Indian Drama in English translation has made bold innovations and fruitful experiments in terms of both thematic concerns and technical virtuosities. It has been increasingly turning to history, legend, myth and folklore tapping their springs of vitality and vocal cords of popularity with splendid results. Plays written in various Indian languages are being translated into English and other languages as they are produced and appreciated in the various parts of the country. A closer contact is being established between the theatre workers from different regions and languages through these translations. Thus, regional drama in India is slowly paving a way for a ‘national theatre’ into which all streams of theatrical art seem to coverage. The major language theatres that are active all through the turbulent years of rejuvenation and consolidations are those of Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and Kannada.
The plays mentioned so far, both under the Pre-Independence and the Post-Independence phase were originally written in English. Among the plays translated into English, there are a few, which were first written in the regional languages and subsequently translated into English by the authors themselves. Though, strictly speaking, these works cannot be called fully English plays, they can be mentioned under the topic, in view of the fact, that at least some of them are transcreations and not simply translations. Rabindranath Tagore, Mohan Rakesh, Badal Sircar, Vijay Tendulkar, and Girish Karnad have remained the most representative of the Indian English drama not only in Bengali, Hindi, Marathi and Kannada respectively but also on the pan-Indian level.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the awardee of the Nobel Prize for literature (1913), belongs unquestionably to Bengali as well as Indian English literatures. Indeed, he belongs to all India and the whole world. By virtue of his being a versatile genius, he won worldwide commendation and recognition. Deeply influenced by Classical Sanskrit literature and also by his learning of the West, he created almost a renaissance in Bengali Literature. In the words of K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, “He was a poet, dramatist, actor, producer; he was a musician and a painter; he was an educationist, a practical idealist who turned his dreams into reality at Shantiniketan; he was a reformer, philosopher, prophet; he was a novelist and short story-writer, and critic of life and literature; he even made occasional excursion into nationalist politics, although he was essentially an internationalist.”15 Rabindranath Tagore, a unique figure in the history of English Drama, was well versed in the classics of Indian Drama, and was alive to the European dramatic tradition. The dramatic form, which he evolved, influenced the Bengali theatre at the outset of the twentieth century. The range and variety of his dramatic writings is astonishing. He borrowed his themes from Indian mythology, Buddhist legends, and other classical sources with the least artistic inhibition. He has projected his idea through his dramatic works with the least care for their stageability. His dramatic work is the vehicle of ideas rather than the expression action. Tagore’s dramatic achievement includes Sannyasi or The Ascetic (1884), Nature’s Revenge, a drama in verse (1884), The King and the Queen (1889), Sacrifice (1892), Malini (1895), Gandhari’s Prayer (1897), Karna and Kunti (1897), , The King of the Dark Chamber (1910), The Post Office (1912), Chitra (1913), The Cycle of Spring (1916), Mukta Dhara (1922), Red Oleanders (1924), Natir Puja (1926), and Chandalika (1933). In these plays, Tagore has dealt with philosophical, religious, political, social issues and in some of them presented Indian myths and legends.
Sannyasi (1884) is the English version of his original Bengali play, Prakritir Pratisodh (meaning Nature’s Revenge) which he wrote at Karwar and called ‘a dramatic poem’. The Sannyasi by withdrawing from the world as he thinks has merely developed a negative virtue. Salvation comes, however, not from negation but from wise acceptance, purification, and inner transformation. First he boasts, “the division of days and nights is not for me, nor that of months and years … I sit chanting the incantation of nothingness … I am free, I am the great solitary one.” Thus, the Sannyasi symbolizes non-engagement, and cares not for victory in battle. Tagore develops his plot to show that deliverance does not involve a total negation of life but judicious acceptance of it and an honest attempt at inner purification. Tagore asserts that deliverance can be achieved in the midst of bondage and one can easily trace the direct influence of the Vaishnav philosophy on the playwright. Like mythical Jada Bharata, Sannyasi, despite his claims and declarations of renouncing the world, cannot forget his worldly commitments. His aim in life is to attain mastery over nature, worldly desires and aspirations. However, he fails to resist his affection for the little girl named Vasanti, whose death in the end shocks seriously. The central idea of the play relates to the achievements of the Infinite. We cannot reject the Finite. The Infinite and Finite cannot be separated from each other.
In his two-act play Malini (1895), Tagore deals with the conflict between the old ethic and the new one. Because of her leanings toward Buddhism, Princess Malini becomes the target of attack by the Brahmins, who demand her banishment. Surprisingly enough, she herself appears before the unyielding Brahmins, gathered before the palace. Attracted by her holy appearance, people hail her as a Goddess and the Mother. Nevertheless, of the friends Kemankar and Supriya, who stand apart, the former boldly attempts to bring foreign aid to fight the Buddhist heresy. Tagore in this play seems to emphasize the importance of the religion of love. As he has in his mind the story of Buddha, his female protagonist follows almost the same path so far as the various phases of her life are concerned.
The practice of sacrificing animals to the idol of Kali, the Goddess of power and destruction forms the theme of Sacrifice (1923). Tagore dedicates it “to those heroes who bravely stood for peace when human sacrifice was claimed for the Goddess of War”. 16 The play shows the humanitarian approach of Tagore. He seems to be pleading against animal sacrifice through certain episodes and characters. Tagore successfully suggests a tragic hero in the character of Raghupati, the temple priest, who stands for orthodox religion, ritualism, selfishness and false-pride. At the centre of the play is the conflict between the king and the priest over the question of animal sacrifice in his kingdom. The story of the play closely imitates a legend with its superstitious beliefs and firm convictions. Tagore has depicted the myth of the goddess Kali as the power of destruction of Evil. King Govinda’s liberality, humanity, kind-heartedness and firmness of decision are the qualities found in the great kings in Indian mythology.
Tagore’s The King and the Queen (1923), a drama of ideas which, looks like a historical play on the surface may be studied as a companion to Sacrifice because the King in the former and the Queen in the latter are both shown to be afflicted with moral and spiritual blindness. Submerged in a sensual heaven, the King becomes the cause for an internal rebellion. The Queen Sumitra, asserting her responsibilities, tries to suppress it with the aid of her brother Kumarsen, the ruler of Kashmir. The King feels highly insulted; and his lust for revenge, followed by the desire of Kumarsen’s uncle and aunt to seize the throne of Kashmir, finally results in the ghastly tragedy of the death of both Sumitra and Kumarsen. In the words of Nand Kumar, “while projecting the personality of the King as ‘the monarch of sensual heaven’ Tagore seems to have had in his mind the image of statement of Adam, the first Man in Christian mythology, who after the creation of Woman from his own rib, comments:
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
As required by a tragedy, the playwright rightly shows that his hero, the king, does not realise his follies even after being warned by Devadatta’s timely advice and his queen’s departure. He also shows how even legitimate hopes and ambitions get frustrated in spite of the sacrifice made by wise people. Thus as in some of his other plays, Tagore makes this play also a vehicle of ideas.
