nautanki

Aspiration Nautanki

Modern Mythmaking 15 Comments

 

Published in Sunday Midday on June 26, 2011

 

Kalidas, the great Sanskrit poet, they say, was very market savvy. On his way to the court of Vikramaditya, he would stop in villages and hamlets. He would be asked to perform and he would sing bawdy songs, similar to today’s item numbers, to the delight of his audience. But in the king’s court, he would sing the most polished verses with the most sophisticated vocabulary, figures of speech, meter, melody and metaphor. When asked why, he said, “Nautanki is for the masses craving instant gratification. Natyashastra is for the patient aesthete, the connoisseur, the rasik; their numbers are very few.”

Nautanki responded to popular forces, Natyashatra aspired for perfection not popularity. Nautanki spoke to the lowest common denominator, and avoided making too much demand on the emotion or the intellect. Natyshastra sought the subtle, spoke to the soul, and demanded a lot from the audience. Nautanki pleased the tired flesh after a day’s work. Natyashastra sought to address the questions of the soul. Nautanki took us towards Prakriti, connecting with our natural instincts. Natyashastra strove to take us towards Sanskriti, towards the sophistication and nobility that humanity is capable of.

For centuries, both flourished. Each one had its place. Each one had its relevance. Nautanki thrived in bazaars and Natyashastra in temple compounds and royal courts and the courtyards of noblemen and courtesans. But in the 20th century, the rise of Communism, led to attacks on the Natyashastra for being snobbish, arrogant, Brahmanical, pandering to upper class hegemony. It became noble to focus on the masses, to democratize the arts. The 20th century also saw the rise of Capitalism, where market forces determined which art would survive. Considering its mass base, Nautanki would clearly win. So both ideology and economics, have put Natyashatra on the backfoot. The patronage is gone. And only the very determined survive.

So today, we have Bharatnatyam dancers dancing to Bollywood numbers and 2-minute Kathakali performances. Yes, that really happens. If you criticize, you are reprimanded for stifling innovation, for being Brahmanical, for being a snob, for being out of touch with the youth and the masses.

In a party I attended recently the discussion revolved around the latest from Bollywood, “I am your dog. You are my bitch”. Those who moaned at the collapse of decency, and the rise of crass buffoonery in films were cornered with the lines, “You may think it is stupid, but look at the money it made.” And you realize there is a new code in social circles: If you want to appear cool and democratic and with the masses, you must not display any displeasure at crass buffoonery especially if it is a commercial success.

So imagine my horror when while flipping through channels I saw an anchor of a talk show, famous for her stylish pretentiousness, also submitting to crass buffoonery while conversing with a ‘desirable’ star. Nobody expects a talk show to be ‘deep’, but this ‘shallow’? I mean, come on.

I refuse to make Nautanki aspirational. Not because Natyashastra is ‘better’ but because Natyashastra seeks to push the boundaries of human capability and capacity. It seeks to uplift, not merely to entertain. It demands faith and patience and rigor and there is absolutely no guarantee of critical or commercial success. It needs to be pursued for it’s own sake, like prayer. Like Kalidasa, some of us may have to pursue Nautanki on the side, to pay the bills, or to stoke the ego with popularity. But validation and veneration of crass buffoonery – I draw the line there.

 

  • Girish Kaundinya

    I think the same could be said of Cricket. The test matches and one-day matches making way for 20-20 matches.

    • Giriraj Bhatia

      I agree. Test cricket requires skill alongwith mental and physical fitness. To be in the sun for 5 days and win is something different.

      Our one day champion team did not try to score 86 in 90 balls on the last day of recently concluded test match.

      Was it lack of mental and physical fitness or was it controlling of aggressive behaviour in view of safety ? Only God knows !!

  • Deep

    This is so true !!

    I always wondered ,so far our indian value system taught us to respect elders and learn their wisdom….but makes me wonder how much taste of wisdom have we really acquired !!!

  • Jasmine Suri

    I completely agree….the nautanki of the most desirable is audacious.Its outright shallow……we really need to draw the line

  • Jasmine Suri

    I completely agree….the nautanki of the most desirable is audacious.Its outright shallow……we really need to draw the line

  • Chaitanya

    Sir,

    Off topic: Any idea why many restrictions were placed on women during their periods? Is it just for the sake of providing them rest or is there any other explanation? Kindly throw some light on this issue.

    • Aditya Naikdesai

      Thanks for asking that Q Chaitanya. I have been reminding myself to do this for a long time now. But always forgot. Would really be great if Devdutt could enlighten us with some insight on this.

  • Would you go so far as to say that democracy and capitalism will be the undoing of all the finer pursuits of humans?

    • Aditya Naikdesai

      I would. That, and money.

  • Darshan

    Yes, definitely there need to be a line drawn, but… wait, dosen’t the previous article say something about waxing and wanning… let us just say this is the wanning period, after the waxing… also it can be related to modernization.
    but i Believe today also there is an audince for the Natyashastra though the shift is more towards Nautanki.

  • Mohan Ramchandani

    As usual a brilliant article, but
    I was surprised and little sad
    to read your last few lines. This
    is the first time I have seen you
    being judgemental about Indian
    society/people. Though I do not have any right to tell you what you should write – it is your prerogative – but I wish and hope
    that you will maintain your old standard of remaining non-judgemental.

