(Excerpted from my book “On the Crossroad of Theatre”)
As a student of NSD and later as its director, the sway of Karanth prevailed over the contemporary Indian theatre practice almost for 40 years and carries away the entire nation in its wave even after his death. Karanth has produced number of students who helped in widening the horizon of his vision. The idea of Theatre in education clicked in his mind while teaching at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, after completing his drama course from NSD. By observing and working with small and aspirant young students, he thought of creating a curriculum which could help the students in building their personalities, characters and vocabulary using theatre as a medium.
He once quoted; “Every child is born with rhythm and harmony but as they grew up, this rhythm faded away. It is our responsibility to make the child understand and identify the forgotten rhythms in him, which he had imbibed as a child. In this way he can lead a healthy life in harmony with the nature. Theatre has the power to channelize the diversified energy of into meaningful focus.” In later stage his concept of TIE (Theatre in Education) gained popularity in school level education.
With the presentation of Hayvadan (1971) Karanth’s intellectual mind was recognized. He then never looked back and marched forward like a soldier in the war field of theatre. After becoming the director of National School of Drama he did numerous path breaking productions with the students and at the repertory as well. Andher Nagari, Sahjahan, Vidya-Sundar, Suno-Janmejaya, Mudrarakshas, Varnamvana (Adapted version of Macbeth) and Chottey Sayyad-Badey Sayyad are some of the plays that made him the true avant-gardist of Indian theatre. His contribution to redefine the syllabus of the drama school was his major achievement which brought recognition to Indian theatre in the world platform. Karanth insisted on indigenous vocabulary and regional resources. For him these two elements could save Indian theatre from the westernization and would establish our own identity. It should be the matter of concern that while most of the students of Ibrahim Alkazi adopted acting as their prime profession and found their expressions in Indian cinema, the students trained under Karanth’s ideology adopted theatre practice in different urban, sub-urban and rural vicinities. The reason is very clear. While Alkazi insisted on western methodology, Karanth emphasized on total theatre training which he termed as Organic theatre. He was dreaming of a training system where a student can learn all the aspects of theatre including acting, design, direction, management and script writing. The specialization can be achieved after a long practice. This concept of integration in theatre was imbibed from Indian training method in Natyashastra. He removed the specialization from the main syllabus of the drama school and introduced one more year for those who opt for specializations, thus the training in drama school became four years instead of three during the time of Karanth. The philosophy behind total integration in theatre had a deeper meaning and understanding behind it. It helped in preparing ground for those who perceive and adopt theatre in its total form. His intention was not to prepare only an actor rather to create an artiste with dimension.
Karanth’s creative dynamism didn’t confined only to drama school activities rather it spread its wings to the regional theatre in different states, districts and villages. The visionary concept of theatre workshop is an outcome of the decentralization conceived by B.V Karanth in 70s. Being the director of National School of Drama, he had keenly observed a major section of aspirant youths who were deprived of theatre education. Many young and talented students couldn’t adopt theatre as a vocation due to social and economical reasons. National school of Drama can only accommodate a few numbers of talents which fall negligible in comparison to a vast country like India. He wanted to train as many students as possible. In his own words, “Theatre training should not be confined to the production of plays. It helps building the inner personality of an individual and gives rise to self confidence.”
Due to his effort the extension department was set up in NSD in 1978 to look after the regional theatre activities. Bansi Kaul was appointed as the professor of the extension programme. The first ever outside activities NSD had undertaken was the Madurai workshop in Tamilnadu in 1979. The workshop was designed for eight weeks training programme. Those who were already engaged in amateur theatre activities in the rural area joined in that training programme at Madurai to learn and understand the basic science of theatre. The workshop developed the sense of appreciation towards contemporary theatre among the participants. The success of the Madurai workshop spread over the country. Demand for this kind of small time training programme increased among the theatre lovers. People showed more interest in workshops. Fundamental training of theatre appreciation was codified and was practiced under the extension programme. Madurai workshop was followed Ranchi, Guwahati, Vishakhapattnam, Srinagar, Imphal, and Kolkata. The vision that Karanth implanted in the late 70’s bore fruits for the entire Indian theatre. Practitioners were trained as teachers. Artists were identified with reputation and respect. Theatre became a part of education and opened avenue for livelihood. The language of theatre changed. Slowly and gradually appreciation and awareness for theatre was increased in the society. It regained respectability among the common mass. Otherwise what was the status of theatre artists in our Indian society before? We were simply called “Nautankiwale”...........