Journey of Indian English Drama

Drama is a composite art form. It is mimetic like all other
performing arts in literature. It
imitates life,
particularly reflecting the three unities of time,
and action. “It is designed for representation on
stage by actors who act the parts of the
of its story, and among whom the
and the dialogue are distributed.”
has a long and fertile history in Drama, starting from Sanskrit plays of Vedic
Age. Dramatists of Indian Writing in English have
scaled the length and breadth of the experimentation in dramaturgy of India
during and after independence. To fathom the depths of Indian Drama in English
certain characteristic features are to be kept in mind. Basically, the 
Indian Writings in English during Modern Age articulate the budding and the
already present writers as well as the influence of Existentialism,
Globalisation, Surrealism, Dadaism, Magic Realism and the Post Colonial issues.
India had been under the colonial shackles for a time period of three hundred years
and as a matter of fact the colonial language and culture had cast its direct
shadow on the Indian literary venues.
Classical Indian Drama: It’s Origin
in India has had a rich glorious tradition. It begins its journey with the
Sanskrit plays. Indian tradition preserved in the Natyasastra. The
oldest of the texts of the theory of the drama, claims for the drama divine
origin and a close connection with the sacred Vedas themselves. Origin of
English drama can be traced to the ancient rules and seasonal festivities of
the Vedic Aryans. The most renowned and talented dramatists of the ancient era
are Ashwaghosh, Bhasa, Shudraka, Kalidas, Harsha, Bhavabhuti, Visha-khadatta,
Bhattanarayana, Murari and Rajeshkhora, who enriched Indian theatre with their
words like Madhya-Mavyaayoda, Urubhangam, Karnabharan,
, Malankagnimitram, Uttar
, Mudrarakshasa, Bhagavadajjukam,
Pre-Independence Indian English Drama:
Indian English Drama began in the 18th century when British Empire came and
strengthened its political power in India. It is started with the publication
of Krishna Mohan Banerjee’s The
in 1813. It is a social play in which the author
tries to present the conflict between the East and the West. The real journey
of Indian English Drama begins with Michael MadhuSudan Dutt’s Is
This Called Civilization
which appeared on the literary horizon in
1871. Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo, the two great sage – poets of
India, are the first Indian dramatists in English worth considering. R.N.
Tagore wrote primarily in Bengali but almost all his Bengali plays are
available to us in English renderings. His prominent plays are Chitra,
Post Office
, Sacrifice, Red
, Chandalika, Muktadhara,
and The Mother’ Prayer etc..
These plays are firmly rooted in the Indian ethos and ethics in their themes,
characters and treatment. Sri Aurobindo’s complete plays are Perseus
the Deliverer
, Vasavadutta, Radoguna,
Viziers of Bassora and Eric
and each of these plays is written in
five acts.
Chattopadhyaya added a new dimensions to Indian English drama. He sympathizes
with the underdogs same like Mulk Raj Anand. His collection of social plays
include The Windows,
The Parrots, The Santry Lantern, The Coffin