Chitra (1928) is a playlet in nine scenes, the theme of which is drawn from The Mahabharata. This lyrical drama written in 1913 the year when Tagore received the Nobel Prize is the first clear exposition of feminism in India by Tagore. This play is a work of supreme art, dream of flawless beauty in an awakened state. Tagore’s conception of human love finds a beautiful expression in Chitra. In the preface to the First Edition of Chitra, Tagore summarizes the story of The Mahabharata on which this lyrical drama is based. When Arjuna came to Manipur, he saw Chitraganda, the beautiful daughter of Chitravahana, the king of the country. Arjuna asked the king for the hand of his daughter in marriage. Accepting the condition of Chitravahana, Arjuna took Chitraganda to wife and lived in her father’s capital for three years. When a son was born to them, he embraced her with affection, and taking leave of her and her father, set out again on his travels. Chitra is a dramatization of the story of love between Arjuna, the Pandava and Chitraganda, princess of Manipur. She is an unself-conscious girl wearing a boy’s attire. She is a significant fusion of two kinds of women characters – the emotional and the tranquilling type. The play promotes the very concept of equality of women even in the field specially reserved for men. Tagore has forcefully portrayed the picture of Modern Indian Woman, promoting the higher spiritual and psychological sensibilities. On one hand, Chitra is a very promising princess and bears all the responsibilities towards kingdom on the other hand she is a devoted beloved of Arjuna, and becomes the victim of love and emotions. Chitra is bold enough to win the biggest battle of the world and her other aspect is that she easily gets shattered by one flow of emotion. She is a complete personality of a woman who not only has commendable patience, sacrifice and dedication but also is ready to face any situation at the cost of fulfilling her ambitions and desires. “Through Chitra, as an epitome of love, truth and beauty, Tagore brings home to us the simple truth of life that beauty and truth, although they may be transient are yet a part of our experience.”
Tagore seems to be recasting the Lord Shiv - Parvati myth as described by Kalidasa in his Kumara Sambhavam, an excellent epic in Sanskrit literature. Tagore shows how love grows, develops and deepens. It grows through certain temporal means, which can attract man. He presents the image of two worlds – the finite and the Infinite. Man has many desires; and he is restless. In this condition, he plans to fulfil his desires through the false self as Chitra does to win over Arjuna with her borrowed beauty and youth she attracts Arjuna, but is still unsatisfied. The other world is the Infinite where one gets real happiness and full satisfaction. Tagore has beautifully blended both these worlds.
Another play with the political theme Mukta-Dhara (1922) is sometimes referred to as Tagore’s greatest play, where he condemns a technology divorced from religion and humanity. In order to keep the people of Shiv-Tarai under constant subjection, the king of Uttarakut plans to control their economic prosperity by building a dam across the mountain-spring, Mukta-dhara. Even the cries of the poor and the religious do not touch the hearts of the imperialistic king and his followers. Though it is a very difficult task, the King gets the dam constructed with the help of his engineers’ skill and arranges a festival in honour of the Machine (a mighty engine-tower constructed on a mountain-peak). Prince Abhijit makes an open protest in favour of the helpless people and sacrificing his life breaks the dam at a weak point. Here is a conflict which modern technology has to encounter in case it tries to overpower humanitarian and religious ethics. The machine erected over the peak consecrated to God Shiva with his trident (trisul) symbolizes the tyrant-technologists’ challenge to religion.
There are a few short dramatic scenes (and not full-fledged plays) like Karna and Kunti (1950) which are stated to have been translated by Tagore himself. In this, the playwright tries to draw our attention to a particular aspect of a character or of a situation. Kacha and Devyani is a dramatic dialogue like Karna and Kunti. Here Devyani curses Kacha when he leaves her father’s house, where he has been living during his training. Another such dialogue is The Mother’s Prayer, which shows Gandhari, the mother of the wicked Kauravaprince Duryodhana, steeling her heart to press her weak husband to repudiate their son. Tagore has powerfully brought out the conflict in the mother’s mind here.
Somaka and Ritvika has a theme similar to that of Sacrifice, but the treatment of the theme of immolation here stresses the psychological rather than religious aspect of his problem. Autumn Festival is a pastoral drama, which expresses Tagore’s joy of life, again emphasizing his idea that life in this world is meaningful and worth living. Cycle of Spring makes the same point. In this play, the middle aged King who fears the approach of old age is convinced by the Poet, who stages a symbolic play before him, that change being the law of life, the secret of happiness is joyous acceptance of the vicissitudes of human life.
Tagore has a distinct place as a dramatist, but some critics call Tagore’s genius undramatic. His plays have certain drawbacks which prevent them from being quite actable. His symbolic plays are the dramas of ideas. His symbolism often becomes excessive. The main characters of his symbolical plays are not so much persons of flesh and blood as personifications of the poet’s subjective experience. For instance, in The King of the Dark Chamber and The Post Office, the ‘King’ symbolizes the Divine, and in Mukta-Dhara and Red Oleanders, he is the symbol of the growing power of the state.
Another aspect of Tagore’s plays is that in them the lyrical possibilities are developed almost to the exclusion of everything. His Bengali critics assure us that it is the musical appeal of the drama which has impressed Tagore more than action, idea more than story. And in the English ‘translations’ of his plays a good deal of this music is lost with the result that their original appeal to the audience is diminished. Tagore fails as a dramatist in his handling of dialogue; for the ripple of dialogue is absent as we proceed from speech to speech. Dialogue is poetical and highly stylized. Throughout we have the same rhythmical speech. This is a drawback of the English renderings of his plays. However, these renderings have a compact and neat structure as compared with their originals in Bengali, which follow the loose Elizabethan model.
Settings in Tagore’s plays are far removed from the world of the present. They are set in distant and remote times and places, haloed by romance, myth and legend. It is too symbolical, suggestive, romantic and imaginative. Indeed, he evolved an idiom, a dramatic technique little known outside Bengal. His drama cannot be tagged to Aristotelian model or Shakespearean model. He is a model for himself. He has been called the father of modern Indian stagecraft. He is master of the technique of language; he knows how to build imagery upon imagery, how to clothe most common and trivial happenings with the glamour and gleam of poetic fancy, how to maintain a lyrical and rhythmical correspondence between the speakers, their words and their surroundings. The main principle in his plays is “the play of feeling and not of action”. This is his outstanding contribution to English drama.
Vijay Tendulkar, a lifelong resident of the city of Mumbai, was born in 1928. He is the author of thirty full-length plays and twenty-three one-act plays, several of which have become classics of modern Indian theater. Named the "Arthur Miller" of India's theatre, his social conscience, the roles he has scripted for women, his fight for justice, modern representations of gender roles, his criticism of the class system in India and his dialogue with Western theatre catapulted him to the forefront of modern Indian theatre. Recipient of many prestigious awards like Sangeet Academy Award and Kalidasa Samman Award, he is a fighter for cultural freedom, the freedom that is stifled at present by various forces. His lifetime achievements in literary and performing arts have been recognized by the Government of India’s ‘Padambhushan’ (1984), The Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar (1990), The Janasthan Award (1991), The Kalidas Samman (1992), The Pandit Mahadev Shastri Joshi Award (1999) and The Dinanath Mangeshkar Award (1998). Among his other honours are a Nehru Fellowship (1973-74), and Honorary Doctorate from the Ravindra Bharati University, Calcutta (1992), and a lifetime fellowship from the National Academy of the Performing Arts, New Delhi (1998). The latest recognition, for his lifetime literary achievement, was the Katha Chudamani Award in 2001. He has changed the form and pattern of Indian Drama by demolishing the three-act play and creating new models. He is noted for criticizing the hypocrisies, promiscuity, dishonesty and such other vices existing in the society.
