Rohit Kumar

Arts Research

Grant Period: One year and six months

Rohit Kumar is a researcher and theatre practitioner based in Rohtas, Bihar. He holds a Masters Degree and MPhil in Performing Arts from the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, Wardha Maharashtra, and a diploma in Theatre Education from the National School of Drama, Tripura. Besides teaching at various colleges, Rohit has performed in plays, conducted theatre workshops and presented papers on performing arts in many conferences and seminars across India.   

The grant will enable Rohit to study the discourse of dissent in the Natua Naach form of Bihar. Natua Naach is an ancient performing folk art practised by the Dalit communities in various parts of Bihar. Since women are not allowed to take part in the performances which are performed overnight, male actors impersonate female roles. Thematically based on Dalit folklore, Natua Naach has provided a platform to the marginalised communities to challenge caste and social hierarchies in the region, expressing their resentment against feudalism and other oppressive structures of society. Usually performed during harvest festivities, marriages, fairs, and religious festivals like Diwali and Chhat Puja, Natua Naach has become instrumental for Dalits to ascertain their cultural identity and claim their space in the cultural sphere of the region.  Its popularity has not diminished in spite of the advent of television, cinema and other electronic forms of entertainment in the region.

Rohit will examine the ways in which Dalit folklore takes the form of political expression through Natua Naach. At the same time, he will study the impact of modernisation on the Natua Naach - particularly the influences of television, and CD and cassette culture at various stages. Simultaneously, Rohit will study people’s perspectives and thoughts on the form. He will map the linkages between Natua Naach and the emergence of the regional political parties and the dissolution of socialistic thought in Bihar. Alongside this, Rohit will analyse how Natua Naach has empowered people from rural areas to fight feudal and casteist culture and counter its hegemony.

In order to understand the intellectual dimensions and challenges of Dalit folklore and dissent in Natua Naach, Rohit will explore three linguistic regions, viz. Maithili, Magahi and Bhojpuri to conduct his research. He will interview artists, folklorists, writers, musicians and audience members from the community to get a broader picture of the context within which the form is performed. For case studies, Rohit will choose a select set of folklore themes that are frequently staged through Natua Naach. For secondary research, Rohit will study the scantly available material in private and public collections such as old CDs, DVDs, and other materials.

In 2014-15, IFA supported Jainendra Kumar Dost to study the Launda Naach – a popular folk drama form of Bihar performed by lower caste communities. Both these projects complement each other in many ways. Firstly, they are both situated in the same region. Secondly, both Launda Naach and Natua Naach are performed by people from Dalit communities only. Thirdly, in both art forms, male actors impersonate female roles. And fourthly, they provide platforms for the politically and socially deprived people to voice their concerns, take on the oppressive structures and assert their cultural identity. It will be interesting to see how these projects speak to each other once Rohit’s work is complete.

Our decision in making this grant comes from our interest in supporting research projects in languages other than English, and arts practices that have received little or no attention from the academia and other supporting agencies in the arts in India. The outcome of this project will be a manuscript for a book. The Grantee’s deliverables to IFA with the final reports will be the manuscript, an audio-visual documentation of the Natua Naach performances and interviews conducted in the field. The budget is commensurate with the proposal.

This grant is made possible with support from Titan Company Limited