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Bishnupriya Dutt (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Bishnupriya Dutt

Bishnupriya Dutt
Image Credit: Derya Demir

Temporal Communities Distinguished Fellow of Global Literary Studies

Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"

August – December 2023

Theatre and Performance Texts in Post-Colonial India (Political and Feminist Theatre Practices): Entanglements and Envisaging De-Colonisation

Significant post-colonial Indian theatre, identified as political and feminist practices, were pre-dominantly based on free adaptations, radical interventions and the deconstruction of Western classics, particularly the colonial master texts of Shakespeare and Bertolt Brecht, regarded as the alternative to the English theatre paradigm. Through rigorous engagement and mediations, theatre makers explored dramaturgy, which deconstructed and fragmented canonical texts, and created new performance vocabularies focusing more on the performance/textual rather than the literary/textual. The research will re-evaluate existing methodological approaches based on actual theatre practices, in contrast to post-colonial literary scholarship's preoccupation with literary drama, which attributes practice to a handful of original texts authored by Indian playwrights, seeks an authentic Indian theatre, such as theatre of the roots project, and/or looks at the literary-textual in terms of simple translations and adaptations into Indian languages, which were merely part of the process and insignificant in terms of post-colonial appropriations and the iconoclasm of authors and canons (Dharwadker 2005, 2019; Bhatia 2004, 2011; Dalmia 2008; Mee 2008).

The research has evolved out of a growing interest in international theatre studies in decolonising the field by reckoning with the ongoing historical legacy of theatre processes, where adaptations and staging are significant entry points, exploring the boundaries of cultural exchange, intertextuality, intersectional identities and cultural entanglements. The key thrust of the research includes dramaturgy to make the texts apt for the new cultural milieu in post-independent India; exploring subjectivities; shaping various aspects of practice in acting; the performance text; scenography experiments with form; dialogue-based collaborative processes invested in collective theatre organisations and an aesthetics of solidarity based on principles of internationalism and transculturalism.

Bishnupriya Dutt is Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics of Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi, India). Her area of research includes politics and theatre, feminist readings of Indian theatre and contemporary performance practices, and popular culture. Her recent publications include Maya Rao and Indian Feminist Theatre (Cambridge 2022); "Post-colonial imaginations: Afro-Asian dialogues in the past and present" in Miriam Haughton et al eds: Theatre, Performance and Commemoration, Methuen 2023; "Performing gestures at protest and other sites" in Shirin Rai et al. eds: The Oxford Handbook of Politics and Performance, Oxford University Press 2021; "Rethinking categories of theatre and performance; archive, scholarship and practices (a post-colonial Indian perspective)" in Peter Marx and Tracy Davis eds: The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Performance Historiography, Routledge 2020; and "October Revolution, echoes of the past: Lenin in popular sites and theatre" (Studies in Theatre and Performance, volume 39, 2019, issue 3). She has also led a number of international project collaborations with the University of Warwick, Freie Universitat Berlin and the University of Cologne. She is currently the President of the International Federation for Theatre Research. Bishnupriya has been involved in active theatre in Calcutta since the 1960s, where she performs and directs.

This winter term, Bishnupriya Dutt, Temporal Communities Distinguished Fellow of Global Literary Studies, will give a masterclass for advanced Master's students and PhD students on Politics and Theatre in Post-Colonial Spaces (India as the Case Study): Challenging Hegemonies, Building Resistances and Processes of Decolonisation at the Cluster of Excellence "Temporal Communities" at Freie Universität Berlin.