Tendulkar’s Ghashiram Kotwal was first performed on 16 December 1972 at Bharat Natya Mandir, Pune, by the Progressive Dramatic Association and published in 1973. The play was a dramatic success from the beginning. It won several awards in 1972 to 73 at Maharashtra State Drama Competition. However, after nineteen performances, the president of the Progressive Dramatic Association banned the play. Afterwards the production was revived on 11th January 1974 and has subsequently been performed extensively by the groups in India and abroad. It is one such play on the life of morally decadent Peshwa ruler Nana Phadnavis and the corrupt Brahmans of Pune with music and dance woven in the very fabric of the play inspired by Dashavtara traditional form. These elements of traditional form sharpen the irony of the situations.
Vultures (originally written in Marathi under the title Gidhade and later on translated into English) is another famous play by him. It is based on sex, violence and evil. According to Girish Karnad, “the staging of Gidhade could be compared to the blasting of a bomb in an otherwise complacent marketplace.” The hideous nature of the vulturous family in Gidhade and its menacingly suffocating pressure upon two innocent tender hearts is effectively and evocatively expressed by the abusively language indiscriminately used by the members of that family. Publication of this play has made him one of the most distinguished social theorists of violence in the country. Vijay Tendulkar has said that Gidhade was born out of personal crises in his life. It shows the degeneration of a family with compassion and cruelty. The play is an outstanding example of Vijay Tendulkar’s modernity.
Sakharam Binder is Tendulkar’s most intensely naturalistic play. According to critics, “for many decades no play has created such a sensation in the theatre world of Maharashtra as Vijay Tendulkar’s Marathi play Sakharam Binder”. It explores the complication of human nature and the manifestation of physical lust and violence in a human being. He has shown the boldness of using obscene words and filthy language when the situation demands so. Commenting on Sakharam Binder Indulekha Roy Burman says, “Sakharam Binder is a fascinating study of the relationship between man and woman. It dissects the morbid, squalid aspects of human life against a bizarre backdrop of Plebeian Society. Here, Tendulkar’s love for the macabre and the obsession with sex and violence as an integral part of human nature and relationships receive a vitriolic expression. The brutal objectivity and crudity which he depicts the triangular relationship between Sakharam and his two mistresses Laxmi and Champa, sometimes borders on a sort of revelry into the Philistinism in literature.”
Kanyadaan (Daughters gifted away 1983) is also indicative of Tendulkar’s variations in his dramatic creations. In this play, he portrayed a Dalit writer as a drunkard, wife beater, manipulator and blackmailer. This is not expected of a writer whose public life spoke of a strong liberal humanist ideology. Kanyadaan is a good play with which to enter the trouble area of public and critical response to Tendulkar’s play. Kamala (1981) is a tropical drama inspired by a real life incident. Like most of his sympathetic women characters, Kamala does not have the spirit to rebel against her present condition. At the centre of the play is a self-seeking journalist, Jaysingh Jadhav, who has brought Kamala for Rs. 250 at an auction in a flesh market. He wants to present her at a surprise press conference to prove that such things still happen in modern democratic India. Using this incident in his drama, Tendulkar raises certain cardinal questions regarding the value system of a modern success-oriented generation who are ready to sacrifice human values even in the name of humanity itself.
In the play Silence! The Court is in Session, Tendulkar questions the imposition of patriarchal values on women and its restrictive norms. In the play Leela Benare, a member of a theatre group, which comes to perform at a village, is involved in a mock trial cunningly planned by her co-actors. However, it turns out to be a real trial of her private life and Benare is accused of infanticide, immorality and unwed motherhood. Benare’s defense of herself in the form of a monologue exposes the hypocrisy and double standards of the society that failed to respect her natural feelings and the men who used her body only as a commodity. First, at the age of fourteen, when Benare did not even know what sex is, she is exploited by her maternal uncle in the name of love. At the second time Professor Damle who fell in love only with her body, leaves her pregnant and refuses to marry. In her desire to give a good name to her child in the society, an identity in the form of a father Benade begs her male friends one after another to marry her, putting aside her sense of shame and dignity. But now having known the secret they mock at her and make her stand in the witness box to pass judgment. Her plight reminds one of Draupadi in the court of Kauravas. All ‘Duryodhanas’ stand around and laugh at Benare. However, no Lord Krishna comes to her rescue. The structure of the play helps the writer to maintain ambiguity. The reader is left to wonder whether Benare abort the child or give birth to it. It is based on the feminist belief that society does not exclude men and the upliftment of women could be possible only with the change in the attitude of the men.
Vijay Tendulkar is one of the most prolific Indian playwrights who has enriched the Indian Drama and theatre by picturizing the varied problems of native life in Maharashtra. The main reason for admiring him is that he does not copy from or imitate the Western dramatists and thrust it on the native audience. On the other hand, he takes up typical Indian, especially Hindu problems which are deeply rooted in the Indian culture, which include music, theatre, religion and philosophy. He has never craved for outdated or impossible subjects. Human existence, deep understanding of human psychology and expressing them through drama has been an obsession with him. He has experimented with almost all aspects of drama – content, acting, stage direction and audience communication. Hence, his plays are structurally free from any recognizable flaws.
Tendulkar writes his plays with so much theatrical craft that a good production is assured by simply following his stage directions. He has created memorable male and female characters. He explores the position of women in contemporary Indian society through his female characters. In his plays, he describes the basic and essential complexity of human nature, which is neither black nor white but very shade of gray. His all characters are a combination of good and evil. His male characters come from the middle class and face the problem of achievement in the outside world. Each of Tendulkar’s plays is a riddle by itself that sensitizes the reader or the audience to all the beastly as well as redeeming aspects of man-woman relationship. He is perhaps the most prolific and controversial among the Post-Independence Indian playwrights.
