July: Dramaturgy, Open University and other ideas

A stream of visitors to the farm. The first avocados. A blitz of Bermuda cherries. A herd of wild boar who rooted around for fragrant khus-like grass bulbs. Rumours of elephants.
Then the team from Centre for Study of Culture and Society on retreat at Infinite Souls. http://cscs.res.in/

Long conversations into the night; about music, Ahmedabad in the 70's, the Identity Project, Aadhar Card. Ashish Rajyadaksha knows Konarak from that time, via the Emergency and rock concerts at NID. I first met Tejaswini Niranaja, during the research and making of Guhya, through her feminist writings, translations and writings on translation. Her idea that translation can be a tool for resistance, that used effectively, the very act of translation can be potentially disruptive, is a powerful one and has had an impact on many of us struggling with issues of multilinguality and form in contemporary performance. No more abject recipients and, further, conduits of words, but more cognizant of the embedded politics of language and text.

Woken early by squabbling peacocks, we walked up the hill to look on Savandurga by dawn. The dogs ran ahead of us, sure footed, eager, 3 patches of beige and white and one flash of black Maggi.


I've been wanting to organize and host a Dramaturgy Workshop for a while, inspired by Germany and the Boy with a Suitcase experience, and it all came together in July. Riding on the zeitgeist of all the new writing coming out of Bangalore, we gathered together, well... tremulously, is the word that comes to mind. We were: Arundhati Raja, Gautam Raja, Swar Thounaojam, Ram Ganesh Kamatham, Mallika Prasad, Kamal Pruthi, Deepika Arwind and Ruhi Jhunjhunwala. And me. Just a small group who had put out new works (that included text in English) in the last year and were interested to participate and hone our craft. Ruhi would be our scribe.

The plan was simple and open ended. I would make a presentation on Dramaturgy in general (from traditional to contemporary tenets) and thus a case for intervention between the points of writing and direction. And we would then, in small groups, make dramaturgical interpretations of 6 scripts. The framework for analysis I shared with the group was:
1. Language
2. Form
- Physical Dramaturgy
- Vocal Dramaturgy
- Musical Dramaturgy
- Dramaturgy of Silence
3. Content
4. Voice
5. References and referencing

The scripts we worked on were:
Bogeysystems - Swar (We didn't have the time for Lucky Lobster, though Swar submitted this as well)
The Wedding Party - Kirtana
Coding Music & Vydehi - Gautam Raja
Nobody Sleeps Alone - Deepika

It was bloody hard work, brave work, and yet we plowed through it, only stopping for food and chai. By around 9pm, we were about done, having presented the interpretations to the playwrights involved. Of course there was blood shed, what decent process would expect anything less.

Later in the night, Suresh Jayaram, the hugely well versed curator and founder of 1 Shanti Road made a lovely presentation on Representation of Body in Indian Art. He rooted it in the links between visual artists and performers, beginning with the outward gaze of Raja Ravi Varma's Galaxy of Musicians and taking us through G.Ravinder Reddy's giant bronzes of Telengana women and N.Pushpamala's frozen, highly referenced critiques of female stereotypes. Me, I fell in love with Anupam Sud's stage-like prints. 

Galaxy of Musicians

N.Pushpamala's The Other and The Mother

G.Ravinder Reddy

Anupam Sud


The next morning, the playwrights spoke briefly about their process and intention as a sort of riposte to the previous day's interpretations. Response, but not justification. It is an eternal battle, between playwright and director. The one's fight for autonomy and artistic independence and the other dragging in that damned fourth wall dilemma - the audience. It raises two questions immediately: Does the playwright write to keep the audience happy? Should the director care about keeping the audience happy? If we substitute 'happy' with 'provoked' there would be no argument. There is a certain sad futility associated with merely catering to an audience and the sub text of the battle is the knowledge that artistic freedom must be absolute. That intrinsic to artistic freedom, is artistic responsibility... and the rest is moot.

But hey, we don't gather for a Dramaturgy Workshop for the good times, right?! A meeting of artists with very different world views, contexts and intentions is bound to be fraught. Hopefully we took baby steps in seeking each other through close readings of text and discussions.

An issue that kept raising itself was that of 'the political'. Is the act of doing theatre, itself a political one? Are we being sufficiently responsive to our times? How has our post colonial history impacted us? How strong is our resistance through the act of theatre?

