Friday, December 09, 2005

a pragmatic note

To paper scratchers, keyboard punchers and nautankiwallas

Rarely does the debate rise to a social level or do we question our social or ethical system. Our theatre never goes as far as to ask itself whether by chance this social or ethical system is iniquitous or not.

Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Double

The role of media today cannot be overemphasized. This is even more so in India where, post liberalization, the corporate strangle hold over the media’s functioning has reached a point where it has reduced media publications to extensions of their PR team. So it becomes essential to be keenly aware of the activities of the mainstream media when we engage in our own. This is, of course, necessitated by the media’s reach and its increasingly monolithic tendencies that have nearly obliterated most marginalized discourses. This is true of all media – of the older media such as theatre and the print media, and even more so of the newer forms such as broadcast and electronic media.

Therefore, it becomes important to closely study not only the subjects that are contained in our communication, but our own means, forms and media of communication. Given that various marginalized groups are placed in closer contact with dominant groups as a result of the all-pervading presence of the media, it becomes essential to sift through the organised chaos of the majority’s discourse. The schisms between various groups are further accentuated, and their interests made more irreconcilable, by this very proximity that, by compare and contrast, shows up the differences and the iniquities.

Therefore, a kind of metadiscourse becomes an extremely important means of criticizing, interrogating and ultimately protesting against the existing hegemony and its dominant discourse.

The idea is not only to the critique existing modes of communication, but also to question whether the existing systems themselves are equitable and effective in our shape-shifting world. A kind of dual ironic existence where one questions not only one’s own existence, (which all philosophies, and all ethical and artistic studies, do, however dogmatic and inadequate their ways) but, more significantly, one’s own awareness and perception of it. For, in studying yourself and your perception of the world, you study your world, and the relationship between the two.

That should be our attempt.

To study existing discourses, be it Rahul da Cunha, or Bollywood films, or the NCPA theatre, or this whole concept of corporate funding which comes with its own subterranean ideological implications, or even the idea that theatre is an intellectual medium, and to critique those existing modes and developing our own medium that includes our ideological biases and personal (even petty) grouses against the system. Ultimately, a hostile interrogation of this system itself.

Ok. So all this sounds nice and grandiose, but how do we achieve it in the theatre? We are after all only nautankiwallas who are here to do some theatre.


All this ideological blahblah translates into a search for a new form. A form that would incorporate all our ideas at the formal level. (Of course, we could always settle for the less tedious task of standing on stage and saying that we are reinventing theatre and that this new form is …… etc. Given that that’s neither great theatre nor great communication, we have to innovate at the formal level.)

If we decide to do all of that, are we to set out to do each play with a set of points, guidelines and manifestoes? Of course not. The fact is, whether we want it to or not, ideology will creep into our creations. What I am suggesting here is that we stay conscious of our creations’ implications so that we may comment on our own discourse.

A kind of self-conscious metatheatre.

While the novel has had its metafictional novels and so has film, in the theatre, metatheatre has been most obscure and has been mostly used to repeat the same old theatrum mundi theme. [Theatrum mundi à All the world’s a stage kind of thing. A view of the world as a stage, and a stage as a world in itself, the two in dialogue with each other.]

Ok so the world’s a stage, now what? That’s what we need to look at. If it is indeed manufactured or constructed by the ideological strains and constraints of artists, then we need to look at the schisms between the various constructions. (When I say artists, I mean all those who communicate, including bankers, accountants, drivers and everyone else, basically everyone who creates. And everyone does create, if only a world for himself or herself.)

Be an antithesis, so to speak. (These Marxist terms are useful, but one stands the risk of being branded a Red and being associated with old farts like A. B. Bardhan.)

For instance, take the case of film stars coming out in support of the Vilasrao Deshmukh’s My Mumbai slum demolition drive. They are talking about displacing the poor from slums to places which would deprive them of a major part of their meager income. Or even their only source of livelihood in some cases. They are talking about a socio economic selection of people who deserve to stay in Mumbai. The poor can go to Ambernath, which is one stop away from Hell. Now, to come to my point, why is it that the media only talks about the Shanghai model? (Shanghai, incidentally, banished its poor nearly 35 kms outside city limits.) So why is it that only these voices are heard? Perhaps a look at the ratio between advertising space to article space might be a useful indicator of how deep-seated corporate control over mainstream media is.

No, I am not talking about a theatre that will showcase a kind of utilitarian, ancient Marxist themes. Of course not. That would be easy, as well as less of a risk, as one could predict at the very start that they would reinforce the very stereotypes they set out to fight. What I am saying is that we reinvent ourselves, (that should also be easy, as we are yet to be invented) and experiment with our forms and stay keenly aware of our own theatrical style and technique. Not in order to follow our self styled rules, but to constantly reorient ourselves. To be in a state of constant flux that would show in our theatre, in its very form.

This self-consciousness of our theatre would translate into, as I said, a metatheatrical model, which, while commenting on itself, will comment on the world.

I do not have any grandiose dreams of waking up one morning and changing the world. But that does not mean I accept without comment or protest, the majority hegemony. If all this seems pointless idealistic wankery, I can only quote, by way of example, the criticism of existentialist philosophy. A philosophy that sets out as a ‘hopeless’ philosophy, and considers itself deeply optimistic, for it puts man in control of his own situation, and is intended to protest against power structures; existentialism has faced criticism of being too idealistic. It is idealistic because it dares to defy the institutionalized. All protest or fundamental questioning of systems has been safeguarded against in this manner, by branding essential interrogation to be idealistic, romantic, quixotic and ultimately, futile.

The strange, the unexpected, the unacceptable and the unthinkable – this should be our domain.

All I am saying is, let there be endeavour. I am not saying we change the world, only that we try to!

After all, it is best to be pragmatic in these cynical times.


Ditty said...

Dear Vivek,
Though I desperatedly wanted to comment 'intelligently' on the articles on your blog I realised the research required to fully comprehend it was,how should I say,a deterrent. So I shall restrict myself to saying "Yes.Nice layout.Uncomplicated" Sniff Sniff!! Unlike Mark Twain I did let my schooling interfere with my education ;-)

V. said...


thanks for the kind words on my layout.

considering your schooling was at bhavan's, i have no doubt it interefered a LOT with your education!

Ditty said...

Hey,Back Off! You went to fucking CV. Its a wonder you haven't lost your sanity! (Er...or have you?)

V. said...


our greeting at CV was used to be 'Hari Om' and we used to attend bhajan sessions once a fortnight. of course, i was struck down by various mysterious illnesses from Ebola to dengue on those days.


PS: an ex senior writes for anirudhha bahal's!