Acting in Indian Native Theatre

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The Kineaesthetics of Human Body: Acting and Performativity in Indian Native Theatre Suresh Kumar

In theatre, enactment became distorted when playwrights attempted for presentations catering to the restrictions imposed by time and space. Such distortions were the unfortunate drawbacks of plays that were oriented towards the verbal. ‘Activity’ or ‘performance’, in this context, is considered to be made up of clashing dialogues on the stage. In the post independence scenario, Indian drama tried to compensate for this deficiency when theatre received a shift from verbosity to activity, or in other words, when theatre attempted a paradigmatic change from the restrictive shackles of colonial theatre to the postcolonial. Drama is an artistic variety meant for the eyes whereas music is one that directed towards the ears. The artistic ingredients that satisfy the other senses of man supplement the shift to visual. This demand can be addressed only if a play is structurally loose enough to accommodate the change. The type of theatre that can easily accommodate the required lucidity of structure and flexibility of theme is undoubtedly folk drama. The close relationship between ritualistic ways of folk life and artistic expressions like the drama is common knowledge, the common link being the perforamtive factor. The justification one draws for this relationship is that these performative genres represent the desires of a conscience that aspires for purgation of undesirable emotions. The artistic expression called drama had religious origins, and could modify and transform the ways of communicating with the audience according to changed times.

Dramatic representations of ritualized practices have often been tinged with high nostalgia. ‘Theatre of roots’(Awasthi, 69), an outstanding movement in post independence Indian theatre that possessed a pan Indian appeal and that seriously thought of going back to the ethnic roots of Indian culture, required a plot with a ritualistic background. In addition to the general rural and ritualistic environment the plays could skillfully reproduce on stage, as they are obeisant to the indigenous ways of ‘theatre of roots’, the whole movement had been oriented towards searching for and highlighting of ethnic affiliations and nativistic traits that drama could draw on in the postmodern context. A theatre critic from Kerala, Mr. Mahesh Mangalat points out that “returning to the heredity of performatives had resulted in the creation of a stage that embodies strength and responsiveness. It is the real significance of theatre of roots” (Mangalat, 82). If a theme from mythology is used to frame a play, elements of ritual also will naturally enter its structure and almost all rituals across the globe highlight the importance of body and the relevance of physical performance on the stage, constructed or natural. Ritual is integral to myth; visual performance and body kinesthetic are the strong points of the enactment of a ritualized myth on stage. The plays belonging to the school, ‘theatre of roots’ in India utilizes the possibilities of actor’s physique and its virility to the optimum in actual stage productions. Almost all contemporary critics agree on the importance native theatre gives to acting. Noted theatre personality Raja Warrier argues, “Theatre assumes dense meaning only when it is founded on ‘acting’ (not on orality) and acting is manifested through the execution of hectic activities by the actor. Theatre is not the realistic representation of life on the stage, but the semiotic presentation of life using meaningful acting” (Warrier, 56). Native theatre, in that sense, is a celebration of human body. Theatre Director Arvind Gaur has rightly pointed out, “Theatre is actor and content oriented, and technology is a side prop. Any production that has the former attributes will do well” (Gaur, 6).

Usually in Indian theatre three types of acting are employed, the Natyadharmi,...
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