Independent Study on Folk Theatre by Ishita Ahlawat and Mansi Panwar



Madalya Vesh can be classified based on the themes into

  • Social
  • Nature- Related
  • Protest
  • Occupational

The Social Skits deal with the problems of their own community. These are full of humour and laughter even when sarcastic. Popular social skits are Be Bairi no vesh ( Tale of two wives) and Pahana (Guest) Environment being an integral part of their lives, it is seen in their vesh too. For instance, in Wagh Bakdi , The goat of Sohangi is eaten up by a tiger in the forest.   Such   incidents   are   common   in   their   lives.   This   experience   was converted into comedy of errors. It is a popular skit.

Rebellion  against  authorities  is  strongly  expressed.  When  the  tribals  lost control  over  their  forests,  the restrictions  imposed  by  the  authorities were resented by the Dangis and they voiced their protest through Theater.

Some themes are even related to special occupations that are connected with environmental needs such as hunting, castration of oxen, grazing cattle, goats in the jungle The occupational hazards the face are also shown in a way that generates laughter in the audience.

There  are  few  skits  that  are  both  related  to  occupation  and  nature.  For instance, skits of Harpin  and  Murain  revolve  around  female  characters that have to go into the jungle due to their occupation or duty.

Undoubtedly, Madalya Theater provides interesting entertainment and voices the feelings of Dangis very well. But it’s not that popular now. Modern sources of entertainment such as television, radio and films make Theater no longer thrilling or enjoyable. A small number of scripts repeated over time, also lose power  to  entertain the  new  generation  of  Dangis.  Especially  when  no  new skits are coming forth. It is an all-night affair but now-a-days people prefer spending their night time with television.

Even  the  visual  attraction  is  lacking  in  this  Theater.  as  their  costumes remained simple. It does not have mythological or epic stories that find acceptance even in the modern times. The artists so not have a good income from  their performances,  this  also  discourages  the  new  generation  from joining the team of their village and continuing the art. The advent of other forms like Tamasha from Maharashtra, diminished the popularity of Maharashtra. The music of Tamasha is  based  on  Hindi  films which  attracts large crowd.

Utpala Desai has written in Horizon’03 “ In spite of such a strong capacity and structure, this form of Theater has not received the attention it deserves. If taken seriously it can be a competition to even modern Indian Theater. I think because it makes no little use of props. It lets imagination run riot and achieves easily aim of all performing arts where the audience feels one with the performers. It is high time that we study this form and develop it so that it receives acceptance and gives us an opportunity explore another form of folk entertainment. Instead of treating it as a museum piece, it should be brought to life with new techniques and themes of current interest and shouldn’t be left to die, as we have done with so many other inherited art forms.”


It is believed that Theater and drama are gift of west to India. We have some popular entertainments like Nautanki or the Jatra but these had little to do with  drama  which  was  introduced  by  British.  Indian  Drama  is  more  of dramatic poetry even that had become extinct and was rediscovered for India by the western scholars. Nothing could be further more truth.

The distinctiveness of Indian Theater tradition in the dramatic cultures of the world- its antiquity as well as its imaginative and aesthetic quality is more or less indisputable today. The roots of Theater in our country are very old and deep.  It  had  undergone  wide  ranging,  fundamental  changes  during  the  last two to three thousand years.

It can be safely asserted that some kind of theatrical activity with elements of music, dance, acting had been in vogue in the country for at   least a thousand years before the Christian era. With the appearance of more favourable socio- cultural  conditions,  it  gradually  acquired  more  regular  and  complex  forms, such as those of Sanskrit drama and Theater from sixth to fourth century B.C. Thus began that fascinating period of the unique flowering and achievements of the Indian dramatic tradition.

In this new phase plays of different kinds, styles and artistic excellence were written in Sanskrit, the  language  of literary  expressions of that  time.  Many innovative and often highly sophisticated styles for the presentation of those plays were also developed. This burst of energy was not confined to creative exploration dramatic writing and staging.

But this Theater, established on such a strong base of theory and practice had disintegrated gradually by 10th century A.D. There are many reasons for this decline: social and political instability created by foreign invasion and internal conflicts, loss of creative energy in the Sanskrit language gradually confined to a small elite, fall in the standard of dramatic writing due to lack of talent, loss of appeal for common spectators too. And this Theater gave way to another Theater tradition that flowered in different regions of India.

