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Let the colours be


March 27 is World Theatre Day. This year too, like it has been in the last couple of years, theatre groups will hold protests across the country, objecting to the lop-sided cultural policy of the Central Government. National theatre has come to mean theatre in Hindi, robbing it of its rich multi-cultural hues

MANY FACES Theatre is the coming together of many lingusitic and cultural expressions

It is world theatre day all over again. World Theatre Day was sponsored by UNESCO and is celebrated the world over. On March 27 every year, as a reminder of the freedom of expression of the mankind. This world still has nations and communities from within it that keep curtailing human expression. They do so through political dictatorship, through religious fatwa... censorship etc.

In every such act of suppression theatre is the worst hit. Natyashastra, the classical treatise on Indian theatre, records that in the very first play produced by Bharatamuni (in fact by his sons) was attacked. We know the examples of Irish theatre, Black American theatre, Indian street theatre of the emergency days that were attacked for speaking against the establishment.

Freedom of expression

In fact freedom of expression is so central to the theatre movement that quite often a theatre production that is not controversial enough in doubted upon. But then India is free. Indian constitution guarantees freedom of expression. And this buoyant capitalist economy has freed theatre altogether. It has painlessly killed theatre. Who will you protest against? Mr. Tata, Mr. Birla, Mr. Narayana Murthy or Mr. Deve Gowda? No, we blame ourselves for being too busy, too tired, too much of pollution on the roads. Too much of a hassle to go all the way to Kalakshetra. We might as well sit at home and watch a soap-opera!

Yes! Theatre is no good, unless you want to participate in the no-good activity. It was theatre that made us come together. But now we don't need to come together. We can all individually watch television from the comfort of our homes.

If this is one scenario, there is another side to it. The regions of India; the regional languages and regional expressions. The culture, the mother tongue. Indian theatre, when it existed, it did so in the mother tongue. It has been so since the middle ages; since the time Sankrit language declined and regional languages gained momentum. So, on World Theatre Day, I would like to look at the plight of theatres-in-the mother tongue. What have we done to nourish it?

Very, very little. In fact, we have been segregating Indian theatre into two. The Delhi-based Hindi theatre as National theatre and the "theatres-in-the mother tongue" as regional theatre. National theatres are pampered through central funding, National institutions and international exposure. Regional theatre is left to the mercy of the respective State Governments. This unconstitutional and undemocratic segregation is done in spite of the equal status given to all the national languages of India. Kannada is a national language in the State of Karnataka but a mere regional language in the State of India!

Take the example of a Tamil Student who wants to join the National School of Drama at Delhi. He is refused admission, if he is not fluent in Hindi. Even if you get admitted somehow (mainly because of political compulsions), you are made to unlearn your own mother tongue, in the name of diction training and then forced to learn Hindi, in order to act. It is a shame. There have been protests. Abhivyakti Abhiyaan, a national movement for the development of "Theatre-in-the mother tongue" has bee holding protest demonstrations all over the country. Every year, for the last several years, it has been holding protest demonstration on the World Theatre Day, demanding the repeal of this lopsided culture policy of the Government of India.

Abhivyakti Abhiyaan in demanding the setting up National Schools of Drama and National Repertory Company in each of the national language of India. Apart from this Abhivyakti Abhiyaan in focussing attention on the enormous social utility of theatre. Theatre is recognised the world over as an "entertaining instructor" and as an informal language instructor.

These two aspects of theatre has enormous significance in safeguarding regional cultures as well as the mother tongue of our people. Abhivyakti Abhiyaan is demanding that "educational theatre" be included in the new educational policy of the Central government in a big way.

There is a crying need to develop community theatre. Both the rural India as well as the urban ghetto's hopelessly lack infrastructure for culture expression. This is leading to social tensions and criminalisation of poorer communities. Abhivyakti Abhiyaan is also demanding that the entertainment industry be imposed a punitive tax for mindlessly destroying the cultural ecological balance. And such a tax be utilised for cultural rejuvenation of theatre movement in India.

This year also there will be protest meetings. I do hope the Department of Culture, Government of India wakes up to the situation before it is too late.

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