Modern Theatre in India owes its origin to the development of large urban centres such as Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai.
Spread of English education led to the spread of British
ideas, tastes, values and morals among the Indian intelligentsia. Earlier
plays were performed only in English modeled along the lines of those in
London. Drama written in Indian languages and performed on the stage by
Indian actors emerged only in the last quarter of 19th century.
Enterprising producers with nationalistic tendencies soon employed theatre as a forum for social and political ideals designed to influence opinions and raise social consciousness. Theatre quickly became a weapon to promote social and political reforms.
After the performance of Nildarpana in which an English planter was shown raping an Indian peasant woman, there was strict enforcement of censorship. Frustrated by the harsh restrictions, many playwrights turned their attention to exposing the corruption within the Hindu society and addressed a host of social injustice.
The modern theatre of today boasts a number of unique characteristics, including commercial ventures, various grades and qualities of amateur work, limited attempts at experimentation, and determined effort to establish and sustain school and college theatre programs.
Most of India's modern theatre may be categorized as
amateur; that is theatre in which majority of those who participate do so
with little expectation of earning a living. The quality of amateur
theatre is quite high in Kolkata and is said to have above three thousand
registered theatre groups.
Mumbai also has its share of amateur groups. It is said that there are five hundred amateur group functioning in the city and twenty five hundred in the state of Maharashtra. Both Kolkata and Mumbai depend on strong personalities and dedicated workers.
Theatre organisations are either autonomous bodies or they are a part of larger cultural organisations. The Indian National Theatre is a cosmopolitan theatre organization sponsoring theatre productions in Marathi, Gujrati, Hindi and English. One of the largest running plays in the history of Mumbai theatre has been the Gujrati version of Pygmalion called Punarani.
Hindi theatre has much smaller base, but some of the
nationally known personalities have tried to nurture the Hindi theatre.
Prithiviraj Kapoor, a famous film actor was a pioneer through his Prithvi
Theatre in nurturing Hindi theatre. Ebrahim Alkazi organized Theatre Group
English Theatre in Mumbai has a long and impressive history. Alyquee Padmsee is one of the leading directors of English theatre and believes that with increasing number of English speaking people there is now a greater demand.
Experimental theatre in India may be considered a branch of
the amateur theatre, but in some instances the objectives of the groups
and their approach to producing plays are quite different from that of the
general run of amateur groups.
Unconventional theatre in Mumbai goes by the name of experimental theatre. The recent home of this branch of the amateur movement is the antiquated third floor of the Chabiladas School, near Shivaji Mandir. Prithvi Theatre operates year round program of performances by numerous small theatre groups producing plays in the Marathi, Hindi, Gujrati and English.
In the modern Western Theatre, the text usually serves as
the guide to the production concept. Modern Indian theatre is similar to
Western theatre in this respect; it depends on the creative interpretation
of the play script. It usually requires a working combination of
playwrights, directors and actors to produce modern theatre.
Indian playwrights are concerned with a multitude of themes which center around the family and social life in general, the plight of an individual in the modern mechanized society, and contemporary political and social events. This is particularly true of the Marathi playwrights of Mumbai .
Realism seems to dominate the settings and dialogue of most plays. Although play production goes around all the year round in Mumbai, November to July is generally regarded as the prime theatre season.