Inhabited by over a billion diverse racial groups, India presents a colourful assortment of Folk culture, best portrayed through the unique art of Folk Theatre. Variously known as the Jatra (Bengal, Orissa and Eastern Bihar), Tamasha (Maharashtra), Nautanki (Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab), Bhavai (Gujarat), Yakshagana (Karnataka), Therubuttu (Tamil Nadu), folk theatre reaches out to a large cross-section of the population.
The decline of Sanskrit Drama, saw the emergence of the Folk Theatre in various regional languages from the 14th and through the 19th century. Maintaining the basic conventions like, stage preliminaries, the Sutra-dhara (the narrator), the vidushak (the buffoon) opening prayer song etc pertaining to its predecessor, it achieved a quick mass appeal.
The actors perform in the open with gangways attached to the make-shift stage. This helps immensely since the actors frequently converse with the audience in the course of the play. Audience participation is an essential part of Indian Folk theatre. The stage is often a huge empty space which the actors deftly manipulate accordingly with their dialogues and symbolic gestures. Loud music, dance, elaborate use of make-up, masks, and singing chorus are its hallmarks marking its difference from Modern theatre.
Folk plays provide a valuable insight into the local dialect, dress, attitude, humour and wit of the regions in which they are staged. Although mythological and medieval romances are their mainthrust, folk theatre acquires a timeless appeal by improvising with symbolic relevance to the current socio-political happenings.
By Amrita Gupta