ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Veenapani Chawla’s Theatre

Celebrating Hybridity

The Theatre of Veenapani Chawla: Theory, Practice, Performance edited by Shanta Gokhale, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2014; pp xxii + 330, Rs 895.

Every book has a context. It is important to place this book in context before proceeding to review it. Theatre study titles in India, particularly those on the theatre of the 20th century and after, face particular challenges. First, documentation is not a strong point with most practitioners, although this is changing as technology makes instant and ongoing recording, shooting, and storage, quick, easy, and, above all, affordable. The 20th century, however, suffered from a lack of documentation—visual, audiovisual or textual—for a variety of reasons, including financial ones. This is true of all the art forms in India, and the performing arts especially.

Like dance and music, theatre happens in time and space, which means that a production can never be replicated. Documentation of a production is a problematic proposition: how does one capture the totality of the experience even with the most expensively elaborate camera set-ups? There is always editing, which means a choice, different for each set of eyes and brains watching the show. It is always somebody’s version that you get, a reading, an interpretation. Thus, one can forget about objective documentation, even with that most “authoritative” of documenting instruments, the moving camera. Still photography can string together sequences, but cannot bring alive the fluidity of movement or action. The script is just a skeleton, a production is so much more than the playscript.

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