  • Sandeep

    The interesting merger of Nautanki and Natyashastra happens on the recent budding crop of talent shows.

    Along with some real talent, you also witness participants who should NOT be in even 10km radius of the venue being put on the stage. Hey, their crassness makes “GOOD TELEVISION”. The audience is is entralled by sheer stupidity, humiliation and lack of talent of these participants and that justifies their presence.

    But the main question remains is ” just because its meant for masse’s does it means that it can not have taste?” Agreed, Shakespear or Shakuntal is not meant for everyone, but is the mass audience is stupid that they cannot pick on substance. If that would have been the case, then NO folkmusic or dance would have survived.

    Its the lack of creativity and innovation, supported by audiences : chalta hai, attitude that has contributed to down fall of creativity in media and literature.

  • Pradyumna

    Sir,

    well said, as usual. I agree in full. many of us are not really careful of what we let assault our senses – be it music, or movies or images. it is this attitude of mass consumerism which has taken away the discretion. so many people these days can not only tolerate a TV/radio station blaring for hours together without any control/selection, people even take out a perverse libertarian attitude from such mindless consumption.

    Humans are supposed to have choices/tastes /standards, varying ones at that, and anyone who pretends otherwise is dehumanizing is some way.

  • Atul Yadvanshi

    These kind of articles are the result of writing without going in depth or an urgency to comment without expertise.

    Nautanki a story telling format with songs in between to highlight the moods and emotions of the characters for better projection of the story. Don’t forget Nautanki is the undoubtely Cultural Heritage of our country and most powerful medium of presenting drama on earth. It laid the basis of many folk dramas of different regions of our country. It is one of the best examples of Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra put to use. Indian films borrowed its very structure from Nautanki only.

    Anyways, when you try to declare taste of common man as cheap, below standard you are infact undermining the whole gamut of rich heritage of traditional performing Folk Arts. My dear good friend you rather don’t know that Rivers, Trees, Forests, Mountains were preserved by the efforts of Folk Singers not by polished performers of King’s court. Similarly all the rituls & celebrations from birth to death, all the festivities, marriages etc. cannot be imagined without performing folk art forms. Even your Grand Ma & Mother remembers with ease the Folk Songs not polisshheeed songs. Folk songs were put to societies use when they performed for Farmers, Fisherman, and even for Solders who fought for the survival of your POLISHED class. Folk Art & Artists contributed during Independence struggle not any of your POLISHED performers. I challenge you to mention any polished performers with this kind of profile.

    And Nautanki is one of them starting with Satya Harishchandra, Bhakt Prahlad, Bhakt Puranmal, Amar Singh Rathore, Sultana Daku (in guise od Freedom Fighter)and now you can find with ease story’s & Plays of Munshi Premchand, Kalidasa, Bhartendu Harishchandra, Phanishwar Nath Renu etc. being performed successfully in Nautanki apart from plays of contemporary writers of which Allahabad is Mecca. Some people like you are responsible for degrading the performance and inducing cheapness which is not inbuilt in Nautanki but certainly in the mind of the jealous Polished one’s.

    O.K.

    Given Right projection & Patronage Nautanki has the potential to become world’s best Drama Style. Come & see our Nautanki and I promise that you will contridict yourself happily in the same Newspaper with your article and criticise your polished class yourself and that too willingly

  • Atul Yadvanshi

    These kind of articles are the result of writing without going in depth or an urgency to comment without expertise.

    Nautanki a story telling format with songs in between to highlight the moods and emotions of the characters for better projection of the story. Don’t forget Nautanki is the undoubtely Cultural Heritage of our country and most powerful medium of presenting drama on earth. It laid the basis of many folk dramas of different regions of our country. It is one of the best examples of Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra put to use. Indian films borrowed its very structure from Nautanki only.

    Anyways, when you try to declare taste of common man as cheap, below standard you are infact undermining the whole gamut of rich heritage of traditional performing Folk Arts. My dear good friend you rather don’t know that Rivers, Trees, Forests, Mountains were preserved by the efforts of Folk Singers not by polished performers of King’s court. Similarly all the rituls & celebrations from birth to death, all the festivities, marriages etc. cannot be imagined without performing folk art forms. Even your Grand Ma & Mother remembers with ease the Folk Songs not polisshheeed songs. Folk songs were put to societies use when they performed for Farmers, Fisherman, and even for Solders who fought for the survival of your POLISHED class. Folk Art & Artists contributed during Independence struggle not any of your POLISHED performers. I challenge you to mention any polished performers with this kind of profile.

    And Nautanki is one of them starting with Satya Harishchandra, Bhakt Prahlad, Bhakt Puranmal, Amar Singh Rathore, Sultana Daku (in guise od Freedom Fighter)and now you can find with ease story’s & Plays of Munshi Premchand, Kalidasa, Bhartendu Harishchandra, Phanishwar Nath Renu etc. being performed successfully in Nautanki apart from plays of contemporary writers of which Allahabad is Mecca. Some people like you are responsible for degrading the performance and inducing cheapness which is not inbuilt in Nautanki but certainly in the mind of the jealous Polished one’s.

    Given Right projection & Patronage Nautanki has the potential to become world’s best Drama Style. Come & see our Nautanki and I promise that you will contridict yourself happily in the same Newspaper with your article and criticise your polished class yourself and that too willingly

    O.K.