We thus came to the next phase of Indian Theater which took place not in Sanskrit but in different regional languages carrying with the distinct social, cultural,  literary  milieu  and  flavour  of  each  region.  This  phase  of  Indian Theater is spread over a period of about one thousand years, and many of its strands and forms have continued up to the present day. The activity in this entire phase is often called ‘folk Theater’ today, because unlike the town based classical Sanskrit Theater it has flourished in the countryside.


If one were to look for a gender identity for theatrical forms, then clearly folk Theater would be feminine as against the masculine classical form. As Rubees observes, “a feminist dramaturgical aesthetic spurns these structures based on conflict and resolution. Where everything gets built up to one screaming point and then everything is released. Women often write in waves, repeated climaxes, collages..”

Despite the ongoing efforts of groups of women in India to Indianize the feminist movement, the popular conception of the term Feminism remains both ignorant and imitative. Sociological studies outline a movement that is at best skeletal, too amorphous and rambling to have any meaningful  impact in any but a sporadic way. Most importantly, the reach of feminism is restricted to an urban upper class.  India‟s urban rural  divide  intensifies  the  problem  of  disparity  between women  of  varied  socio economic  backgrounds,  problematized  further  by  the aspect of caste. Women‟s class „economic grounding, family and geographical locations‟ have  a direct  bearing  on  their intellectual  leanings.  Work  is  not  a common  yardstick  of  liberation  for  urban  and  rural  sisters.  For  a  woman belonging to the elite class, a job spells economic independence and therefore liberation  while  for  rural  women  belonging  to  the  lower  classes;  work  is  a reminder   of   their   economic   bondage.   Gender   in   their   context   is   not   a distinguishing factor since both sexes have an economic responsibility to fulfil. The status and position of women within the Indian patriarchal system however, leaves a lot to be desired. If Indian society is to become truly modern and progressive, the concept of equal rights and awareness of social realities must reach all women but particularly rural women who are the most exploited. For the feminist quest, folk Theater displays an almost natural propensity. When compared, the features of the sub genres of folk Theater and feminist Theater (as it exists  in  the  West)  divulge  a  large  number  of  similarities  in  both  form  and structure. The parallels between folk Theater and the feminist quest are undeniable. Balwant Gargi in Folk Theater of India listed out certain characteristics  of folk Theater. He stated that some precepts of folk Theater remain common, regardless of state and cultural identity. Primarily rural, it is rustic, unselfconscious, spontaneous and boisterously naïve. Folk Theater does not offer a slice of life, but a panoramic view of existence and elicits enthusiastic audience participation.

Ann  Saddlemayer,  eminent  feminist  critic,  says  of  Feminist  Theater,  “that‟s how our art should be all encompassing, sucking in, surrounding, embracing, not linear, not clear cut, not sequential…film, slides, music, puppets actresses, dancers, everywhere  on  top  of  you.,  below  you,  around  you.  That  would  be  women‟s Theater•a circus feeling throughout the play, a circus that people could enter. Ideologically  then,  there  is  a  definite  match  but  structurally  too,  similarities between folk Theater and feminist Theater are too many to ignore. Both defy the linearity  of  time  and  space  favored  by  classical  (male)  Theater,  in  an  effort to achieve  timelessness.  Both  refrain  from the  concept  of linear  time  and  may build up a montage of varied dramatic episodes. Because both are performed by the marginalized,  there  might  be  a  paucity  of  funds,  so  the  same  set  is  often transformed via word or action. Props are also minimal. Furthermore, the actor/character  is chameleon•like.  One actor sometimes  plays several roles. The feminist protagonist plays several roles to heighten the sense of female perspective of various incidents. Feminist Theater by definition is drama that embraces transformation,  inspires  and  asserts  the possibility  for  change.  Its  emphasis  on role playing implies that we (human beings) are what we do and what we become and that no one, neither man nor woman, is restricted from becoming the other.


Folk Theater of India by Balwant Gargi

Horizon Magazine-Issues of Folk Theater (Guest Editor: Manohar Khushalani) folk-theater-festival#media-2473014

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