STAGING TRANSITIONS – THEATRE OF THE 90s IN INDIA
Theatre for Development
The Government of India undertook Structural Adjustment Programmes in 1991, ending the heavily regulated economy, and beginning the period of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG). These transformations led to a redistribution of resources from the state to the market, or state-funding based on market logic and marked a gradual shift from a period of extensive centralised planning towards a neo-liberal economic functioning. Within the process of what Dia Da Costa in her essay, Subjects of Struggle, observes as the “culturalisation of neoliberal governmentality”, the State was regarded as inefficient to undertake and fulfill developmental goals adjusting to local needs. Instead, civil society and NGOs were seen as liberating and inherently responsive.1 This is often referred to as NGOisation of development.2 Within such a paradigm, education, for example, was not the sole responsibility of the government as a policy and planning field, and the onus also shifted to NGOs and organisations to uptake as part of projects for community development. This role for spreading awareness and education intensified in the 90s, where development was now seen as a result, not of welfare state development planning and policy, but an outcome of individual projects and programmes spearheaded by NGOs and INGOs (International NGOs). Developmental projects and programmes started employing theatre to increase awareness about their agendas.
The confluence of culture with neo-liberal models of development within the framework of what Dia Da Costa describes as the ‘the marketization of alternativity’3, raises a pertinent question – how did this cultural confluence intensify and modify the role of culture as an expedient resource?
While the increased use of theatre as a tool by private developmental agencies and NGOs escalated the inflow of financial capital and cultural visibility, this process also integrated theatre within the larger nexus of neo-liberalisation projects and increased capitalization of culture. How did this alteration impact arts and artists within society and how did this affect their artistic independence,as well as scopes for employment? Did it impede the experimentalism within theatre and confine the text and content to certain objectives or causes?
Theatre practitioners like Mohan Maharishi, in the 2003 International Seminar on ‘Theatre in the World Today’ organised by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), commented on the NGOisation process:
“Even the trained actors do not know how and where to find employment in the theatre. He/She is forced to take recourse either in some other media or apply his/her skills for socially oriented use of theatre for which grants and endowments are available from various sources. I am referring to the use of theatre for a social cause; for example, to spread literacy in rural women, or to help spastic children gain access to mainstream social space, or theatre for the refinement of the jail inmates etc. There is not a single funding agency to my knowledge that is prepared to fund a straight forward repertory company which has freedom to choose the kind of theatre it would want to do. In other words, the kind of funding that can lead to professional theatre, is simply not available. The funding available is for a cause and not to the theatre. My point is that the theatre itself is a cause.” (From the paper presented by Mohan Maharishi at the seminar.)International Seminar
Image: Schedule for ‘International Seminar on Theatre in World Today: Individual and Collective Vision’ organised by FICCI in 2003
Image courtesy: Anand Gupt Collection/ Alkazi Theatre Archives
- Newman, Janet. 2014. “Landscapes of Antagonism: Local Governance, Neoliberalism and Austerity.” Urban Studies 51 (15): 3290–3305. doi: 10.1177/0042098013505159
- Matthew Scott, NGOization, Community Development Journal, Volume 49, Issue 3, June 2014, Pages 501–503, https://doi.org/10.1093/cdj/bsu035
- Costa, Dia Da, (2010). Subjects of Struggle: Theatre as Space of Political Economy, Third World Quarterly, 31(4), 617–635. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27867947