedules and lack of class time. Oh well.


So far things are going pretty well, we’re progressing at a good speed, I like the readings and plays and there isn’t a very heavy workload so it sure makes things a little easier. Stick around for more reflections posts!

Ghashiram Kotwal



A while ago we read this play in class; written by Vijay Tendulkar, a prominent Indian playwright, the play is a satirical response to the rise of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play because it’s able to embody the satirical form so well, and  Tendulkar experimented not only with the Sangit Nataka genre but also borrowed ingredients from folk theatre that includes Tamasha, Dashavatari Khel, Yakshagna, Lavani,(love ballad), Abhanga, and kirtan (devotional songs).

Usually I write about play and my thoughts/opinions extensively (as I’m sure you’ve seen) but this time I’ll do things a bit differently.

Instead of me going on about the play I’m going to put up a few links to the full text, and some good analyses plus a video of the play. This way you’ll be able to peruse the play in your own time and come up with your own thoughts and opinions without me influencing your take on the play.

While I could’ve spent a lot of time discussing the play (there is a lot to discuss, trust me), I think its important also to let you, the audience, discover the play for yourself. Do comment with your thoughts/feelings/ any other opinions you have regarding the play and the material I’m posting! –>full text of the play –> an amazing analysis

here is the video of the play! it is in Marathi but it’ll give you a good idea of what the staging looked like if you don’t understand Marathi.

Folk Performances in India

A while ago, I’d written a post on Folk theater in India; a few weeks after I found myself in class discussing folk performances; you’ll be glad to know that folk performance and folk theater are pretty much the same, so before you read this post it might be good to brush up on what Folk theater is.

Anyway, getting back; folk performance is really the ‘act’ of carrying out folk theater, and what I’d particularly like to touch upon here are primarily in a sense, the ‘drawbacks’ of folk performances. What this does is that it exposes another side to folk performance that I’ve never explored, nor written about. For a quick read, I’ll put everything in points…not sure how quick of a read it’ll end up being, but I tried 😛

Folk Performances: 

-can get repetitive (characters tend to be similar)

-no nuances seen–> characters seem stereotypical and stereotypes are as a result, often connected to folk performances

-there is melodrama seen and characters created are likely to be clearly “good” or “bad”

These tend to be applicable to most folk performances, however, what are the problems with a certain folk performance? In this case, let us take ‘Tamasha’.


-metaphysical, philosophical, connected to god and spirituality–> these are the central themes of Tamasha, and the “essence” of this folk performance

-In contemporary times, Tamasha has just become ‘entertainment’;people want women dancing, vulgar language and movement and seem more interested in the woman than anything else

-this supports and continues the objectification of women in India, as well as provokes and supports the creation of a social heirarchy where women rank low

-people performing lack training–> training centers for Tamasha actors are being set up but to reinforce the “rusticness” people want to avoid training which isn’t good–> due to this they don’t undergo memory and performance training which leaves them unprepared when it comes to actually performing on stage

Many times the question is asked, how are folk performances and traditions understood in an urban context? 

-folk performance and traditions tend to be understood in a very “elitist” fashion and isolated from the urban context itself; often people who talk of folk performance, or watch them, do so not with the intention of appreciating the form for what it is, but rather to “uphold tradition”.

Where has the “Indianness” associated with folk performance gone?-this “Indianness” is not seen in reading English, but actually appreciating folk theater and performances and reading regional languages, which were lost during colonial times

-the idea of ‘nation’ has always been vague for us, because we’re unsure of our traditions…but who is “our”? who is “we”?

The plight of the lower castes: 

-Folk performances are usually done by the lower castes, however do we really support the lower castes? If we don’t then why/ how do we support folk performance?

Under the name of folk performance traditions, are we really supporting them? is there gender/women exploitation seen? What are the roles of women in folk performance troupes apart from cooking and dancing? who are the real leaders?…these are all questions we don’t have answers to, and they question how we view folk performances in a very different light; yes, folk performances are rich in culture and heritage, but deep down do folk performances also harbor issues that need to be addressed?

One of the important questions that needs to be looked at is also:

HOW DO WE UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF PERFORMANCE TRADITIONS IN POST INDEPENDENCE INDIA? In other words, how are we appropriating folk traditions for ourselves and what is the role of the state here? 

The state, without addressing any of the above issues dealing with folk performance, thinks of folk theater and performance as something that represents the nation, but is this correct?

No one seems conscious about what we’re inheriting, are we inheriting form, content, or the entire history that is associated with folk performance?

Now, we see folk performance traditions looked at as part of ‘developmental discourse’, and social developmental discourse, as well as heritage discourse in order to empower people in rural communities.

Badal Sircar 

-In post 1960’s there was a prominent movement to return back to original folk theater with original roots rather than continue with folk performance influenced by Western theater–> those who propagated this movement wanted to claim linguistic traditions through artistic practice and this movement flourished

Badal Sircar was an influential Indian dramatist and he is especially well known for his “third theater” in revival of folk performances. The different kinds of theater were:

1st theater: folk traditions (characterized by their liveliness and immediate connect with people)

2nd theater: urban theater (western theater, lacked what folk traditions had, but were more refined, polished and performed)

3rd theater: combination of both

Badal Sircar spread this “third theater” all over India; he traveled with his mobile theater group and didn’t charge for his performances-he wanted to move away from the ‘transaction’ aspect that money brought to theater. However, his theater was also economic—> there would be collection of money after performances and he accepted whatever amount the audience deemed fit for the performance.

