Alkazi Theatre Archives



The socio-political and economic changes in the 90s created a moment of transition for theatre with the onset of the new media boom. Smita Nirula, in her article ‘To video or not to video’, published in The Pioneer in 1994 indicates that this had an impact on the viewership and consumption habits of viewers. 

In her article she discusses how recording procedures can interfere with the experience of watching theatre and in the process alter the performance itself. Nirula deliberates if video recording should be permitted within theatre spaces, and if so, how it should be regulated. In her article, she poses: “What, one reiterates, does one go to the theatre for?” “Who created the hauwa of the video ogre?” “Why is recording allowed to interfere with the vision of the audience?”

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Newspaper clipping -’To video or Not to Video’ by Smita Narula discussing the feasibility of videographing a theatrical performance From ‘The Pioneer’, April 7, 1994. Courtesy: Anand Gupt Collection/Alkazi Theatre Archives

Video recording provided the possibility of documenting the performance, wherein the same performance could be reproduced again, challenging the spatio-temporal immediacy that stands integral to live performances. This practice deepened the debates around the ontology of theatre – questioning the innate nature of ephemerality and meaning of theatre, what theatre encompasses and what constitutes theatre and gave rise to theatre scholars postulating questions around the nature of performances and the relationship between performance and its documented video. A central question to be asked is who were these recordings for? 

One of the answers is to be found in the 9th five-year plan (1997-2002) where the Government explicitly mentions efforts to forge ties between new media and culture. 

“A media policy for culture will be initiated with the twin purpose of emphasising cultural aspects within India and propagating Indian culture to the outside world.” 

Video recording became an important tool for the state to promote and disseminate culture. This can be gauged from the employment of video recording as a tool of, not just documenting, but also of educating. The 1992-93 report of the Department of Culture, for the first time recognises video recording as an independent tool of documentation.


Annual report, Department of Culture, 1992-93

The increased popularity and usage of video recording pose some pertinent questions – How did the state institutions and machinery employ these new mediums of documenting? Did they use it in their established mission of using culture as a tool for furthering other sectors of development? Did documenting theatre become a tool to be employed for the growth of other sectors of polity and was it used to further the developmental model of the nation? How was the state’s mechanism of forging and navigating the relationship between video and theatre different from that of the commercial and private usage and vision?

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