A brief look at theatre from the 7 prominent regions in India

Posted on 23 February, 2016 by Team Wishberry

Regional-theatre-in-India The beauty of regional theatres in India is that it keeps the basic elements of a drama intact, while taking on flavours of the region it stems from. Thus, theatre coming from each region of India is unique and rich with stories that are closer to its people’s hearts. To understand what makes Indian regional drama so unique, we decided to take a look at theatre from some of the most prominent states.

North India  

This is theatre performed in the northern regions of India along with some parts of western and central India. Bhartendu Harishchandra in Varanasi was the first to do a play in Hindi towards the end of the 19th century. Hindi theatre stemmed a lot from traditional folk theatre like Ram Lila and Raas Lila, along with Indian epics, myths and legends. Nautanki is another prominent style of drama commonly seen in Hindi theatre, especially in the rural areas. Notable Hindi playwrights include Jaishankar Prasad, Mohan Rakesh, Habib Tanvir among others. By the 1950s, Hindi theatre gained widespread recognition owing to the contributions of the IPTA movement and the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. Theatre - Ramlila_Dasratha A still from a Ram Lila play (Image Credits: Wikimedia)


Kannada theatre descended straight out of a palace. Its origin dates back to the 7th century. Some of the most prominent forms of theatre from Karnataka are Doddata, Sannata and Yakshagana. Although these are pre-modern forms of theatre, they continue to remain popular even today. In fact, Yakshagana is said to have inspired Marathi theatre after a troupe performed in Maharashtra somewhere in 1842. The first ever classical Kannada play was Mitravinda Govinda. The themes ruling Kannada plays are mostly mythical and full of rich music. Mythological themes are used even to convey contemporary messages. Shudratapaswi and Berelge Koral by Kuvempu are great examples.   Theatre - Yakshagana Still from a Yakshagana play (Image Credits: Udupipages.com)


Malayalam theatre starts out to do just two basic things: a. entertain and b. impart knowledge or information. However, it does so via heavy dependence and a rich execution of acting and dancing. Another prominent feature of Malayalam theatre is the almost exclusive use of gestures. In fact, in many plays you’ll see signs and gestures (and not spoken words) as the only form of expression. Some of the earliest Malayalam plays include Bashashankunthalam by Ayilyam Thirunal Rama Varma and Varshakala Katha by K. Chidambara Wadhyar. Koodiyattam is another form of dance-drama, traditionally performed in Kerala. It’s one of the oldest forms of theatre in the country and is usually enacted inside the temple theatre. It is in Sanskrit entirely, except the role of Vidushaka (the fool’s equivalent in a Shakespearean play) who explains the play in simple Malayalam. Theatre - Koodiyattam A Koodiyattam performance (Image Credits: Wikimedia)


The first public performance of a stage play was Vishnudas Bhave’s Sita Swayamwar in 1843 in Sangli. However, Marathi theatre came into full bloom during the 1950s and 60s. There are two distinct forms in theatre from Maharashtra i.e. Sangeet Natak (musical drama) and Tamasha (folk dance). A well-known musical drama was Shakuntal by Annasaheb Kirloskar, whereas Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghashiram Kotwal and P.L. Deshpande’s Teen Paishancha Tamasha. Theatre - 1Tamasha theatre (Image Credits: Filmimpressions.com)

West Bengal

Bengali theatre usually refers to theatre from West Bengal and Bangladesh. The origins of Bengali theatre go back to the British rule, when it began as a form of private entertainment. Bengali plays played a crucial role in conveying the general dissent of the colonial masters, and were mainly used as a medium to create social awareness. However, Bengali theatre is divided into Kolkata-based plays which may not necessarily be in Bengali and folk theatre that covers various Bengali dialects. Another form of theatre seen in this region is the Jatra – notable features of a Jatra are over-exaggerated acting and use of traditional musical instruments. Theatre - Jatra A still from a Bengali Jatra (Image Credits: Apratimsaha.wordpress.com)

Andhra Pradesh

Telugu theatre is perhaps one of the most popular and refined art forms in India. The origins of Telugu drama go far as 2nd Century B.C. Theatre from this region further branches out into folk theatre, social plays, experimental plays and street theatre. One of the most marked highlights of Telugu theatre is that the role of a protagonist will be enacted by two people; the first actor is called ‘Okatava’ and the second actor is called ‘Rendo’. These plays start mostly late in the night and continue into wee hours of the morning. Some of the earliest and noted Telugu playwrights include: Korada Ramachandra Sastry, Kokkonda Venkataratnam and Paravastu Venkata Rangacharulu.


Folk theatre, Bhavai has continued to influence Gujarati theatre for perhaps the longest time. Bhavai plays maintain relevance and appeal to all strata of the society. What sets it apart from theatre in other parts of the country is the heavy use of satire and humour mostly aimed at the higher classes while shedding light on the struggle of the lower class. No Bhavai is complete without plenty of song and dance. In this kind of drama, all characters (even the female ones) are played by male actors. Theatre- Gujarat (Image Credits: Dpstinkyfinga.wordpress.com) Theatre in its various forms and styles is pretty diverse here, isn’t it? Got more regions that you think we should cover? Tell us in the comments!

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