The Post-Independence Hindi drama has been with certain significant exceptions, largely imitative and is deliberately based on European models. While the Hindi theatre flourished in Hindi itself, not much was written in this genre. The theatre world drew upon other Indian languages. Badal Sircar, Om Chery, P. L. Deshapande, Vijay Tendulkar and others were staged with remarkable frequency. One of the most often staged playwrights of Hindi has been Mohan Rakesh himself. Born in Amritsar in 1925, Mohan Rakesh was a university man. He obtained a Master’s Degree in Sanskrit as well as in Hindi. Between 1950 and 66, he published five collections of stories and it is in fact, as one of the principal forces behind the Nai Kahani movement that Rakesh first came to the limelight. He was one of those rare literary personalities who never accept the traditional set up but always aspire to find and project something which is challenging and new. Rakesh’s language separates him from other Hindi playwrights and puts him on a higher level of competence. His plays - One Day in Ashadha (Ashadh Ka Ek Din), Great Swans of the Waves (Lehron Ke Rajhans), Half-Way House (Adhe-Adhure) show that his dialogues have a smooth flow, a meaningful depth and an elemental naturalness suitable to his characters. They express the character’s mental conflict, frustration, dissatisfaction and the resulting anger in a unique manner. He published the first major play One Day in Ashadha (Ashadh Ka Ek Din) in 1958. He portrays the character of Kalidasa, the protagonist, who has failed to develop an adequate relationship between himself and his surroundings and remains equally absurd at human relationships. The splendour of the court tempts him to leave the rustic surroundings to seek his fortune elsewhere by cutting himself off from his native soil as also the ‘human touch’ that had sustained him so far. He fails to play adequately any role that destiny assigns to him to play. He, too, in a way has a tendency towards self-destruction that is revealed in his failure to appreciate the significance of what his reason tells him and emotions justify. When his probable departure, perhaps for good, is conveyed to Mallika, his beloved, he shows his reluctance to leave his native village - he is afraid of being uprooted; he is afraid of being separated from the soil that gave him life. What forces him to dissociate himself from what matters most to him in life is not the fact that Mallika succeeds in persuading him to accept the royal invitation, but his inability to take a final decision about his relationship with Mallika. He is expected to marry her; at least Ambika, Mallika’s mother, expects him to because the whole village knows about the growing love between two. The opportunity to go to the city makes it possible for him to avoid taking a decision. There also he failed to become one with the life that the city offered him. The defeated Kalidasa returns to his village because of an agonizing realization that “time does not stop for any one” and attempts to restore the slender thread of relationship that he had earlier snapped proves futile. Kalidasa is the symbol of man who never finds fulfilment due entirely to his inability to arrive at a true and timely appreciation of his own self.
The English translation of the title of Aadhe-Adhure, Half-way House, gives the impression that the central argument of the play concerns the idea of a broken home, which, in fact, forms the background of the story. However, the title should be taken to mean “incomplete” and “inadequate”, and, in fact, the play is directly concerned with an incomplete and inadequate personality, which is subjected to an artistic investigation in the play. Primarily, it is not a play about the unemployed and unmanly husband nor about the elder daughter who found fulfilment in her elopement with her lover because there was “something in the air in this house” that she could neither understand nor bear, but seeks to portray the character of wife who finds herself dissatisfied attached to a man who cannot offer her all that she expects from a man. However, the irony is that she is not likely to acquire for herself a sense of fulfilment even if she goes back to Jagmohan who once attracted her, nor is she likely to find men like Singhania or Juneja answering her concept of man.
In fact, all three major plays of Rakesh reveal an inability on the part of the protagonist on the level of normal communication with each other and the resultant situation sometimes has tragic overtones. Rakesh’s short play Shayad and Humh! illustrates the dead-end nature of man-woman relationship. A similar relationship exists between Nand and Sundari in Great Swans of Waves (Leharon Ke Ranjhans, 1963), too. The conflict in the mind of Nand is because of his double allegiance to his love for his wife and to the call of Lord Buddha. His dilemma is to have to make a choice between his love for his wife and an intuitive response to the call of the Wayfarer. The irony lies in his inability to take decision even after he has been forced by the circumstances to have limited alternatives left before him. Rakesh’s technique of taking support from historical themes and then throwing light on the realities of life is quite his own. He has his own style of saying what he wants to say.
Turning to his plays, one realizes that at least the main characters are alienated and suffering from their isolation in life. They remain unfulfilled and they are strongly conscious of their own inability to acquire the necessary dimension to add to their personalities to become adequate, complete and normal. Rakesh’s technique of taking support from historical themes and then throwing light on the realities of life is quite his own. He looked upon drama as multiple art which involved, apart from words, a successful co-mingling of the contribution of the actors, scenic effects, light and music and finally, the directorial attempt to accord all these ingredients the shape of an organic whole. He saw the need for reorganizing the conventional theatre because, he felt that the theatre had not yet struck a real relationship with our times. Rakesh was convinced of the tragic view of life and, for him; life is always lived on a tragic level. It appears that his plays underline the precarious nature of man’s existence in the universe.
At a tender age, Rakesh noticed the world and its people with their innumerable masks. He wanted to understand this complex creature ‘man’ who could have many faces, enough to confuse anyone and everyone. It will not be wrong to say that in all his works he tried to assess, understand and analyze this complex creation of God.
While Rakesh used historical characters to project the breakdown of communication, Badal Sircar, the great Bengali playwright uses contemporary situations and social problems to project the life-in-death attitude of modern life. The central theme of many of his early plays is a sense of utter meaninglessness in our existence, which leads to a state of metaphysical anguish. This anguish is in fact closely embedded in the Bengali middle-class psyche, the tearing up of which was Sircar’s constant concern since his early theater career.
Sircar started his dramatic career with some comedies and came to the limelight in 1965 with his celebrated Evam Indrajit. The unique structure of the play and the social utility of its theme drew an immediate attention of all concerned, and won widespread reputation through its translation into several languages including English. It is clearly existential. Like Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, it makes clear that our existence is “a pointless particle of dust”.
Emotions are excluded as meaningless property and the external world is reduced to an unreal and weightless existence. The play makes the point that “nothing worth mentioning ever happens”. As Satyadev Dubey rightly observes, Evam Indrajit is about the residue of the middle class “who have failed to adjust, align and ceased to aspire and also those who are enmeshed in the day-today struggle for survival”.
Evam Indrajit is a tale of a playwright who struggles painfully in vain to write a play. As he, furiously tears up his manuscripts, his inspiration appears as a woman whom the dramatist calls Manasi. The writer is not able to write a play, because as a conscientious and honest artist, he finds that life is too chaotic and fragmentary to cohere into dramatic mould and too mechanical to have any meaning. His agony is the agony of the artist who is deeply aware of the sterility and horror of life. Badal Sircar, like T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land, offers no hope. The protagonist of the play ultimately meets with only despair, the keynote which is struck at the beginning itself. Satyadev Dubey, in his introduction to Evam Indrajit, praises the play as a milestone in the history of modern Indian drama. The play provided for theatre practitioners all over India the shock of recognition. Badal Sircar shook off all the conventions of the traditional drama by this play.
The subsequent plays by Sircar focus on various aspects of modern life, ranging from man-woman relationship to social and political evils. These include The Mad Horse, The Whole Night, Procession, Bhoma, Stale News, Circle, The Pleasant History of India and others. The chief characteristics of Sircar’s plays are choice of the middle class people as characters in the drama, revelation of the hidden social and moral evils, an attempt to remove the complacence of the people and a change in the dramatic technique. Badal Sircar has also portrayed a realistic picture of contemporary society. The problems of population growth, unemployment, poverty, and child labour are presented dramatically. The ills of the society are also ruthlessly satirized. Along with Spartacus, Sircar’s later plays Procession (1972), Bhoma (1974), and Stale News (1980) are based on the concepts of third theatre. Procession is one of his most intricately structured plays with innumerable transactions and juxtapositions. These plays have placed him on a pedestal higher than other contemporary playwrights of Indian drama. Through these three typical plays, one can see the realization of Sircar’s philosophy and vision of making people aware of their social responsibility. He makes theatre a medium of conveying individual responsibility of the people towards the society.
