The Indian theatre has been in existence since 2nd century BCE and 1st century CE.
Since then it has only flourished in India and even after the various rulers of our country tried to tamp down on this art form, it has still retained its essence.
During the Islamic rule in India, such kind of theatre was frowned upon and even forbidden/restricted in certain areas. In that time, village theatre emerged as a means of entertainment and till date, theatre is a big source of entertainment.
In the past few decades, it has branched out to even include ‘nukad-nataak’ which is done on the streets and usually carries a strong social message with it.
However, theatre in India, even with its rich history has not been able to attain the same level of respect and popularity that Broadway theatre enjoys in the US or the European theatre has in the UK.
Let us take a look at what those reasons might be:
1. It Is All About The Seating:
First, I should clear up the fact that ‘Broadway’ is not about the actual location of the theatre, that is, the Broadway Street in New York as it is popularly assumed.
But the actual meaning of ‘Broadway’ is how many people it can accommodate. Theatres that have more than 500 seats can come under the category of ‘Broadway’ even if their location is not on that actual street.
Imagine filling up 500 or more people just to watch a theatre production, only a handful have been able to achieve this success. That is why Indian theatre can never be like Broadway because it would be near impossible to get so many people to watch one theatre production.
Even if we set aside all the problems that theatre productions have to face, it is extremely difficult to find and maintain such a large theatre and still continue to make profits.
Especially in these days when theatre is something only frequented by seniors, wannabe artists, and people who have way too much free time.
Censorship has become a bane for us common people now when our favourite movies and social media is being regulated. But theatre productions in India have been suffering from it for years and without any powerful backing have had to succumb to the demands being made.
In an article by The Guardian, Anupama Chandrasekhar an Indian playwright voiced out her agitation with how censored theatre really is, along with the fear of fights and vandalism by certain groups.
This is even more of a problem when it comes to political theatre and productions that touch upon any topic that might not be in accordance with the majority. Chandrasekhar also pointed out how ‘sanitized’ and ‘escapist’ theatre or entertainment is becoming popular and how dangerous it can be.
3. No Backing:
Having some backing can be extremely helpful in promoting, having better production quality and even bring in more viewers.
Unfortunately, no big companies or media houses seem to be backing theatre productions as they are not considered to be profitable ventures.
Most of the attention has always been given to Bollywood, TV and now web-series and short-films, leaving little room for theatre productions.
Without much backing, theatre productions are left struggling to gather up funds for not just the direction and making, but also advertising it, the salary of the actors, costumes, maintenance of the actual theatre and more.
As one could see from last year’s Thespo, Mumbai’s annual youth theatre festival that struggled to get enough crowd-funding to hold the festival properly.
There are almost no sponsors or cash in today’s contemporary Indian theatre, although the international ones that do well are backed by their own company, like Beauty and The Beast that has the Disney label to it.
4. Lack Of Audience:
A summation of all the above points results in this one, being lack of audience. If there are no people to watch these productions then it is only a matter of time before the industry too starts to stumble on its feet.
There is also the general assumption that theatre is too serious and stiff, which automatically drives away the majority of the youth into the arms of the more interesting and engaging multimedia films.
If theatre truly wants to become a popular and profitable venture again then a good strategy would be to target the youth, make theatre more approachable and communicative. The youth of India does not want to sit ram-rod straight in a seat for hours unless it is for something they are truly passionate about. And right now, the youth is not only not passionate but even worse is its indifference towards the theatre industry.
Image Credits: Google Images