1953: ‘Andha Yug’ by Dharamvir Bharati, and Theatre of Roots

The story of the Kurukshetra war echoes the horrors of Partition in the play.

Published : Aug 11, 2022 06:00 IST

A production of Andha Yug organised by Sahitya Kala Parishad and Delhi government in 2011.

A production of Andha Yug organised by Sahitya Kala Parishad and Delhi government in 2011. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

In Dharamvir Bharati’s pathbreaking Hindi play, Andha Yug (1953), the story of the Kurukshetra war echoes the horrors of Partition, both encapsulated in the cry, “What is this peace you have given us, god”. Andha Yug achieved iconic status: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru watched a production directed by Ibrahim Alkazi against the backdrop of the ruins of Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla in 1963. Combining Western dramatic traditions with an Indian epic, Andha Yug is an early example of the Theatre of Roots movement, which gained momentum in the 1960s and 70s, spearheaded by the likes of Ratan Thiyam, Girish Karnad, K.N. Panikar, Habib Tanvir, among others.

Also read: 1959: Habib Tanvir establishes Naya Theatre

These playwrights attempted to decolonise Indian drama not by discarding Western models altogether but by synthesising them with folk traditions and Sanskrit aesthetic theory as codified in Natyashastra. The epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata, with their simple grandeur, also served as guides. Girish Karnad’s play, Hayavadana (1971), is based on both Kathasaritsagara and Thomas Mann’s novella, The Transposed Heads. It opens with the sutradhar addressing the audience, in a nod to Natyashastra, and yet its theme of loss and search for identity is universal.

The stress of Theatre of Roots on the local rather than the global resulted in the foregrounding of regional language theatre. Karnad wrote his plays in Kannada and translated them into English himself. The plays of Mohan Rakesh, Badal Sircar, Vijay Tendulkar were translated into other Indian languages as well as in English, creating a national theatre movement. The establishment of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1953 helped matters as its troupes took folk performances to Delhi and the other metropolises.

Also read: India at 75: Epochal moments from the 1950s

C.N. Sreekantan Nair coined the term thanathunatakavedi, meaning ‘one’s own theatre’, to describe the phenomenon. The influence of Brecht is palpable, as is the presence of indigenous theatre forms, which tend to use non-linear narratives and a multiplicity of voices to look at a particular story from different perspectives. There’s a stress on spectacles, which break the illusion of realism. Another feature is the preference for closed and open spaces over proscenium theatre, so that actors are in close contact with the audience. The movement shaped Indian theatre as we know it today.

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