Sircar’s Procession is about the search for a “real” home – a new society based on equality. It is about a new society where man does not have to live by exploiting man and where each works according to his ability and gets according to his needs. His Bhoma is a dramatization of a life of the oppressed peasant in Indian rural society. It presents his social and economical exploitation through a series of scenes. A conscientious playwright not only presents the gravity of the problem but also offers a solution by employing powerful symbols and images. The society, full of opportunists and exploiters, is presented as a forest of poisonous trees and Bhoma, an aboriginal barbarian as a woodcutter. Bhoma is an archetype of the oppressed exploited peasant who, finally takes up his “rusty axe”, grinds and sharpens it to cut the poisonous trees that grow around him. These three plays are based on the concept of the Third Theatre.
Stale News deals with the theme of revolt. It centres round a young man who is bombarded with shattering information full of contradictions and contrasts, which come to him as “stale news”. However, he becomes aware through the inspiring guidance of the Dead Man of the pathetic conditions of the poor and the need for social reform. The young man is not ready to come out of the strange hold of the traditional, routine life and develop a sense of commitment so as to revolt against the social and economic justice.
It is through his form “Third Theatre” Sircar makes the society especially, the middle class, and feels guilty for being indifferent towards man and his problems. The characters in his plays are not individualized used at all. They can be seen as what Sircar himself has said, “I can be taken as a prototype of a particular class in a society at a particular period.”
Badal Sircar’s Some Day Later (Pare Konodin) is a complex interviewing of the realistic and the fantastical modes. Time is broken up so that the present as seen in the play is already past time to some of the characters. The play raises several questions- What is history? How would a change in a historical process affect the present? What is the relation of the present to the past? The answer is not given in intellectual terms but through the felt experience of the central character Shankar. The play opens and closes on a darkened stage with the tortured voice of Shankar asserting his determination to speak, to write, to tell all, so that some later day the horror of his experience may not have to be repeated. Suspense is cleverly interwoven as the play unfolds. The playwright’s method of juxtaposing the real and the fantastic serves to further irony. Human beings, with their ordinary concerns- property, career, and marriage- are merely puppets in the inexorable cycle of historical process. Thus, the human condition is “absurd” and can arouse only compassion. On the other hand, it can also arouse laughter. In fact, laughter becomes a means by which men can face the realities of their existence. According to him, comedy does not rank low in the dramatic categories. Comedy does not have a message, it does not discuss social problems, it does not voice opinions- even if one accepts these premises, still laughter does not lose its value in his estimation. He further writes that people can laugh in the midst of greatest sorrow, they can heighten the profoundest tragedy through laughter; deal with the most complex problems through laughter. That is why he does not undervalue the importance of laughter. His play Poet’s Story (Kobi Kahini) is a suave comedy on a contemporary theme- an election campaign. It centres round the problems of Manibhushan as he sets about the task of winning a seat to the Assembly. The play makes use of one of the most conventional devices of comedy- the mistaken identity theme. Sircar directs his witty barbs at personal foibles as well as social aberrations. Sircar laughs at a society where an Honours degree in literature can be had by memorizing a few standard texts, where a more meaningless a poem is, the more it is admired. The laughter becomes more mocking when it is directed at the underhand means employed by politicians to gain their selfish ends. The play succeeds eminently in its aim of holding up a mirror to society.
An important aim of Badal Sircar’s comedies is almost missionary dedication to the cause of social change and his use of theatre to highlight the ideal by exposing the gap between the ideal and the real. He worked to change the contents of his plays drastically. His plays, belonging to the Third Theatre were powerful responses to the various socio-political realities he encouraged. These plays show Sircar’s deeper understanding of the problems of the nuclear age and the poverty, corruption, greed and the industrial and agricultural exploitation of the poor. Contemporary issues are what make street plays succeed. Perennial issues like communalism, terrorism, police brutality, bride burning, dowry system, caste inequalities, industrial and agricultural exploitation, health care and alcoholism are included in their repertory. “Street theater has become an important tool to promote awareness in the minds of people on topical and perennial issues.”
Badal Sircar is among the three great contemporary writers – Karnad, Tendulkar and Rakesh. He delves deep into the problems of middle-class society. He uses contemporary situations to project the existential attitude of modern life. Popularly known as a ‘barefoot playwright’, he stands in the forefront of a new theatrical movement in India. He has created a genuine people’s theatre known as Third Theatre, supported and created by the people and not merely performed by the people. Sircar’s professional career as an urban planner, his training as a civil engineer, is mixed with his inner life as a playwright and its outward expression in his role as a theatre director and actor. His uncompromising attitude to social evils shows his link with his contemporaries. The distinctive qualities of his plays, which go by the name of ‘Third Theatre’, lie in their appeal to the mind of the audience. Here lies his success as a playwright. Sircar is one of the brightest stars in the constellation of Indian Drama. His plays prove that Post-Independence Drama has made a fresh ground both technically and thematically.
Girish Karnad, born in 1938 in Matheran, spent his childhood in a small village in Karnataka. There he came in contact with the strolling group of players in 1950s called ‘Natak Mandalies’ or ‘Natak Companies’. When he was preparing to go to England; one day as he was reading The Mahabharata just for fun, he read the story of Yayati unintentionally he started writing and the result came in the form of a play written in Kannada. It was published as a play Yayati in 1961 and later publication of Tughlaq in 1964, established Karnad as a master dramatist. Subsequently, he published Hayavadana (1971) Angumalige (1977), Hittina Hunja (1980), Nagamandala (1988), Tale Danda (1990), and Agni Mattu Male (1995). Five of his plays Tughlaq (1964), Hayavadana (1971), Nagamandala (1990), Tale Danda (1993) and The Fire and the Rain (1998) have been translated into English. The first three have been published by the Oxford University Press in India and the remaining two by Ravi Dayal Publishers, New Delhi. His plays have received an international recognition. They have been widely performed in Europe and America. The play Tughlaq has been translated into Hungarian and German. The B. B. C. London, broadcast it in 1979 and Hayavadana in 1993. Directed by E. Alkazi, Tughlaq was presented in London by The National School of Drama, Repertory Company as part of the festival of India in 1982. Karnad has received wide recognition and many awards including ‘Padamshree’ in 1974 and ‘Padambhushan’ in 1992.
