fbpx

From Calcutta To Madras, How Pre-Independence Theatre Brought Forth India’s Freedom In 1947

Follow Us On

The mention of theatre, perhaps the pioneer among performance arts, rarely pops up in the context of the Indian Independence movement. However, history reveals that regional theatre played a significant role in mobilising mass awareness against the autocratic British regime. So much so, that in 1876, the British Government enacted the Dramatic Performances Act, aiming to curb the creative freedom of Indian theatre. It is often said that this Act, which is still prevalent in its amended forms in a number of Indian states, laid the basis of censorship in Indian cinema much later.

On World Theatre Day, Efforts For Good revisits the glorious days of pre-Independence Indian theatre and its unsung contribution to India’s freedom.

Calcutta – the epicentre of nationalist theatre

At the forefront of pre-independence theatre in India, Calcutta was perhaps the hotspot of a budding nationalistic sentiment. The growing anti-British mindset was evident in contemporary literature. Authors penned plays depicting the real picture of British atrocities in rural India, among which Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nil Darpan deserve special mention.

The heart-wrenching play was based on the British oppression of the impoverished indigo farmers of Bengal. The staging of the play on December 8, 1872, remains a landmark event in history, as it successfully stirred the whos who of Bengal nationalist politics as well as the common urban masses.

Another interesting trend noticed in contemporary theatre performances was the regular stage adaptation of notable incidents involving British authorities. Satire dominated in some of the plays, which slyly called out the Indian aristocracy, infamous as sycophants of the British. While other stage performances unabashedly painted the true picture of poverty, tyranny and stalled progress under the colonial rule.

National Theatre, the forum of nationalist playwrights and theatricians of Bengal set up during this time must be mentioned. Shortage of funds and lack of experience in the evolved genre of modern theatre failed to mellow the patriotic spirit of the people involved. Before its emergence, the urban audience found folk theatre as their only form of entertainment, which was often accused of being vulgar and scurrilous.

However, National Theatre did away with the controversial ill-fame of theatre art and gave birth to a new form of polished amusement, which also served as an eye-opener to the commoners. It was at this juncture that theatre was commercialised, where a nominal fee was charged from the spectators, as opposed to the earlier forms of folk theatre which were free, random and informal.

Charges of sedition against the group were recurrent, but could not subdue their enthusiasm.

News dailies continually urged the group to take their art into the interiors of India, to spread awareness among the rural masses. Accordingly, a fresh aspect appeared in the backdrop of Bengali theatre, which now penetrated the nooks and corners of the province. Taking help of the folk theatre like Jaatra, the seed of nationalism was being sown. In a July 1904 speech, Nobel Laureate author Rabindranath Tagore emphasised on using the medium of Jaatra to awaken and unite the rural indigenous population.

Madras and the legacy of Tamil ‘Protest’ Theatre

Aside from Bengal, Tamil Nadu also played a crucial role in nationalistic theatre. Contrary to the gradually brewing patriotism in Bengal theatre over the span of almost half a century, a similar narrative arrived prominently in Tamil theatre mainly after the gruesome Jallianwalabagh massacre of 1919. Before this, between 1905 and 1915, Annie Besant’s Home Rule Movement triggered a lot of theatrical productions delineating the importance and need for the same.

Centred around Madras, the group of Tamil ‘Protest’ Playwrights gave rise to a brand new form of theatre, deviating from the traditional dance-drama-music pattern. In these plays, contemporary Tamil literature, existing folk culture and modern English stagecraft were amalgamated together. The depiction of political and social themes, mostly allegorical but often direct, defined this new era of Tamil theatre. Metaphoric and indirect expression of anti-colonial sentiments was adopted to avoid the axe of censorship. Even in melodramatic plays, the essence of patriotism was camouflaged perhaps in the dialogues, characterisation or backdrop of the story. Khaddar, charka and Gandhiji’s ideology were found as essential symbolism in these plays. Dramatists Subramaniya Bharathi and T.P. Krishnaswamy Pavalar deserve special mention in this context. Interestingly, the Dramatic Performances Act of 1876 did not have that severe an impact on Tamil theatre, since it was more stringently imposed to curtail the rising anti-colonial narrative in North India.

In the countryside, folk theatre at this time had an interesting additional feature of catchy patriotic songs, which were easy to memorise by the masses. Later, the culture of these songs became a part of mainstream urban theatre as well.

Contribution of other states

Apart from Bengal and Tamil Nadu, other states also contributed a pivotal amount to the nationalist theatre. For instance, in Maharashtra, P.L.Deshpande, Shahir Sable attempted to create a sense of unity among the people through their patriotic literary works and consequent stage adaptations. Among folk theatres, Burrakatha of Andhra Pradesh, Bhavai of Gujrat and Tamasha of Maharashtra also spread social awareness, often condemning social ills and colonial despotism.

