Institute of Economic Growth

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Three Days

This grant provides partial support for a three-day international conference titled Reviewing Disciplinary Agendas in Theatre Studies: Cultural Arenas, Policies, Institutions, which will address a crucial phase in the history of theatrical activity (1930-1970) in India. The conference will be held at the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) from January 23 to 25, 2008, followed by a research and translation project. The historical period on which the conference focuses was characterised by critical transitions in various cultural practices. From their pre-Independence form as popular and commercially viable vehicles of mass social and political communication, these practices became elite art forms fostered through a range of state interventions in the post-Independence years. It is during these decades that one sees performance practices like the theatre, in particular, acquiring the markers of high culture. In fact, writing the history of the theatre of the period implies an investigation of the formal, organisational and ideological manoeuvres through which the emerging middle classes shaped both its normative categories and its patronage networks.

The key thrust of the conference is to critique the current perspectives on post-independence cultural history in South Asian studies. Certain ways of writing cultural history have prevented a rigorous and open-minded analysis of the travelling of forms across governmental, linguistic and territorial spaces. On the other hand, social histories of the cinema and the theatre, for instance, have been mired in disciplinary agendas that have sought to create discrete historical narratives. While mapping transformation, disciplines like sociology and political science have not treated the domains of literature, performance and cinema as interconnected sites of cultural production, circulation and reception. The conference stresses the need to produce cultural histories that are attentive to the specificity of regional cultural dynamics within India. The primary objective is to go beyond nationalist paradigms and the binaries like high/low, national/regional and classical/folk, and pay attention to how the imperatives of cultural markets, technology, patronage and the structures of marginalisation work across regional and national terrains.

The spectrum of sources will include essays in theatre journals; writings on theatre in newspapers/literary periodicals; official records and regulations; letters, memoirs and biographies; publicity materials; and records, notebooks and scripts of particular troupes. The research and translation project will explore such pertinent materials in Bengali, Marathi, Hindi and Kannada. A consultant editor for each of these languages will be responsible for identifying the sources, collating and annotating them, and choosing a translator for a compendium in English. Research papers generated from the project are expected to be published in a special issue of a reputed theatre studies journal and/or as an edited volume by an academic publisher. The translated materials on regional theatre histories will be published in collaboration with the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi. 

The themes to be explored in the conference and carried forward into the research and translation project are (a) cultural transitions from theatre to silent cinema and silent cinema to the talkies; (b) regional theatre histories; (c) Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and its legacy; (d) the privileging of middle class amateur arts practice and Indian cultural modernism; (e) Akademi  Reports and  post-1947 cultural institutions and policies; and (f) the emergence of theatre modernism and the post-1947 public sphere. The conference will comprise of two keynote addresses, five panels and a performance event. There will be 25 panelists and 20 delegates from India and abroad.