Yayati was written in1961 and won the Mysore State Award in 1962. It is based on an episode in The Mahabharata, where Yayati, one of the ancestors of Pandavas, is given the curse of premature old age by his father-in-law, Shukracharya, who is incensed by Yayati’s infidelity. Yayati could get rid of this curse only if someone was willing to exchange his youth with him. It is his son, Puru, who finally offers to do this for his father. The play examines the moment of crisis that Puru’s decision sparks, and the dilemma it presents for Yayati, Puru and Puru’s young wife. Karnad has shown repeatedly through his plays that ancient Indian myths can be harnessed to address the modern sensibility of loss of individual identity. Yayati generated a lot of academic interest and debates. Girish Karnad has given this traditional tale a new meaning and significance highly relevant in the context of life today. The symbolic theme of Yayati’s attachment to life and its pleasures as also his final renunciation are retained. Karnad’s originality lies in working out the motivation behind Yayati’s ultimate choice. In The Mahabharata, Yayati recognizes the nature of desire itself and realizes that fulfilment of desire does not diminish or finish it. In Karnad’s play, however Yayati recognizes the horror of his own life and assumes his own responsibility after a series of symbolic encounter.
The play begins with the Sutradhara’s appearance on the stage. He reveals to the audience that it is a mythical play- a page from the history of the unknown past. The characters, incidents and the circumstances are related to the ancient times. However, the message conveyed through them is relevant to modern times as well. Karnad seems to have used this myth with a view to exposing the absurdity of life with all its elemental passions and conflicts and also to showing man’s eternal struggle to achieve perfection. Thus, his Yayati re-tells the age-old story of the King who in his longing for eternal youth does not hesitate to usurp the youth and vitality of his son. He invests new meaning and significance for contemporary life and reality by exploring the king’s motivation.
Hayavadana, the Natya Sangh Award winner for the best play of 1971, gives expression to the Indian imagination in its richest colours and profound meanings. In his “Note” to Hayavadana, Girish Karnad unambiguously states, “The central episode in the play is based on a tale from the Vetalalpanchavimishika, but I have drawn heavily on Thomas Mann’s reworking of the tale in The Transposed Heads.” 24 In the story of The Transposed Heads, Shridaman and Nanda are very intimate friends. Shridaman falls in love with Sita. He asks Nanda to act as a messenger between him and Sita. First, he laughs at the idea, but for the sake of his friend, Nanda agrees to do so. Sita consents for the proposal and marries Shridaman. After some time when the couple accompanied by Nanda is travelling through the forest so as to reach the house of Sita’s parents, they lose track. Finding a temple of Kali, they take shelter for the night. Shridaman, under some unknown influence cuts off his head and offers it to Kali. When Nanda comes out in search of his friend goes into the same temple and finds him dead. Out of fear of being accused with the murder of his friend for the sake of Sita, whom he also loves, Nanda kills himself too. When Sita finds both of them missing, she reaches the inside of the temple, sees the situation and prepares to put an end of her life. Preventing her from doing so Goddess Kali appears before her and asks her to beg what she wants. Naturally, she demands her husband and her friend back to life. Kali grants the same and asks her to fix the heads on their bodies. Sita, extremely excited, puts the head of Shridaman on the body of Nanda and that of Nanda on the trunk of her husband. Both of them are thus restored to life but creating a great problem to Sita to decide who is her husband – the man with Shridaman’s head or one with his body.
The play Hayavadana, tells a story embellished with the harsh truths of life and the incongruities of our existence capsuled in fantasy. It is simultaneously a story, a social satire and the psychological study of a woman. It is a comment on blind faith devoid of any reason. Hayavadana is a bold experiment in dramatic technique that offers a new direction to modern Indian theatre. This experiment proves that the traditional form need not be treated as precious artifacts but can be adopted to treat modern themes suitable for the urban Indian audience.
Nagmandala (1988), a play with prologue and two acts, based on a folk tale, involves a woman and a serpent and this is interesting as the serpent forms an important ingredient in most folk narratives all over the world. Tension in Nagmandala is between the patriarchal and the matriarchal views in the society. By presenting these two contrary views, the play mocks at the double standards adopted by the patriarchal society. It is about Rani, who represents a typical woman in a male dominated society. Appanna, a wealthy village youth marries her and brings her to his house when she attains womanhood. Her attitude towards her husband is that of a traditional wife in a patriarchal society where every husband is worshipped as a god. She cannot talk to her husband freely during daytime. She is at his beck and call and reserves no right to question him and his ways. He can treat her as he likes, go and enjoy himself with any man or woman. Chastity is a value invented by the patriarchal culture and accepted by woman. One such is the woman Rani whose husband is enamoured of another woman and is reluctant to spend time with her, much less consummate her marriage. An old woman gives her a magic root that is a potent love potion. Rani mixes the root in the food and cooks it. The solution turns blood red and Rani throws it away in fear. The mixture happens to fall upon an anthill within which lived the King Cobra Naga. He tastes the love potion and falls in love with Rani. He assumes the shape of her husband Appanna and starts visiting her every night. Though perplexed initially by her husband’s rudeness during the day and amorousness in the night, Rani learns to accept it. When Rani informs Naga-Appanna that she is pregnant, Naga is anxious for her and tells her to follow his directions without fail. Rani’s husband, Appanna, is aghast when he learns of Rani’s pregnancy and accuses her infidelity. She demands a “snake ordeal” as test of her chastity and following the advice of Naga-Appanna, thrusts her hand into the anthill, pulls out the venomous King Cobra, and allows it climb up her limb, and hang around her neck, like a garland. The whole village acclaims her “a goddess incarnate” and her husband is forced to accept her as such. Rani’s acceptance by her husband has tragic consequences for Naga. He cannot visit Rani any more. He entangles himself in the hair of his beloved and kills himself. Rani has now understood everything. She honours Naga’s supreme sacrifice by making his son light his pyre, as is the customary filial duty.
Irrespective of its probable links with political events of the country, Tale Danda (1993) tells the story of a community settled in a small kingdom in the 12th century within the present day Geographical boundaries of Karnataka. While introducing the play, Karnad explained that the specific year he has concentrated upon is 1168 A. D. The year marks the ascendance of Basavanna, a saintly person and a major proponent of the Bhakti movement in Karnataka. The “sharanas” or the devotees come largely from the economically oppressed lower castes. Basavanna, a spiritual leader inclined towards social reforms, is initially employed as an officer supervising the Royal treasury. While Basavanna’s appeal and secular teachings encouraged more and more people to embrace the faith of the devotees, there grows an increasing fear among the members of the upper castes of being overwhelmed.
Tale Danda is structured in three acts. The first act revolves around Basavanna, the accusations that he faces, and the effect of these accusations. The second act examines the repercussions erupting out of the marital proposal of Madhuvarasa’s daughter with Haralayya’s son. The third act moves towards the climax when Soyideva seizes power from his father Bijjala and imprisons him. The perennial problem of caste debilitating Indian society is given an exclusive rendering in Tale Danda. “The contemporary Indian reader responds acutely to the revolutionary dimensions of the Sharana movement and its antithesis, for, these parallel the socio political turmoil of India now. The relevance of the play is due to its vital contribution to our understanding of contemporary social truth”.
