Ninety years old, K. Shivarama Karanth embodies the Yakshagana folk theatre of Karnataka. It is through his indefatigable efforts that Yakshagana reached respectability in Indian culture, so Natya Shodh Sansthan could not have chosen a grander old man to felicitate this year (Gyan Manch, September 22). His Yakshagana Kendra from Udupi presented three different productions on consecutive evenings.

While full of genuine genuflection for a guru of Karanth’s standing, one simultaneously feels that a critique of the methodology may be in order. Certainly, folk traditions have constantly changed to suit their times. But how much “modernization” is acceptable? Karanth typically condensed performances to urban time expectations, and sanitized them of all “crudities”. Should traditional forms be tailor-made, then, for city slickers? The very name Yakshagana “Ballets” is revealing, as much as it is misleading.

However, all that is theory. In practice, a show like Panchavati is manifest artistry; one forgets all niggling complaints. The troupe maintains rural India’s time-proven perfection in cross-gender casting—men acting as women—so that the ugly and beautiful Surpanakhas are the real stars, keeping alive the village heritage of colourful evildoers being the most popular characters. In the end, Karanth’s “creative extension of tradition”, as he calls it, works far better than that of some younger Indian directors who appropriate folk forms more blatantly in their plays.


Devajit Bandyopadhyay soldiers on singly, researching the mostly undocumented but valuable history of music on the Bengali stage, and projecting some of his findings at public concerts with fair regularity. In Songs of Bengali Theatre: Twentieth Century, presented by Academy Theatre (Birla Sabhagar, September 15), he selected two dozen chronologically-arranged songs from this period linked with a commentary narrated by Soumitra Chatterjee.

A few laudably uncommon pieces marked the choice, like the animal mimicry from Panchkari Chattopadhyay’s Pardesi, samples of Nazrul lslam’s music, early ādhunik from Niharranjan Gupta’s Ulkā, and a fair representation from Bangladeshi theatre. Devajit cultivated an appropriately dramatic delivery and vocal modulation, complemented by Basabi Nandi’s more orthodox style on the classical numbers, but underutilized Pallabi Chattopadhyay’s technical fluency. He commendably preserved the authentic instrumentation of violin, flute, clarinet, harmonium and tabla.

Criticism may centre on the lengthy time-span covered, leading Devajit into the sweeping generalization of fitting every song into preconceived categories of “entertainment” or “commitment”. Furthermore, the dividing line of 1947 could just as easily have separated two completely different programmes so as to give either phase in-depth treatment. Minor errors comprised the dating of World War I (“1911-19”) and perpetuation of the incorrect “clarionet”. We will also expect Devajit to do full justice to Tagore in future, as he consciously omits him here.


M. S. Theatre Group and ESS Theatre Vision merit some praise for attempting original drama at a time when Hindi-language theatre is far too dependent on preexisting plays. Nevertheless, Ham to Tere Ashiq Hain (Kala Kunj, August 31) destroys a promising two-hour Molieresque farce by extending it endlessly beyond a sophisticated viewer’s patience.

Some tips for young writer-director Z. Kalam, who does show a flair for slapstick: do not pander to the baser elements by imitating tinsel-town cliches; use more female characters and do not fall into the trap of chauvinistically typecasting them as coy, submissive women; write more realistically about your own social circumstances; and revive the defunct Urdu theatre by employing this beautiful language more than the macaronic Hindustani of the streets.

Kalam’s own acting as the Chaplinian tricky servant is pleasurably uninhibited. Bhanu, the miserly seth, bravely bears the burden of having the maximum lines, but his memory fails frequently. Sajan’s Munshi forms a good cameo, whereas Sajid’s Doctor is so obvious an imposition on the plot that, even though he hams it up, he cannot save this outrageously outlandish role.

(From The Telegraph, 13 October 1993)