With the coming of the British to India, came their forms of entertainment. The stimulus given by the English theatre and education led to the emergence of modern theatre in India.
Various diverse influences operated upon the Indian theatre. Firstly, many English plays, particularly of Shakespeare, were translated or adapted in various regional languages. Secondly, with the spirit of resurgence, the dramatists started translating and staging Sanskrit plays particularly in the educational institutions. Thirdly, the folk and traditional theatrical forms prevalent in the country did not completely lose their hold on the masses and were quite active. These three factors shaped the newly emerging Indian theatre independently.
Bengal and Maharashtra led the neo-theatre movement in India. However, the three models - Western, Sanskrit and folk – were imitated independently or in unison. In the post – British period Indian theatre provides an interesting synthesis or different influences. The influence of English theatre was first felt in Bengal. However, it took a few more years for this dramatic trend to take roots in Bengal and other parts of the country. As a result the theatre went near the people. The plays were written exposing social incongruities and hypocrisy in a subtle manner. We may call it a theatre of purpose.
The writers started analyzing human emotions and feelings by depicting characters in considerably in the process. Thus came into existence the theatre of aesthetics. There also emerged a theatre full of music, dancing and singing a kind of hybrid growth- blending of the techniques of folk and modern drama into one. Here, along with the actors the singers dominated the stage. It was the theatre of entertainment.
The above categories in the theatre never function as water tight compartments. There were plays reflecting nationalistic sentiments like Kichaka Vadha written by K.P.Khadilkar in Marathi which shook the foundations of British rule in India. Theatre was used by social reforms also to attack out-dated customs and social norms. Number of plays like Sharada in Marathi decrying uneven marriages or Ekach Pyala by Ram Ganesh Gadkari attacking the evils of drinking were presented.
In 1940’s the Army lined artists and touring of performers to entertain the soldiers. In 1942 the Communist Party organized propaganda in folk – forms and the Indian people’s theatre movement began with a gusto and éclat.In 1948 in Puri , an Oriya play named Bhath (Rice) was performed for hundreds of nights. It was based on the Bengal famine, showing the landlord as a cruel lago and the hero and the heroine as social workers doing famine relief.
Thus between 1942 and 1945, the political movement brought renaissance in Indian drama. In its content, drama became more realistic. In its form, the drama became a mirror of the society. The ‘staginess’ became less and less jarring; the characters dressed like ordinary human beings; anything over decorative became humorous, acting became natural and gradually the roles of women were done by females and not by boys dressed up as girls.
In its language, the drama borrowed freely from the dialects; the idiom used by the audience was used by the actors on the stage. Indian Peoples Theatre Association could not maintain its glory of the 1943 after the war was over. Since no art can tolerate dictation for long, the artists of IPTA broke away and formed Indian National Theatre Association under the leadership of the then social worker Mrs. Lamaladeir Chattopadhyaya. This functioned as one of the active theatre – groups, well- organized, connected with the UNESCO theatre wing and put on a journal of its own. While both were opposed to Art for the sake of Art, IPTA aimed at exposing the ills of the bourgeoisie and forging the anti-imperialist struggle towards the people’s democracy, whereas INTA cared more for the traditional spiritual values and tended to give greater freedom to art and aesthetics.
Mention must also be made of individual efforts of artists in reviving the stage. For instance, Prithvi Theatres of Prithviraj Kapoor, Indra Anglion Natya, Manvantar in Bombay and Dharwar Natya Samaj. This added to a New Theatre Movement in the country.
In the category of theatre of entertainment comes the professional par se dramatic companies which moved all over the country and some of them even visited Europe with their theatrical productions. The musical theatre emerged with full force in Maharashtra in 1880, and under actor Balgandharva and dramatist Khadilkar. The theatre reached its height in the first quarter of the 20th century. Musical theatre was in fact an extension of folk theatre, probably more polished in presentation techniques and developed in terms of dramatic art. However, sometimes, the performance looked like a musical concert with intermittent prose passage as small announcements of the songs to follow. As a reaction prose theatre emerged in different parts of the country which took the theatrical art still further in terms of play- writing and presentation techniques by imbibing the spirit of modernity. Thus theatre in the modern sense of the term emerged in almost every region.Acco0rding to M. L. Varadpande, South Indian theatres, particularly in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh were inspired and influenced by the Marathi theatre. With the emergence of Cinema Indian theatre suffered immensely.
Prabhakar Machwe notes:
Around this time some technical blow to drama came to the fore. The first talkie Alamara was produced in Bombay in 1931. Consequently, there was a constant erosion of the stage – talent stage – craftsmen and stage – writers, who were swept away by the lure of the silver-screen.