The Fire and the Rain (1998) is Karnad’s transcreation in English of the Kannada version of his play titled Agni Mattu Male. The play is based on the myth of Yavakri taken from chapters 135 to 138 of the “Vana Parva” (Forest Canto) of The Mahabharata. It is a tale told by the ascetic Lomasha to the Pandavas during the course of their exile. The Fire and the Rain with its symbolic and allegorical overtones is dramatic representation of the quintessential conflict between good and evil. The play begins with a prologue, is divided into three acts and ends with an Epilogue. The Prologue begins with the ritual of a seven-year long fire sacrifice being held by the king of the realm to propitiate Indra, the God of Rains. Paravasu is the chief priest who conducts the ceremony. The supernatural element in the form of the Brahma Rakshasa, a key figure in the play is introduced at this point. The Brahma Rakshasa is the cursed Brahmin soul, caught in the emptiness between death and rebirth. Unless redeemed from the impossible situation, the Brahma Rakshasa is doomed to wander restlessly and painfully through eternity. The Prologue sets the tone of the play.
Redemption of mankind from greater evil requires or necessitates the sacrifice of innocence and virtue. Good and evil coexists. Evil is accepted as part of the good in Indian aesthetics. Creation and destruction as symbolized in the Goddess Kali are the two aspects of the universe, the ‘Prakriti’ and ‘Purusha’. Without destruction, there is no regeneration. When evil dies, good is also sacrificed. However, death is not an end in itself. The metaphor of the ‘Rain’ in the play is symbolic not only of regeneration but also of redemption. In Act I, Nittilai and Arvasu’s love is defined. Arvasu, a Brahmin is prepared to sacrifice his caste and community to marry the low-caste Nittilai, a hunter’s daughter. In Act II, the imminent betrothal of Arvasu and Nittilai does not take place. Treachery, pride, lust, and disillusionment mark the dramatic fabric of this act. In Act III, Nittilai, who by now is married to another, leaves her husband to nurse the badly beaten Arvasu back to hell. The Epilogue subsumes into a mythical enactment of the universal theme of treachery and final redemption through sacrifice and selflessness. The myth is that of conflict between Indra and the brothers Viswarupa and Vritra.
In The Fire and the Rain, “The myth of Yavakri is contemporized to communicate the aesthetic experience of salvation. It is the central informing power that gives archetypal significance to the ritual of self-discovery. Myth and ritual cohere to unfold the deeper meaning of life. The irony of life itself is woven into the moral fabric of the play.”
Tughlaq (1972) is the best historical play, which deals with the last five years of the reign of Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq who ascended the throne of Delhi in 1325 A. D. and ruled India until his death in 1351. Other historical events of the time of the Sultan have been reported through the conversations of various characters. Hence, the play offers a comprehensive study of the period under review. However, keeping in view the artistic necessity he deviates from history here and there and throws upon the events a beautiful colouring of art and imagination. The dramatist introduces a few changes in the historical lines because he intends to make the play relevant to contemporary situations of the sixties, when the country was passing through a phase of disillusionment after the death of Pt. Nehru.
Karnad sticks to history in presenting Tughlaq as a just and generous king. In the opening scene, Sultan appears as a deeply religious person. He has no partiality for any particular community and attempts for Hindu-Muslim unity. There is a conflict between Tughlaq, the clever and ruthless administrator and Tughlaq, the sensitive philosopher-poet. While on one hand he is an idealist who is influenced by the Greek philosophers - Socrates and Plato and who seeks to balance opposite principles, on the other hand, he suffers from delusions of grandeur and assumes the role of Krishna or Jesus without possessing the omnipotence or the omniscience of a god. It is paradoxical that he is not able to achieve a balance within himself, between his dreams and his practical duties as a ruler, though he declares that it is his heartfelt desire to bring about a balance in all walks of life.
Tughlaq is not an ordinary chronicle play, but it is an imaginative reconstruction of history in the modern context. The dramatist portrays through the scenes of the play that politics is mixed with religion and religion is made use of by the politicians for their selfish motives. The character of the Sultan is full of realism. As a faithful Muslim, he prescribes prayer five times a day but he kills his father and brother while they are at prayer. Several readers and spectators of the play linked it to the Nehru Era in Indian history but Karnad did not support it. “Thus, Tughlaq is not only good literature but a good theatre play, a play in which the intellectual-symbolic-allegorical levels harmonize with the level of external dramatic action by a proper balancing of theatrical and literary concomitants. The play is essentially modern, may be more modern than most Indian plays written in English despite being called a historical play”. 27 Karnad’s contribution to Indian English drama mainly rests on Tughlaq and Hayavadana.
Bali: The Sacrifice (2003) is his ideological play published with The Dreams of Tipu Sultan. However, the play is based on an ancient Kannada epic recreated from an earlier Sanskrit epic and parts of it can be “traced back to the first century”, the story, characters and incidents are often overshadowed by overt ideological concerns as relevant today as they were many centuries back. One can immediately observe this by noting that none of the characters has individual names: the King, the Queen, the Queen Mother, and the Mahout are all representatives both of temperamental and contextual ideologies suited to the specific scenes where they make their appearance. The play subsumes one dominant ideology- that of non-violence, but it abounds in numerous other beliefs, principles and firmly rooted mental blocks. The basic premise of the play is that a Jain king, whose faith dictates non-violence, is not able to wholly give himself up to this conviction. In him, there is a deep and unending ideological conflict, which he tried to suppress. The reason for this conflict is that he is born into a family where a killing of animals as sacrifice is the accepted mood of propitiating the divine. Religion that considers ‘bali’ and bloodshed as purificatory is bound to leave a lasting impact on the young minds that are conditioned by such rituals and the king is no exception. The Queen Mother is personification of the continuing that ‘bali’ is the culmination of all worship, a means to whatever end one wants to achieve in life and this contrast in their beliefs is a continuing context, which need negotiation.
It is significant that Karnad begins and ends the play with the Queen describing the “two orbs” of the world- dark and light- but not having the imperialist implication that dark is evil and light is good. The title of the play can itself be seen to contain a strange paradox: on the one hand, ‘bali’ and sacrifice are synonymous when a person is sacrificing another living being to propitiate the gods. On the other hand, the word ‘sacrifice’ may mean giving up something, which is a prize possession- ideological or otherwise. The King sacrifices his religion for love, but is not able to remain true to his sacrifice. The Queen sacrifices her desire for sexual gratification under the pressure of procreation, but again she too slips from this idealistic stance. The Queen Mother at a point when she wants to know if the Queen has sullied her marriage says that she is willing to “give up” her “faith and become a Jain.” But it is a facile sacrifice.
Karnad deploys a unique dramatic technique in The Dreams of Tipu Sultan (2003), perhaps keeping in mind the requirements of a radio play since that was how the play was initially conceived. It was staged on 15th , 16th , and 17th May 2004, first at Dariya Daulat, Srirangapattana, where Tipu’s body was interred and later from 21st to 25th May at Rangayan, Mysore. The play highlights that aspect of Indo-British relations which clearly reveals the fact that the British presumption of India as an undiscovered, primitive land mass inhabited by uncivilized barbarians waiting to be colonized was totally erroneous. Leaders like Tipu Sultan were perceptive enough to see through the sinister British designs and were capable of fighting back- alone, unaided but uncompromising, and heralding the awakening of the spirit of Indian nationalism and pride. Tipu was politically perceptive because he was visionary who dreamt of a strong and united Mysore State and his dream of a Republic came true about one hundred and fifty years later on 26th January 1950.
