Presenting Tagore as theatre theoretician

Cultural Correspondent | Published at 10:00pm on August 05, 2018


A sui generis playwright Rabindranath Tagore developed a unique theatre style distinct from the western theatre style, which later inspired his followers to write and direct plays following the age old tradition of the region.
Tagore through his plays, essays and commentaries on theatre, established his style of theatre which defied western stagecraft, plot construction, presentation style and followed the theatre of the east. And his thoughts have been successfully executed in plays like Dakghar, Raktarabi and other classics.
These plays helped create a new trend in the theatre concept in the region and those classics are still widely performed by contemporary troupes for their everlasting appeals.

Tagore performing the title role in Valmiki Pratibha (1881) with his niece Indira Devi as the goddess Lakshmi. Courtesy: Wikipedia

‘After writing plays following the western styles in his early life, Tagore changed his thoughts and started writing plays based on Bengali folk forms. He defied western stagecraft and European realism and switched to allegorical plays presented combining music, acting, dance and narration on small and intimate stages’, said thespian Ataur Rahman.
Tagore advocated for small, intimate theatres. His exposure to Sanskrit plays, local folk performing arts and others inspired him to think about developing a distinctive theatre style where a play is presented through music, dances and narrations without following the western styles.
Tagore’s thoughts on theatre, expressed in essays like Rangamancha and Antar Bahir, in the preamble of play Phalguni, suggest that he envisioned a local theatrical form that is more akin to folk forms and significantly different from western theatre.
In his own experimental way Tagore created a theatre form which belonged to the soil and was true to its pulse.
The poet-playwright advocated that plays of the region should highlight humanism rather than conflict as a result he preferred human psychology to external actions.
‘But Tagore’s reputation as a playwright had a mixed fare among his contemporaries. Some of his contemporaries brought him near the professional theatre, while others pushed him away’, said Afsar Ahmad, a drama professor at Jahangirnagar University.
An experimental playwright, Tagore continued writing and experimenting on theme, structure, language and treatment of plays.
But, many of his contemporaries considered structure and diction of many of Tagore's plays as weak in the backdrop of the ‘conventional concept of theatre’. ‘As a result those plays had a little influence on other playwrights of his time’, said Dhaka University’s theatre professor Syed Jamil Ahmed.
‘The dramatic element in most of Tagore’s plays is extensive but his characterisation, diction and plot construction made them weak and unappealing for professional theatre ensembles of his time, which were habituated with staging plays following the western theatre introduced in this region during the colonial period’, Jamil added.
But, in the post colonial era, Tagore’s plays and his thoughts on theatre gradually established a legacy among his successors.
Many theatre practitioners in the region took Tagore as their idol in the middle of the last century and started staging Tagore's plays and experimented more in search of developing a unique theatre style based on the tradition of the region.
‘What is most important in Tagore’s theatre thoughts is his post-colonial stance against the western theatre style and his exploitation of folk forms’, said Syed Jamil Ahmed.
Many of today’s playwrights and theatre troupes are carrying this legacy.