A classroom debate moderated by this author final week, with college students of drama, delivered to the fore misapprehensions concerning what one would possibly time period ‘Islamic theatre’ in India. The phrasing itself was referred to as out as parochial in its scope, or too strongly affiliated with non secular id, and a few even questioned the necessity for such a classification since we don’t often discuss ‘a Hindu theatre’ (however in fact we do, by wonderful default). This was all compounded by the very fact that there have been no Muslims within the room, however arguably, one would possibly say there have been many amongst us whose world-views might need been influenced and even formed by Islamic mores and values, on condition that we reside in a rustic with one of many largest populations of Muslims on this planet and even when insularity runs actually deep, parallel cultures do meet sooner or later. Or, no less than, we hope they do.
Rooted in tradition
To clarify additional, relating to semantics, many use the phrases ‘Islamic’ or ‘Muslim’ as adjectives moderately interchangebly, usually in incorrect contexts. Whereas the phrase ‘Muslim’ refers to these people who find themselves followers of Islam and to not occasions or concepts or issues, the phrase ‘Islamic’, in response to scholar Ahmed E Souaiaia of the College of Iowa, “can be used to describe things that are present in Islamic societies and cultures, even if their origins are not rooted in Islam or produced by Muslim people.” It’s an adjective that connotes a civilizational ethos and encompasses nearly every little thing from structure and artwork to philosophy and historical past and, sure, theatre. It’s, unquestionably, an inclusive time period, even when talking it out loud may appear odd to our tongues, laced as they’re with a mess of conditioned prejudices. A corollary is perhaps drawn with the phrase ‘queer’. For some it’s an all-embracing cultural umbrella that covers a complete spectrum (the veritable rainbow), for others it stays a social label that’s pejorative and reductive and may by no means be reclaimed. Even phrases like ‘feminist’ are double-edged lately, given the rise of ‘male anxiety’ tradition submit the appearance of the #metoo motion. It’s unlucky that there are lots of who search to interpret politically charged labels by being selective, and even cavalier, concerning the meanings that they wish to extract, and that may be a problematic privilege of gaze that the majority is perhaps laborious pressed to discard.
The notion of an Islamic theatre doesn’t encourage the politics of exclusion or discrimination. As an alternative it’s a cover of cultural richness, even when the categorisation would possibly make some uncomfortable if solely as a consequence of its lustre. From aesthetic varieties just like the Dastangoi (or conventional Urdu storytelling) to mainstream fare just like the stage adaptation of Okay Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam to sub-cultural gems like Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan, carried out by younger girls from Delhi’s Nizammudin Basti, it cuts a big swathe throughout the cultural panorama and maybe, acknowledging its cultural roots shouldn’t threaten those that reside insecurely in majoritarian techniques.
Tip of the iceberg
Performs comparable to Taoos Chaman Ki Myna, directed by Atul Tiwari and based mostly on Naiyer Masud’s story, are set in a milieu the place Islamic tradition prevails — old-world Lucknow in the course of the ill-fated reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Nevertheless, the vein of progressiveness that pervades the piece makes a robust case for its liberal credentials. That is totally different from a play like, say, Imran Rasheed’s Bade Miyan Deewane, based mostly on Shaukat Thanvi’s Budbhas, the place faith is perhaps absent, however a patriarchal construction may be very a lot in proof, even when it lends itself to far-fetched however hilarious comedian conditions within the mien of the Urdu farces of yore, which wore their ‘Muslimness’ each evenly and with out reproach. Then there may be Deepan Sivaraman’s masterful theatrical adaptation of O V Vijayan’s Khasakkinte Ithihasam, during which Islamic non secular fervour is ingrained within the soil of the small hamlet of Khasak, moderately than being ‘othered’.
The place purportedly non-Muslim theatremakers come into the image, there may be often an outsider’s gaze which may codify every little thing from hijabs to prayer mats to skullcaps, whereas usually, Muslim theatremakers function from inside the established order with out commenting on ages-old practices and customs, however focusing as a substitute on humanising the individuals who abide by them — Rasheed’s Phir Se Shaadi, the place a divorced Muslim couple search to remarry, however not earlier than negotiating a minefield of Quranic rules. As Anamika Haksar’s Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon confirmed us, these works are simply the tip of an iceberg.