Debating Economies of Theatre Sustainability: An Interview with Naseeruddin Shah, Shaukat Kaifi, Dina Pathak and Farooque Shaikh, 1980 in India Today Newspaper
With the onset of the pandemic, theatre practitioners struggle with many similar, some nuanced concerns of their predecessors. Today, we look back at the India Today article dated 15 March 1980 where journalist Chitra Subramaniam interrogated the influence of theatre in India, it’s grappling with lack of economic support and contemplated if it was simply a ‘xenophobic phase’ given the popularity of Hindi cinema. She interviews theatre personalities, Naseerudin Shah, Shaukat Kaifi, Dina Pathak, and Farooque Shaikh, straddling the world of cinema and theatre with equal grace to ask them this: What is happening to contemporary Indian theatre? The interview delivers a final conclusion— ‘the theatre just does not pay’.
The beginning of economic liberalization in the 1980s transferred theatre from the patronage of the state towards a free market, drastically changing the dynamics of the art. While this put content under scrutiny, it also posed questions of sustainability. The lack of financial stability reduced the viability of theatre as a professional career prospect despite the experience and opportunity it provides actors at the beginning of their careers acting as a stepping stone to television and cinema.
While Naseeruddin Shah hypothesizes the impact of colonialism on original ideas in Hindustani theatre, Shaukat Kaifi underlines the lack of state funding in the arts. Dina Pathak insists on a strong cultural policy and the need to create an experimental coterie outside the demands of the box office. Parallely, Farrouq Shaikh wonders whether esoteric intellectualism can save theatre at all and shares the view that theatre must compete with other forms of entertainment.
Thinking through the contemporary scenario then, how does theatre become sustainable in a democratic state with neoliberal policies? How does one strategize and expand audiences contextualising theatre as a public space? What needs to be done differently by theatre makers in India to stand independently, secure patronage and at the same time respond critically to socio-cultural and political transformations?
Debating Economies of Theatre Sustainability- An Interview with Naseeruddin Shah, Shaukat Kaifi, Dina Pathak and Farooque Shaikh, 1980 in India Today Newspaper
Images Courtesy: Anand Gupt Collection/ Alkazi Theatre Archive