Indian theatre has a history going back about 5000 years or more. Infact, the very first book on drama, called the Natya Shahtra, was penned in India only, by Bharat Muni. As per the historians, the time when this book was written is estimated to fall between 2000 BC and 4th Century AD. Traditional Indian theater initiated as a narrative form with the elements like reciting, singing and dancing playing a crucial role in it. In the present times, there are many forms of theatre prevalent in India. The main ones are:
Since India consists of varied ethnic groups, each developed their own kind of traditional folk theatres, using the regional language for communication. These theaters are known by different names in different Indian states, like Jatra in Bengal, Orissa and Bihar, Tamasha in Maharashtra, Nautanki in Uttar Pradesh and so on. Here, the main protagonists are the narrator and a comedian. Loud music, dance, elaborate make-up, masks and chorus singing are the main traits of Indian folk theatre.
Ramlila / Ram Leela
Ramlila is an important form of folk theatre in India, based on the mythological story of a battle between Lord Rama and Demon Ravana. Its staging takes place at a number of places throughout India, once a year, and usually lasts for 10-12 days. The dialogues of this play are very outstanding and thus, it draws spectators in hordes. The staging of this style of theater evokes a festive ambience. Places like Ramnagar, Kumaoni, Varanasi and Chitrakoot are famous for their Ram Leela.
Puppetry, as a form of theatre in India, is very ancient and apart from entertainment, it also conveys useful messages to the spectators. The early puppet shows staged in India were mostly based on stories of famous Indian kings and heroes and at times, also a satire on the social and political milieu. Puppetry started taking in religious themes as well, after the introduction of shadow puppetry that were based on stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Other popular puppetry forms here are glove, rod, string, string-rod puppets.
The modern theatre in India comprises mainly of English, Hindi and Hinglish (comprising of a mix of Hindi and English dialogues) plays. English theatre was brought to India during the British rule and was watched mostly by art connoisseurs of the rich, upper class. This, however, changed after independence, as many Indians entered the fray and theatre slowly became open for common people too. Today, many English plays based on Shakespeare and other famous foreign authors are being staged. Hindi and Hinglish plays are quite popular too.