Deepa Punjani*

On the occasion of our Association’s Thalia Prize to Professor Hans-Thies Lehmann, I think it will be appropriate for me to make a few observations and highlight some points from an Indian perspective, with regards to Professor Lehmann’s conceptualization of Postdramatic Theatre.

I come from a place that has diverse theatre traditions that are not only ancient but very much alive, even today. Besides, “drama” in the Indian context has never held a particularly fixed meaning, at least unlike the Western understanding of drama. In the Indian context, ritual and tradition, as practiced in various communities, each with their inherent social stratification and sub cultures, form as well as inform performance. I consciously use the word “performance” and not “drama,” though the Western concept of drama is now completely merged with the various performative traditions in Indian theatre as well.

Indian theatre traditions rooted in ritualistic and folk theatre are, therefore, best suited for what may be termed “pre-dramatic” theatre, that is more close to tribal, shamanistic, community, or, let’s say, the Dionysiac rituals that laid the foundation of theatre and drama for ancient/Hellenistic Greek theatre. In India, there is a reason why we speak of living cultures, and this is something that has been observed in Asian, African and other native/indigenous cultures as well.

The panel of speakers, the chairperson of IATC and Mr. Lehmann. Photo: Franco Bonfiglio

Against this background, Professor Lehmann’s critical contribution to the discourse of theatre, with his special emphasis on “Postdramatic Theatre” can make an interesting argument in that his thesis becomes very helpful in a roundabout way, or let’s say in an upside-down manner, to actually appreciate the dimensions of theatre in India that beat homogenous descriptions. Here, “Postdramatic” can be construed as an overarching term that gives a historical insight into the multiplicity and diversity of Indian theatrical traditions that defy more conventional definitions of drama. Alternatively, the term is also useful to look at the various experiments in Indian theatre that have more in common with their Western counterparts.

From left to right: Peng Tao, Deepa Punjani, Emmanuel Dandaura and Margareta Soerenson. Photo: Franco Bonfiglio

The idea of Postdramatic theatre in the Indian context can also be a useful tool to understand more specifically the differentia as well as the overlap between theatrical forms such as folk, classical, street, agitprop, immersive, site-specific, the praxis between art installation and theatre, video art and theatre, theatre and contemporary dance, theatre of scenography and new technologies—all of which are present in the Indian theatre landscape.

Separately, I am also intrigued by Professor Lehmann’s insights on the basis of his unique model that not only marks a demarcation between the mimetic form of drama and its disruption by the bold and experimental artists that he has referenced, but which also pinpoints the processes that make these works distinct and different. And therein lies its significance. The theatre from Professor Lehmann’s perspective is no longer a fixed entity that conveys meaning but a constantly evolving site that seeks to push the boundaries of text and the other materials used in production—making the work potentially exciting as well.

It is my privilege to have engaged with Professor Lehmann’s work, though briefly, and I am happy that our Association has recognized his contribution and scholarship by way of the Thalia Prize. I wish him well. 


*Deepa Punjani  is the editor of the website Mumbai Theatre Guide, a prominent theatre portal in India with 70,000 plus followers. She is founder-representative of the Indian National Section of the IATC and serves on the IATC’s Executive Committee. Besides being an active theatre critic, she has been invited to advise theatre festivals; has been a jury/selection committee member, and has trained young theatre critics. Deepa has been an actress and an academic. Her M.Phil thesis (2004) focused on the lives of two select Indian women in theatre in the context of feminism and gender representation on the Indian stage. She has written on cinema and other topical events in the interest of democracy and social justice.

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Initial Thoughts on the Curious Case of Postdramatic Theatre in the Indian Context
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