and The Evening
Post Independence or Post Modern Indian
English Drama
M. Borgaonkar’s Image-Breakers
(1938) is a problem play that aims to break the conventions of caste
system, horoscope, dowry, etc. S. Fyzee- Rahamin’s Daughter of Ind (1940) portrays the conflict
between love and social barriers, featuring a low-caste girl loving an
Englishman. Balwant Gargi’s The
, Mung-Wa,
The Fugitive
and The Matriarch
dealt with themes which are engaging the attention of people everywhere.”
dramatic voice on the Indian literary scene that demands attention is that of
T.P. Kailasam. He wrote both in English and Kannada. Though Kailasam is
regarded as the father of modern Kannada drama, his genius finds its full
expression in his English plays such as The Burden (1933), Fulfilment (1933), The
(1944), Karna (1964) and Keechaka
Sarabhai is the modern woman playwright during the colonial era of Indian
English drama. She has written two plays The Well of the People (1943)
and Two
with some considerable measure of success.
Lobo Prabhu is the last great name in pre-Independence Indian English drama. He
has written over a dozen plays but only Mother of New India: A Play
of India Village in three Acts (1944) and Death Abdicates (1945) appear
before Independence.
use of blank verse is flawless and the last play compels us to remind of
T.S.Eliot’ s Murder In The Cathedral. Other verse plays of the period
include P.A.Krishnaswami’s The Flute of Krishna (1950)
M.Krishnamurti’s The Cloth Of Gold (1951). S.D.Rawoot’s Immortal
. Karm and The Killers (1959) Satya Dev Jaggi’s The
Point Of Light
(1967) Pritish Nandy’s Rites for a Plebian Salute
(1969). P.S. Vasudev’s The Sunflower (1972) etc.
Ezekiel’s Three Plays (1969) including Nalini: A Comedy, Marriage
: A Tragi Comedy and The Sleep Walkers: An
Indo-American farce are considered to be a welcome addition to the dramaturgy
of Indian English drama.
Karnad in the capacity of writer, director and actor substantially contributed
to enrich the tradition of Indian English theatre. His well known plays are Yayati
(1961), Tughlaq (1962), Hayvadana (1970), Nagmandala
(1972). He borrowed his plots from history, mythology and old legends.
Tendulkar symbolizes the new awareness and attempts of Indian dramatists of the
century to depict the agonies, suffocations and cries of man, focusing on the
middle class society. In the plays Silence! The Court Is In Session
(1968) and Ghasiram Kotwal (1972), the theme of oppression
dominates. Sakharam Binder (1972) is a study in human violence
amounted to powerful dramatic statement.
Das (1943- ) is known for his popular play, Larins Sahib (1970). Set in Punjab, it is
about the political career of a British Resident in Punjab. Vera Sharma wrote a
number of one act plays, including Life
is Like That
(1997) and Reminiscence
(1997) which deal with the plight of women.
Sircar too is a prestigious name in the realm of contemporary theatre. He
represents New Theatrical Movement in India. His earlier plays are Evan
(1962) That Other History (1964) and
Is No End
(1971). All these plays are based on political, social,
psychological and existential problems.
Independence era witnessed the birth of several one act plays. R. Raja Rao’s The Wisest Fool on
Earth and Other Plays
(1996) is on the theme of
homosexuality. T.S. Gill’s Asoka
(1983), V.D. Trivedi’s Gandhi:
A Play
(1983) and Prema Sastri’s Gandhi, Man of the Millions (1987),
Gieve Patel’s Princess,
and Mr. Behram, Dina Mehta,s The Myth Maker (1959)
and Brides Are Not for Burning,
Uma Parameswaram (1938- )’s Sons
Die and Other Plays
(1998) are some to
Post Modern era ushered in new changes in the Indian English drama. Mahesh
Dattani (1958- ) a playwright of World stature, has added a new feather to the
Indian English drama. His plays deal with serious and sensitive issues like
communalism, homosexuality, female infanticide, domestic abuse, child sexual
abuse, condition of eunuchs in Indian society. His plays include Where There’s a Will, Tara, Bravely Fought the Queen, Final Solutions, Dance
like A Man
and Thirty
Days in September
Sum up:
Indian Drama in English falls short of the level reached by poetry and fiction
in India. There are four reasons for this: i) drama is essentially a composite
art involving the playwright, the actors and the audience in a shared
experience on the stage-has its own problem of which the other literary forms
are free. ii) As Srinivas Iyenger attributes “the failure to the fact that
English is not a natural medium of conversation in India.”
 iii) Lack of
living theatre in our country. iv) The Indian English playwrights do not give
much importance to the rich and varied Indian dramatic traditions involving the
native myth and Indian historical heritage.
short, Indo-Anglican literature continues to grow and flourish and this despite
all the misguided and prejudiced and politically motivated campaign against
English as a foreign language, a language which comes in the way of its growth.
More Indians are writing in English than ever before, and the Indo-Anglican
writer is enjoying a much wider market. Indo-Anglican drama has, indeed, a
bright future.

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