The other was transculturality. Since several of us had recently been involved in collaborations or trainings with other countries, we spoke a lot about the equations involved. It appears we haven't moved far from Said's Orientalism. Often, even a fairly exposed or evolved collaborator will err in favour of tradition over modernity, unwittingly choosing the embedded value systems the tradition also includes. Choose the mask over the face, so to speak. Let alone foreign collaborators, Mallika spoke of watching a koodiattam performance and then having someone ask if she could do the same! We asked why an urban contemporary artist must be compared to a traditional artist. Apples and pears. Why isn't a traditional artist asked to challenge the politics of gender and feudalism instead?

There were four questions I asked that we try and answer. Suffice it to say, we didn't. Well, not completely. But the questions have been tabled and we are mindful of them and struggling to frame answers in the context of a rapidly evolving Bangalore.

1. Why theatre?
2. Theatre for whom?
3. How do we deal with the changing spectator?
4. Can we be or should we be transcultural?

We ended with 2 promises from Jagriti Theatre that bode well for the future of new works. An online window for new scripts that will be actively promoted and facilitated by Jagriti. A festival of new works at Jagriti. There was also a feeling, perhaps not strongly articulated, but felt - that we should be directing each other's works. That directors, instead of looking elsewhere, should begin by directing plays that have evolved locally. If not as big productions then at least as works in progress, at least to increase community, a sense of solidarity and with empathy for each other's process.

With this, we look forward. To expanding our Dramaturgy Workshops into a public forum, open to all who are interested. To evolving modern Indian tenets of dramaturgy. To working in interdisciplinary ways. To, like Lilly in The Hotel New Hampshire "...keep trying to grow." And unlike Lilly, "...to keep passing the open windows."


The Dramaturgy Workshop peeps had barely left, when the Open University folks came in! What joy, to have so many friends at Infinite Souls in the course of just a month. To see familiar faces after so many years. Chellam Bennurkar, director of Kutty Japanin Kuzhandaigal, the seminal documentary film on child labour in the fireworks industry of Sivakasi and an old, old friend of our home. Corinne Kumar, whose very face and presence is enough to gladden anyone's heart, one of the Mothers of C.I.E.D.S collective, Vimochana and AWHRC (Asian Women's Human Rights Commission). Anita Ratnam, who I met 20 years ago, when Samvada had published the first ever study on Child Sexual Abuse in India and we used this study in the making of "My Children who should be running, thru Vast, Open, Spaces...' Srini Kaddur, wonderful man, who has a farm in Magadi and a tamarind grove not far from us and who is also part of C.I.E.D.S. Ishrath who works with Samvada. Suresh Jayaram of 1 Shanti Road who stayed over after the Dramaturgy Workshop, bless him. I had asked MD Pallavi to come as well, as she was on the cusp of both: her play C Sharp C Blunt, directed by Sophia Stepf, is one of the new works of the the year generated in Bangalore plus I thought she would enjoy witnessing the Open University dialogues. Kotaganahlli Ramiah was the one missing person, but we held his energy and ideas close. As Pattabhi's younger brother Shiv would say this group "... could have been seated at a banquet for the Gods".

This was our third meeting to forward Corinne's idea of an Open University, with a focus on justice and gender, for marginalized youth. She has the experience of running such a model in Tunisia for many years, working in the Arab world with all the restrictions of a police state. We sat beneath the banyan tree and dreamt out loud what we each wanted for this university. Inspiring to listen to the various experiences and ideas the group brought to the table. (check out their websites for a serious buzz) For me, the dream is to explore Sakshi-path deeksha, for want of another phrase. The concept of the individual as Witness. I first had this idea when I saw Amar Kanwar's The Lightning Testimonies. What would it be like, were we to understand the power and potential of each of us, as Witness? Would this enhance our sense of agency and engagement with the world around us? Would we then be less cynical, less apathetic?

We decided to make a small start with a Hunime Habba in Vardenahalli. We spoke with Nagamma, Sankaramma and Lakshmamma and asked them what they thought? How many people would attend? How does a play by Ramiah's Adhima group from Kolar sound? And some music? Janapada? Dollu? Harikathe? Once Nagamma bit, there was no turning back. So dates were fixed in November.

And that's that, right? We can only perform, put ourselves out there and see what happens next. Talk to our neighbours, Rame Gowda, Hanumanthappa and Ramchandra, spread the word, meet by moonlight and enjoy some theatre and music together. Side by side.

Sounds like a start to me.



  1. Hi Kirtana! I've nominated your blog for a Liebster Award - go to my Art Earth Ink Soul blog and see the 24 Sept post for details! - Nazu

    1. Nazu, I am thrilled and excited and can't wait to respond!! More soon :)))))