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Tuesday, January 09, 2001

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Punjabi drama

IN SEARCH OF PUNJABI THEATRE REPRESENTING WOMAN: Pankaj K. Singh; Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Niwas, Summer Hill, Simla-171005. Rs. 325.

A MUSLIM majority province until the other day, the Punjab does not have any cultural tradition of theatre as such. Raslila and Ramlila, as performed occasionally in the Hindu dominated sectors of the society, were faint echoes of the neighbouring States, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The induction of Parsi theatre in the early part of the 20th century in urban areas in the north by professional groups who toured the country was overtaken by movies first by silent films followed by talkies.

There being no theatre halls, the amateur drama clubs were restricted to colleges. G. D. Sondhi, a great drama buff, had an open-air theatre carved out of an ancient mound in a public garden in Lahore which too was snatched away from the non-Muslim Punjabis by the Partition, with the result that all theatre activity in the Punjab today is essentially amateurish. Radio drama contributed its bit by providing the writers a window for occasional drama scripts and the young aspirants to style themselves as drama artists.

An attempt at reviewing theatre in the north by J. C. Mathur during his tenure as Director General, All India Radio in the 1950s by directing AIR stations to organise performance of plays before invited audience and broadcast them simultaneously was doomed to premature death since the designed marriage of the two media, audio and visual, as conceived did not come about. Barring Balwant Gargi, Kapur Singh Ghuman and Ajmer Singh Aulakh, one cannot think of anyone in the Punjab who can claim to have taken to theatre seriously.

Therefore, there is no such thing as Punjabi theatre despite the fact that universities in the Punjab do have theatre departments. Whatever talent they throw out is absorbed by radio stations which, of late, have multiplied or it moves to Mumbai, lured by films.

Since there is no theatre, there are hardly any playwrights exclusively devoted to drama.

Sant Singh Sekhon wrote plays to give his pen respite from writing fiction and literary criticism. This is what could, at best, be claimed as translation or adoption of Kalidasa and Shakespeare.

The Indian Institute of Advanced Study has to be commended, therefore, for getting one of its fellows to make a serious study of the Punjabi drama and that too in a sector which is in the news today. A lot of labour seems to have been put in though claims that ``Drama in modern India has the distinction of being an art form inspired by the colonisers and of simultaneously being the reason of countering colonialism'' appear to be half- truth, more in respect of the Punjab.

It is perhaps more true to say in respect of drama in the Punjab that ``its specific aim is to acquaint the present with the glorious past.'' As there can hardly be a tale without a woman figuring in it the study has focussed on women. Be that as it may, the present endeavour is a meaningful contribution to the area of women's studies in our times.

K. S. DUGGAL

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