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Performing Alternative Ramayana: A study of the (re)presentation and (re)reading of the Epic in Modern Bengali Theatre

Saswati Saha

Assistant Professor, Department of English, Sikkim University

Volume 2, Number 2, 2017 I Full Text PDF

Article DOI:  10.21659/bp.v2n2.08

Indian theatre is extremely complex in its relation to modernity as well as tradition and it has become more so in the present postcolonial scenario. Playwrights have often fused traditional folk forms with western influences in an attempt of answering various new questions that crops up in a postcolonial nation. The shift in the tradition of theatre practices in India was noticed, most prominently, post 1960s with the advent of the Progressive Theatre movement which had a zeal for exploring the possibilities of an experimental theatre. “These new experiments”, as Bishnupriya Dutt writes in her essay, “Theatre and subaltern Histories: Chekov adaptation in Post-Colonial India”, “demanded a reverence for the text, a close reading, analysis, understanding and consistent interpretation of the lines through dramatic action conceived in terms of a “total” theatre, that is to say, theatre as a balance of acting, sound and music, scenic design, and illumination, with the director committed to the text and its inherent values, in perfect control over an ensemble of performers and technicians”. (Clayton & Meerzon, 2013, p.146) The works were often an attempt of getting back to the mass bases of India as they believed performance can change its receivers’ beliefs and attitudes and hence their behavioral pattern. The playwrights often chose to stage and re-tell the epics thereby implicitly invoking the nation which was still adjusting to its new found independence. The re-presentation of the epics on stage invoked a past that would help to deal with the various emerging issues of the modern stage.

This paper will try to briefly analyze one such work of modern Bengali theatre: Mareech Sambad by Arun Mukherjee, first staged in 1973 by the theatre group named Chetana that dealt considerably with the ethical and moral ramifications of the Ramayana story. The play uses the trope of Ramayana and redefines it to address the issues of class struggle, oppression and plight of the subaltern at the hands of the elites of the society. It attempt to show how the voice of the historical margins of the society gets subsumed under the narrative constructed by the biased upper classes. Therefore, the play intervenes the grand narrative and with the help of textual nuances and subtleties attempts to interrogate and deconstruct the popular belief propagated and disseminated by it.

Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker (2005) in her book Theatres of Independence: Drama, Theory, and Urban Performance, writes extensively on the re-telling of myths on the Indian stage in the post-independence era. Albeit, speaking in the context of Mahabharata adaptations, she discusses the history that leads to the re-telling of the epics on Indian stage which becomes significant in the postcolonial scenario…Full Text PDF>>