Bringing in social change through theatre is not easy, though many theatre practitioners have made attempts to do just that. In my previous post I had talked about jatra as an old and still-practised Indian theatre art form which attempts to entertain its audience as well as raise audience consciousness through social, cultural and political messages. This practice of entertain-and-educate is not only true of India but for all cultures around the world. Some messages are embedded in the plays and are subtle; some are bold and ‘in your face’. Still, it’s tough to motivate a theatre audience into action through a performance.
I guess, the best that playwrights, theatre directors, actors and producers can hope for is a degree of understanding by the audience and a ‘pricking’ of their conscience in order to start conversations which gather momentum and lead to action at a later date. Theatre which leads directly to a revolution or an uprising is hard to come by, though theatre must have influenced – and must still be influencing – people to bring in changes in their lives, individually and collectively. Perhaps that’s because theatre relies more on storytelling than on a “go get ‘em” call to action that a great speech can invoke.
Nevertheless, theatre can move people to emotions and have its audience responding to it at a visceral level. Last evening, for instance, I was left breathless by Knot Theatre’s production of Song of the Swan – a play written by Asad Hussain and directed by Shubhrajyoti Barat – at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. The play, based on a true story, recounted, mainly from a mother’s perspective, the life and later abduction and beheading by Kashmiri militants of a 27-year-old Norwegian named Hans Christian Ostro who had visited India (Kerala, Mumbai and Kashmir) in 1995.
Not only breathless, I felt helpless and angry at what had happened to Hans Christian Ostro. Many women in the audience had tears in their eyes by the time the play concluded. With Song of the Swan, I’d say Knot Theatre has been able to invoke what most theatre productions try to achieve.
Song of the Swan is a play in Hindi and English; currently being staged in Mumbai and definitely worth watching.