The play opens with the conversation between the historians, Kirmani and Mackenzie. Both have witnessed the fall of Tipu’s capital city, Srirangapattana. Travelling extensively over Karnataka, Mackenzie has garnered a lot of local history and mythological tales from the natives. Evincing a keen interest in the life and history of Tipu Sultan Mackenzie meets Kirmani and encourages him to write about Tipu’s administration and subsequent fall of Srirangapattana. Following this is the scene of the British Army officers searching for Tipu’s body in the battlefield. They would be able to sleep peacefully in their beds only when they know that Tipu Sultan was dead; such was the terror that Tipu had created in the minds of the British. It opens quite sedately with a dialogue between Kirmani and Mackenzie and then surges ahead with the ferreting out of Tipu’s body. Gradually, Tipu’s life unfolds dramatically. As Tipu enters the stage, the stage lights up and brings with life. As an act of ultimate insult, the British soldiers cut off Tipu’s moustache. The scene serves as pointer to the British presence in India and their attitude- of entering through the back door and breaking open the front door. This gets focused all through the play. Also revealed are the political power games played by petty kings and princes of the time, their egotism and foolishness their squabbles- all of which only strengthen the hands of the British. Because of this Tipu’s dreams, plans and enthusiasm of building a new state all get shattered. In the meetings and the assemblies witnessed in the fifth scene of the play Tipu’s dream and plans, touch the audience with their poignancy. In that particular scene, Tipu is seen with his son. The scene projects Tipu as a true patriot. Most of Tipu’s life is spent on battlefield though he had a short life; being cultured and educated, Tipu is projected as a man with modern sensibility when he is dealing with a majority of issues. But unfortunately, his visions remain as dreams and do not find fulfilment. The play progresses by depicting Tipu’s dream in a scenic fashion. Karnad describes the dreams and bases many of his scenes on the factual incidents of Tipu’s life. From one scene to another, as the play unfolds, Tipu’s personality gets reflected in his plans, in surrendering his sons to the British and so on in a tense progression. Finally, unable to secure help or assistance from anywhere he surrenders. Karnad should be complemented for giving such a play to the Indian theatre and literature especially at this point of time when two hundred years have elapsed after Tipu’s death.
Karnad’s Driven Snow (Anju Mallige) is probably the least discussed of all his plays though it was written in 1977. This may be so because it was not translated into English until 2001, though it has been performed both in Kannada and in Hindi. This is the only Karnad play with non-Indian location. Here the location is a small flat in a university town in England. The play is not about a mythological past or a slice of history. Yet a myth of regeneration- death and rebirth- and the contemporary scenario blend well to produce a heap of perceptions into the postcolonial consciousness of Karnad. It is on the surface of it, about non-resident Indians especially those who went to England in the sixties and seventies in search of greener pastures, both material and intellectual. The play, Driven Snow delves into the problematique of “rootlessness” and “identity” on the one hand and the forbidden passions raging in the unconscious, on the other. The play is yet to be published.
Karnad is, in a true sense, a recreational writer with reinforced ranges of stories retold. He has great insight into human nature. This knowledge of human nature has made him a great actor and playwright. He was highly influenced by the trends in Kannada literature and he took legend, history and myth for the plots of his plays. He is a great and gifted dramatic craftsman. There has been an unbridgeable hiatus between theatre and plays in English drama. Karnad who belongs to the rich tradition of Kannada theatre creates a close rapport between stagecraft and playwriting. His dramatic technique is superb and flawless. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he has great command over English which he gracefully uses in his plays. He chooses apt and appropriate words from a rich treasure of vocabulary. He writes dialogues in lucid, pointed and precise language, which is conspicuous for flexibility. He observes economy, precision and concentration in portraying his characters. Had Karnad not taken to acting and film industry, he would surely have been a great Indian English dramatist. Though Karnad has been occasionally accused by Vijay Tendulkar and Chandrasekhar Kambar for initiating a fad of folk-based plays, his Tughlaq and Hayavadana have an imperishable place in India Drama in English.
Karnad is regarded as one of the three great writers of the contemporary Indian drama, the other two being Tendulkar and Sircar. While Sircar and Tendulkar deal with the problems of middle-class, Karnad takes refuge in the Indian myths and legends and makes them a vehicle of a new vision. By using these myths, he tries to show the absurdities of life with all its elemental passions and conflicts and man’s eternal struggle to achieve perfection.
In addition to the above playwrights, a few minor playwrights have also produced English translations of their own works. Some of them are R. S. Dalal’s Victory (1939), M. Mujeeb’s Ordeal (1857), and C. C. Mehta’s Iron Road (1970). In the three-act play Victory, Dalal presents the 14th century episode of Hamirsinha, a descendant of Bapa Raval, who recaptured Chittor from the hands of Mohammad Tughlaq of Delhi. With the help of the Sutradhara-Nati Technique at the outset, the playwright draws our attention to the necessity of recalling the glorious history of our country. Then, he highlights the hero’s strong patriotic desire to make the prestigious State of Chittor free from Moslem rule again and the unholy marriage of a young widow, Hansa, brought about by the treachery of her father Maldeo, the Hindu General appointed by the Delhi Sultan.
According to the account given in the Foreword, Mujeeb’s five-act play Ordeal (1857) is his own translation of his original play, which had been published in Ajkal (Bombay: 1958). It deals with some aspects of the political struggle of 1857 at Delhi (called the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ by the British and the ‘First War of Independence by the Indians’). Iron Road (1970), a three-act play by C. C. Mehta is from the recent history of the British period. According to the Author’s Note, it is not an exact translation of his original Gujarati play Aag Gadi, but an adaptation. As the author further explains, it is a realistic picture of the horrible conditions of the Indians prevailing in the Railways during those days of the British Regime.
Mohan Rakesh presents the tragic view of life and, for him life is always lived on a tragic level. His plays underline the precarious nature of man’s existence in the universe. A hostile fate conjures itself to render futile all his efforts at fulfiling himself by being able to establish communication with others. Leading the vanguard of the avant-garde Marathi Theatre, Tendulkar symbolizes the new awareness and attempt of Indian dramatists of the last quarter of the century to depict the agonies, suffocation and cries of man, focusing on the middle class society. Sircar stands in the forefront of the new theatrical movement in India creating a genuine people’s theatre known as Third Theatre. Karnad has given the Indian theatre richness that could probably be equated only with his talents as an actor-director. His contribution goes beyond theatre. He has represented India in foreign land as an emissary of art and culture through his direction of feature films, documentaries and television serials.
Thus, contemporary drama in English translation has made bold innovations and fruitful experiments in terms of both thematic concerns and technical virtuosities. It has been increasingly turning to history, legend, myth and folklore tapping their springs of vitality and popularity with splendid results. Indian drama, written both in English and translated into English from other languages has registered a remarkable growth in recent years. The translations have forged a link between the East and the West, North and South and contributed to the growing richness of contemporary creative consciousness.