IPTA – the final push

The next chapter of importance in the history of pre-Independence Indian theatre comes in 1941 with the foundation of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). Involving eminent playwrights from all over India, this association was more inclined towards the slowly growing communist philosophy, which blatantly called out the capitalistic exploitation by the British, which was the sole cause of recurring famines and persisting poverty in India. The graphic portrayal of the dire scenario definitely hit the masses hard, pushing them a notch ahead to bring forth the Indian Independence.


Reference:

https://www.pmindia.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Extracts-of-the-Committee-of-the-Report-Vol.I-.pdf

AESTHETICS AS RESISTANCE: RASA, DHVANI, AND EMPIRE IN TAMIL “PROTEST” THEATER – DHEEPA SUNDARAM

Indian Folk Theatre Instrumental in Independent India’s Socio-Political Transformation By Sayali Indulkar

THEATRE FOR DEVELOPMENT IN INDIAN CONTEXT: AN INTROSPECTION – Priyam Basu Thakur

FOLK THEATRE-ITS RELEVANCE IN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATION IN INDIA – Sheelita Das

Also Read: Even After 163 Years, An Indian Woman’s French & English Poetry Is Celebrated Worldwide

Love this story? Want to share a positive story?
Write to us: [email protected]
Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram

Let us know your thoughts on this story

Support the cause you care for. Browse All CampaignsBrowse all campaigns

Supporting Education Of COVID Hit Students

19,200 Raised
Out of 20,00,000

Share

Supporting Acid Attack Survivors During COVID

26,651 Raised
Out of 20,00,000

Share

Providing Clothes To Tribal Children

1,11,860 Raised
Out of 9,00,000

Share

Back To School : Supporting Rural Education

28,631 Raised
Out of 15,00,000

Share

Rahat COVID: Relief Work by Goonj

1,04,887 Raised
Out of 10,00,000

Share

No To Hunger : Free Meals To Underprivileged

5,87,014 Raised
Out of 10,00,000

Share

Provide Ambulance : Help Them Reach Hospital On Time

3,82,370 Raised
Out of 10,00,000

Share

Support Pranitha To Donate Oxygen And Ration Kits

8,35,618 Raised
Out of 10,00,000

Share

Project Annapoorna : Become A Hunger Warrior

7,582 Raised
Out of 1,50,000

Share

The Stray Project : A Thought Of Humanity

41,094 Raised
Out of 2,50,000

Share

Ended

Stand By Ladakh

40,962 Raised
Out of 1,00,000

Share

Closed

Support our Frontline COVID Warriors

25,615 Raised
Out of 5,00,000

Share

KHAANACHAHIYE: Fighting Hunger In COVID19

97,02,146 Raised
Out of 1,00,00,000

Share

Campaign Closed
Brought machinery

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

1,36,544 Raised
Out of 3,85,000

Share

9 Happy Fridges Installed
Ordered a minivan and sent for modification

Campaigns Suggested

View All Campaigns
Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

Follow Us On

With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
Support the cause you care for. Browse All CampaignsBrowse all campaigns

Supporting Education Of COVID Hit Students

19,200 Raised
Out of 20,00,000

Share

Supporting Acid Attack Survivors During COVID

26,651 Raised
Out of 20,00,000

Share

Providing Clothes To Tribal Children

1,11,860 Raised
Out of 9,00,000

Share

Back To School : Supporting Rural Education

28,631 Raised
Out of 15,00,000

Share

Rahat COVID: Relief Work by Goonj

1,04,887 Raised
Out of 10,00,000

Share

No To Hunger : Free Meals To Underprivileged

5,87,014 Raised
Out of 10,00,000

Share

Provide Ambulance : Help Them Reach Hospital On Time

3,82,370 Raised
Out of 10,00,000

Share

Support Pranitha To Donate Oxygen And Ration Kits

8,35,618 Raised
Out of 10,00,000

Share

Project Annapoorna : Become A Hunger Warrior

7,582 Raised
Out of 1,50,000

Share

The Stray Project : A Thought Of Humanity

41,094 Raised
Out of 2,50,000

Share

Ended

Stand By Ladakh

40,962 Raised
Out of 1,00,000

Share

Closed

Support our Frontline COVID Warriors

25,615 Raised
Out of 5,00,000

Share

KHAANACHAHIYE: Fighting Hunger In COVID19

97,02,146 Raised
Out of 1,00,00,000

Share

Campaign Closed
Brought machinery

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

1,36,544 Raised
Out of 3,85,000

Share

9 Happy Fridges Installed
Ordered a minivan and sent for modification

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

Let us know your thoughts on this story

Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
Next Click right arrow to read the next story Previous