Jainendra Kumar Dost

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year and six months

This grant supports Delhi based independent researcher Jainendra Dost to study the developments and changes in the Launda Naach performances in the Bihar region since the 1990s. In order to locate the evolution, the researcher will focus on the transformations that this art form has undergone and how these shifts impacted the overall performative aspects forming new aesthetic sensibilities for Launda Naach.

Launda Naach is a popular folk-drama form of Bihar. Cherished in oral traditions over decades, the history of its inception remains a disputed territory since there are no archival records to help in tracing its past. However, the common assumption is that it began during the colonial period in India. Since women were forbidden from taking part in theatrical performances, male actors started impersonating female roles while taking on multiple tasks of playing different characters in a single performance, both male and female, and worked as musicians in the same performance. The form is performed by lower castes, but it has secured audience amidst upper castes who play the role of patrons by organising performances to demonstrate their social status. While the patrons see this form as sheer entertainment, for the performers it is a true expression of their social condition. Thus the popular saying goes Naach kaanch hai, baat sach hai, - Naach is the mirror, and whatever said in there is the truth.  

Jainendra Dost aims to look at the transformations that this art form underwent with deep influences from TV, cinema, and cassette industry since 1990s. The significant changes brought about by the new audio and visual mediums are apparent in the way the songs in Naach performances that were traditionally composed by the artists themselves are now directly adapted from films and television. The costumes, make-up, body movements – in essence the aesthetics of the form - are also derived from films. Based on this premise the researcher will analyse the various elements that over time formed this new aesthetics of  Naach, which may have not only affected the ways in which actors are trained, but also the way in which the audience engages with the performance.

The researcher finds it significant to discern the reason behind the spectator’s inclination for female impersonations by males in Naach even today when women are free to be on stage. He will also study how and to what extent this art form has received influences from contemporary dance and theatrical practices, thereby reshaping its own aesthetics. Building on the premises of theories of gender identities that were developing in the west in 1990s when this art form was undergoing drastic transformations here, the researcher aims to locate how artists saw their own positions within society. Problematising the idea of gender, Jainendra further seeks to question the double standards of society which at one end enjoys the entertainment provided by the artists, but at the other, vilifies them as obscene and vulgar, treating them as traditional prostitutes responsible for various sexual diseases. Therefore, enquiries into the ideas of morality, made more complex with the caste and class associated with this art form, is a significant part of Jainendra’s research.

In order to find answers for his study, he will conduct interviews with the artists/communities active before and after 1990s to map the trajectory of transformations in  Naach. He will interview the audiences, who have witnessed these transformations over time and the formation of a new aesthetics for this form. A set of interviews with young artists who practice today will also be conducted to understand the training process they go through before performing on stage. Another set of interviews will be conducted with senior artists across seven districts of Bihar in order to discern the contexts of Naach before and after the 1990s.

The outcome of this project will be a manuscript for a book in Hindi, with a CD carrying the interviews and excerpts from the Naach performances.

This grant was made possible with support from the Bajaj Group.