“A break from Bollywood: make a song and dance about this brave Indian play” – that’s the title of the latest article [link] on the Guardian theatre blog, about Ram Ganesh Kamatham’s play Dancing On Glass.
I was initially thrilled to see something about an Indian play on the Guardian’s blog. By the end of it, I was pretty disappointed.
The article makes statements like:
Bollywood is notorious for churning out vast quantities of films that take pride in being entertainment and nothing more. Young playwrights like Kamatham are stepping in to fill the void.
Ignore for a moment the sweeping generalization about Indian films, just consider: when writing of a play, why has the Guardian theatre blog chosen Bollywood as its yardstick for comparison? Apparently, the audience at New Delhi’s Habitat Centre were gasping at the profanity in this play because:
In a cultural climate dominated by escapist Bollywood narratives, where a song-and-dance routine is never more than a few minutes away, the concept of realism can be every bit as shocking as the swearing.
How realistic a description is this of the cultural climate to which Indian theatre-goers are exposed? Is it credible that the audience at IHC were shocked by Dancing On Glass because they had not seen anything but escapist Bollywood narratives, not watched a dark, song-less play before?
Indian theatre and Indian films are entirely different kettles of fish. Song-and-dance routines in our theatre are a rarity – musicals are far more popular on stage abroad.
This is not to knock the praise off Dancing On Glass, just to point out that escapism is not a defining characteristic of our theatre. It’s nice that theatre critics overseas are noticing Indian plays but I hope they will do better when writing of them than recycle stereotypes about Bollywood.
[Read the DramaDose review of Dancing On Glass.]