Badal Sircar created lots of political discourse through his plays-wanted them to change society and address societal issues. => he proposed theater as aesthetic but also manageable. His performances also forge a connection with Brechtian theater as he performed some of Brecht’s plays which easily connected with folk traditions and performance.

Folk Theater in India

Folk theater in India is born from a rich legacy. In the ancient Vedic culture and even in some Buddhist literature, folk theater was an art form used to “illustrate the unedited realities of life”. However, while folk theater was known, it only rose to prominence in the medieval period, and slowly became a hallmark of Indian drama. Historically folk theater in India can be traced as far back as the 15th century, as drawings from the Puranas, historical epics like Mahabharatha and Ramayana, myths and fantastical texts. It was right after the huge success of Indian traditional theater as an art form, that the distinct style of the ‘Indian Natya’ changed and so developed a whole new theater form where Indian myth, dance, history, song, culture, mores, tradition and beliefs all gained a common platform on which to be displayed.

Much later, this theater form was given the name of ‘Indian folk theater’ and even now it continues to draw from the heritage and traditions in India. In rural society, which is still regarded as the starting point of folk theater, the first rudiment of drama is rituals; therefore rituals, with their different facets and importance in Indian culture and life formed the very base of folk theater in India.

Folk theater tends to usually be narrative in its form. This points towards the origin of the “age old sagas” of the sutradhara in the Indian Natya. The narrator or sutradhara, in order to make his visual art more appealing, slowly incorporated acting into his narrative, which then gave rise to the tradition of narratives in Indian folk theater. Folk theater has a clear narrative form, as well as a highly dramatic narrative style. Further, India has seen a long lineage of folk entertainers who either move alone, or in groups in rural India, performing wherever they go. Their music, religion, dance and songs all reflected their ‘folk culture’ and acted as a mode of communication in rural India. With its colour, vibrancy and musicality, folk theater in India goes beyond just entertainment, and aims to create “an environment of receptivity in which communication of ideas is an effortless process”.

Indian folk theater can tentatively be divided into two broad categories; the religious and the secular. While religious folk theater mainly draws from history, religion and myth; secular folk theater emerged as a typical form of entertainment. The two forms gradually began working together, whilst influencing each other, to “create a whole fresh enunciation in Indian natya”.

The concept of stage design of folk theater in India is just an example of its simplicity. The actors of Indian folk theater usually perform on a make-shift stage. This helps them connect and converse with the audience, and audience participation is essential in folk theater. The stage for the folk theaters is typically a huge empty space, and the actors make this space their own by employing witty dialogues,symbolic gestures, elaborate make up, masks, costumes, loud music and folk dance.

In folk theater forms there are special styles of dance that act as cues for entry onto the stage or platform, or contribute to the actors narrative of descriptive roles. A good example of this would be the ‘Bidapat naach’. Here, the emphasis is not on beauty but on the acting itself, and its narrative and descriptive skills. Dance as a narrative art is the base of folk theater, and can be seen in the theater forms of Bhavai of Gujarat, the Kashmiri theater form Bhand Jashn and even in Koodiyaattam and Ankia Naat.

In traditional theater, age-old forms, customs and the desire to improvise are intermingled. It is usually when the significant themes are enacted, that the acting restricts itself to traditional norms, not deviating from it. But, every time the theme inches towards the contemporary, the actors improvise as far as dialogue delivery is concerned.

In folk theater forms there are certain conventions of presentations depending upon and changing according to the form and size of the stage or the platform and other available situations. There is no formal setup governing the entry or exit of the actors. Depending on the situation or context, the actors enter into the stage and enact their role without being formally introduced. After a particular event or incident is over, all the artists make an exit, or all of them sit down on the sides of the stage or near the backdrop, conveying the change of a scene.

In folk theater characters keep changing their place on the stage to be more impressive and to give the situation a greater significance. This technique also reduces the chance of boredom through repetition and stillness. Dialogues delivery is usually carried out in a high pitch. This helps the actors in reaching out to a larger audience. The artists always add something or the other to the original dialogue on their own and the changes brought through improvisations, make the spectators ecstatic. Also, it establishes a direct relationship between the artists and the spectators.

Every state in India has its own distinctive forms of folk theater. Examples include:

  1. Tamasha in Maharashtra


2. Nautanki in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab


3. Yakshagana in Karnataka


4.Therukoothu in Tamil Nadu


and many more.


Some additional key features of folk theater include: 

-Songs: they say a lot about folk traditions

-the plays are not very rigid: actors have liberties with their lines

-the narrator or ‘sutradhara’ becomes very important and he has full control

-the plot becomes more important than the characters

-folk theater primarily based on myths

-stage settings and props are very simple

-the boys in the folk theater companies were important for dance and singing–> they were called ‘nachas’ as they were used for female impersonations

-demons came from among the audience and had to practice their scenes beforehand


With its sheer verve therefore Indian folk theatre is just not a theatre form but is a lot more. It unfurls the saga of the voyage of Indian drama from the eposes to the modish theatre pattern. It is the chronicle of Indian drama where for the very first time theatre broke the barrier of orchestra and pits and reached the mass in a whole new way through the quixotic brilliance of music, song and folklores.


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