The theater culture in India is among the oldest in the world and is basically multicultural in the sense that it has spread over large areas both linguistically and geographically within the area that has become the nation of India.
Classic and folk tradition
The classic Sanskrit drama is a common denominator for much of the Indian cultural scene and, together with the kathakali dance and the popular tradition, forms the backdrop for the modern Western-influenced Indian theater. There were also very early puppet shows, shadow plays and several forms of singing. The Sanskrit drama evolved from the 3rd century BC, and the oldest known poetics describing this form of drama is Natyashastra, which was probably written by Bharata around the birth of Christ.
The background to the Sanskrit drama and its theater practices was the celebration of important religious events in connection with temple festivals, but it could also be used in connection with important worldly events such as coronations. It combined music, song and dramatic action and was performed with the help of a developed actor art. One could say that it was a form of melodrama with elements of both comic and tragic elements, but there are many different variants of this drama. One act (duck) was the dramaturgical base unit needed to produce the hero’s dramatic starting position. Natyashastra is both a textbook in aesthetics, dramaturgy and actor art.
The Sanskrit drama can be followed consecutively for nearly 1500 years, and it has its special heyday during the Gupta dynasty of the 300 and 400 century. The most significant dramatic works are associated with names such as Bhasa, Kalidasa, Sudraka and Bhavabuti.
Kalidasas Sakuntala was widely played in Europe in the wake of modern symbolist theater. The classical Indian theater culture matured at the same time as the elitist city and court culture of the 11th century. A new Indian speech theater emerged in the early 19th century. Indian popular theater tradition runs as an undercurrent throughout the known historical age and is linked to the general social life. It is a mass theater that incorporates cultic elements, and is a fusion of dance, gestures, song and declamation. There are fixed figure types and the dramaturgical structure can be characterized as epic. The game is often led by a narrator or commentator, and it has been given different expressions in the different regions, such as Nautanki in Rajastan or Bhavai in Gujarat. This is also associated with modern directors and playwrights such as Habib Tanvir (1923–2009) and Ebrahim Alkazi (born 1925), and in 1943 the Indian Folk Theater Association (IPTA) was founded.
Modern Indian theater
The modern Indian theater emerged in the 19th century under the influence of British colonial power, which brought with it British-English theater culture, while being associated with a nascent national awakening. To begin with, there was great difficulty in developing a new Indian dramatic theater, not least because of the lack of theater houses.
In 1795, a public theater was opened in Kolkata (Calcutta) with English actors, and eventually a large number of theater clubs emerged, which must also be seen as the background of the strong interest that later developed into amateur theater in India. Mumbai got its own theater in 1843, and much of this nascent modern theater in India absorbed some of the legacy of classical Sanskrit drama and popular theater, in addition to a general Hindu cultural tradition and Western influence.
Rancod Bhai Udairam was one of the most important playwrights of the late 19th century associated with the theater in Gujarat. Shakespeare was eventually played a good deal in addition to the Sanskrit dramas, and the development of a modern Indian drama accelerated from the early 1900s. Modern directors and educators were active in many places, such as Mudaliyar and Thakur. Numerous private scenes, amateur theater groups and theater clubs arose, especially in connection with universities and colleges. Many dramatists were influenced by a flourishing Hindu romance.
Agitation and propaganda theater (agitprop) that addressed social themes existed at this time as well, and in 1944 the Prithvi-Raj Theater was founded by Prithvi Raj Kapur (1906-1972) in Mumbai. A similar initiative was the Bahurupi Theater in Kolkata, founded by Shambu Mitra.
The Indian theater style evolved under the influence of classical and contemporary currents, and modern European drama, such as plays by Bertolt Brecht, was largely played after World War II. Japanese kabuki theater also had a certain influence. Founded in New Delhi in 1962, the National School of Drama was led by director and theater educator Ebrahim Alkazi until 1977. This school became very important for the further development of professional Indian theater, and it has developed in close contact with European theaters. The focus on theater in the regions is great, and the Indian amateur theater has a prominent place worldwide.