STAGING TRANSITIONS – THEATRE OF THE 90s IN INDIA
The 1990’s decentralisation and privatisation paradigm in India was accompanied by a shift from forging an overarching ‘national’ theatre to focusing on regional forms with a large part of government funding diverted towards zonal cultural centres. Simultaneously there was a proliferation of private funding houses that focused on productions and festivals that could expand their consumer base. Ramu Ramanathan’s review of Wade Chirabandi directed by Chandrakant Kulkarni brings into sharp focus shifts in performance practice and production contexts in theatre during the 90s.
Wade Chirabandi, a trilogy written by Mahesh Elkunchwar follows the slow breakdown of a Marathi joint family capturing the evolution of family dynamics in the wake of socio-political alterations of the time. The first play of the series was written in 1985 with the trilogy completed in 1994. Chandrakant Kulkari’s production performed the trilogy as a single 8 hr performance, with Ramanathan articulating that “…. if theatre has to take on the might of cinematic vision, it’ll have to be with a grandiose, but ascetic spirit.” An interesting facet of this production noted by Ramanathan was the assistance of Rs. 7- 8 lakh by the Avishkar Theatre group (a parallel theatre movement group) towards the production. “It is still a curious duo. Because Kulkarni is the small-town entrepreneur who rocked Bombay’s Marathi stage out of its commercial complacency, everything he touches is a box-office bonanza. Kulkarni thinks this is inevitable and though his heart, soul and groundings are in the parallel theatre movement, it was impossible to continue work in it because of dwindling funds and scaling down of budgets.”
While this review brings into perspective the ways in which liberalisation was changing how theatre was made and practised, an important question becomes for whom was theatre – such as Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Wada Chirebandi being made for? How was this audience being imagined?
Image Courtesy – Anand Gupt Collection/ Alkazi Theatre Archives