Ashutosh Potdar

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year

This grant supports Pune-based researcher, Ashutosh Potdar, in the study of the idea and practice of natak as a part of early performance practices in India (with special focus on Marathi theatre). The research seeks to explore theatre in relation to social beliefs, identities across caste and class formations, and modes of performance with reference to other mediums of expression. Practice and discourse are the two strands of this project.

The first strand seeks to investigate the modes of production, consumption, and dissemination of theatre practices in early colonial Maharashtra, examining expressions and receptions of Khel (play), its evolution under the proscenium arch, followed by the proceedings of the practice reflected through the professional theatre companies. This project will explore the prevalent systems available for the artists to learn from, and will also delve into the complex and diverse ways in which they contributed to evolving new systems. Examining the social structure of the performing groups and the caste and class formations in which the artists found themselves, the project would address the issues that artists from lower castes faced in the process of becoming publically observed actors. It will also look at how owners of theatre companies understood social structures of the time. In order to understand the dialogic relationships between linguistic and regional contexts that played a key role in the shaping of natak, Ashutosh aims to closely analyse pre-colonial and colonial performing traditions that were not homogenously drawn and linearly arranged, but were constantly overlapping with other existing traditions such as the Kannada and Parsi theatre practices. This will also help him understand their influences on each other.  To identify specific changes that influenced the making of natak as a genre distinct from khel or aata, the researcher proposes to undertake a comparative study based upon the archival data of the music-theatre companies performed by the upper caste Brahmins and a form of performance, the Satyashodhak Jalasas, introduced by Mahatama Phule to promote the ‘truth seeker’s’ movement of the marginalised castes. This will help Ashutosh gain new insights into theatre histories of Maharashtra and unearth various other factors that are hitherto absent from existing discourses.

The second strand of this project seeks to focus on the documentarian and historical consciousness that reflected in the discourse on early colonial theatre. Critical analysis of the plays and performances would lead the researcher to shed some fresh light on the sense of history, bodily memory, and shared spaces represented in the performance practices of the time.

The outcome of this research will be a monograph in Marathi in addition to a series of essays that will be published in journals. Ashutosh also plans to present his work and hold discussions with students of literature and theatre studies. Scanned copies of plays, book covers and advertisements collected during the research process will be made available through CDs to various libraries. In the long term, he also envisions writing a play that draws upon this research.      


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