Plays and Dramas
People said that after the great poet Girishchandra was gone:
- there were no longer any accomplished dramatists and
- drama is gradually dying out.
Why are good dramas not being produced? Why is there not a good drama in dramatic literature, modelled with the touch of a rare genius like Rabindranath?
Perhaps by good drama the complainants mean “box-office dramas,”
it is precisely because most of Rabindranath’s dramas are lacking in box-office appeal that they do not take them into account.
In literary parlance we may divide drama into two categories: first the box-office play, and secondly, the witty stage play of high literacy excellence, which demands a little extra intellect to understand – which in English literature is called “drama.” The first, the box-office plays, are a part of Epochal Literature, and thus it is necessary for the writers of such plays to be well-conversant with the problems of the contemporary era.
It is only when it gives just expression to current problems through songs and dance, uproar and tumult, laughter and tears, joys and sorrows, that a play becomes a box-office hit. Even slight or sizeable lapses in characterization and treatment of conflict do not in the least diminish the popular appreciation of this class of drama.
Light-hearted audiences of mediocre intelligence go home happy after laughing, crying and enjoying songs and dances for sometime: they do not even feel like criticizing or commenting on the underlying ideas and language of the drama. So the dramatists too have to wield their pens in accordance with the demand of their patrons, the common people. If they have any drawbacks or shortcomings of their own as litterateurs or artists, they can easily disguise them through cheap humour, so that what they have written for the public may justify its existence by offering them a little jollity.
The form and presentation of most of the films of modern India, particularly those with the Bombay trade-mark, pertain to this category of drama. There is nothing to ponder or comprehend about these plays; there is hardly any question of reality or unreality in them either. If there is any expression of the age in them, well and good; if not, no harm.
But as I have already said, a drama may be considered successful only if it combines excitement with the vivid portrayal of the era. But for this portrayal of the problems of the age in the drama, it is essential for the dramatist to have a clear conception of his or her age. Those who have this are, indeed, genuine dramatists; in such presentation there occurs a wonderful blending of the public demand and the dramatist’s talent.
Most of the compositions of Rabindranath do not fall into this category of plays. He was a real poet and so his dramas, though not neglecting the demand of the age, always sought to remain outside the purview of that era. Thus his dramas were seldom popular in the theatre, where most spectators go for a little amusement and not for appreciating the niceties of literature; but they received the unstinted approbation of the real connoisseurs of art and literature. Those members of the audience who were unable to properly appreciate the subtle nuances of his dramas on the stage, could experience an indescribably wonderful joy as readers of those very dramas.
This type of dramatic presentation, which in English is called drama, is called Nát́áyana in Saḿskrta. The playwrights draw their vitality from this very Nát́yáyana.
It is noteworthy that some of these dramas written somewhat in the style of box-office plays, enjoy greater popularity even than the box-office plays; and from this it is evident that although the common people are fond of riotous hilarities, they have in them a dormant aesthetic sense which may be aroused through song and dance as well as through the medium of the portrayal of pleasure and pain, laughter and mirth. Of course, with the increase in the number of educated people with literary taste, drama, too, is becoming a stage success in many countries. Previously the theatre owners suffered appreciable loss when Shakespeare’s dramas were staged. But now with the increase in the number of literature-lovers. Shakespearean dramas have far surpassed even the box-office plays in popularity.
Most of the dramatic compositions of the great poet Girishchandra fall into the category of plays, for he was associated with the professional theatre. He was well aware that dramas, if staged, would not receive any appreciable reception in the society of his time, and thus he took to writing plays. He himself was a reputed actor, and so theatre-goers were great admirers of every character in almost every drama written by him.
Yet it must not be forgotten that although he had to write plays for the sake of his professional career, he had within him a deep aesthetic poetic genius, and so most of his plays had the touch of drama - the suggestion of supra-sensibility. In fact, judging Girishchandra’s compositions with an impartial mind, it must be admitted that he chose the middle path between drama and plays. As he expressed in his own language:
After Girishchandra, we have had many good dramatists and good actors, but not of the calibre of Girishchandra’s genius.
Many think that song and dance in essential in drama.
Background music greatly helps in the creation of dramatic atmosphere. It does not fall exactly in the category of songs and lyrics, It is just a subtle device to help the mind apprehend the sentiments portrayed. There is nothing natural or unnatural about it.
But I cannot accept that songs must be in dramas.
Let there be an abundance of songs and dances in those plays which are written to elicit cheap applause from the audience, or let there be absolutely unnatural songs forced into the mouths of the hero and the heroine as explanations of each event or situation; but while writing dramas one must be extremely careful in this regard.
There are plays in which after a tragic event, such as the death of a dear one, the bereaved mother or wife starts singing a plaintive song, and that, too, to the accompaniment of rhythmic musical instruments. Those who do not analyse this objectivity may perhaps be moved to emotion by such a song of lamentation, but those who are connoisseurs or lovers of literature, will leave the hall in utter disgust; it is not only unreal, it is absolutely offensive to the taste. Even heroes and heroines who did not know each other at all before, are seen singing a duet. Did they rehearse the song beforehand?
Truly speaking, with the exception of musical plays, it is necessary to exercise restraint and good judgement before introducing songs in other dramatic presentations. We can tolerate the character “Conscience” singing a song in a musical play, for Conscience is an allegorical role. But in the mouths of the hero and heroine any song that is incidental to the story is absolutely unbecoming and out of place. No matter how richly imbued the song is with thought and sentiment, it is not at all desirable to use it as an indication of the future of the dramatic plot. People do sing and dance in the course of their daily lives; such songs and dances do depict their joys and sorrows, hopes and despair, but they sing and dance in particular circumstances. The plaintive song is sung long after the mournful event: with the dead body on their laps, they do not sing sorrowful tunes over it. Upon the receipt of any happy news, people shout or jump for joy, but they do not start dancing according to accepted rules, with proper posture, gesture and rhythm. Song and dance may be introduced in a drama to portray people’s daily lives, but one must be cautious lest they become unnatural to the discriminating readers and spectators.
A drama is concerned with the subtler portion of the mind, and so the songs of dramas have to be imbued with high thought and sentiment. Just to maintain the purity of classical music, a drama cannot give indulgence to substandard compositions. The songs in a play are composed in order to attract the popular mind, and hence there is nothing to be said against them. But one must be careful that the songs contain no seeds of malevolence in them.
Short Dramas and Mystery Dramas
Today people are extremely pressed for time: they do not have much leisure at their disposal for reading or witnessing dramas. The indomitable urge to triumph over time has gradually obsessed the human mind. Hence playwrights and directors, too, are obliged to adjust themselves to the public demand, adopting the policy of compromise. A play does not have the scope which a longer drama has to vividly portray life, or effectively represent the conflicts of characters. Yet more stress is being given today to plays, since for most people the value of time has considerably increased. It is impossible for a play to accommodate the wider range of a long drama. That is why almost all the dramatists who are engaged in such efforts fail. In a short play it is impossible to give expression to a whole life story, and even any fraction of a conflict cannot be fully dealt with and given full justice. One must be satisfied with presenting only a small portion of any situation or theory. It is only by combining several playlets together that the dramatist can properly portray any situation, problem or ideology: several one-act plays joined together can then mirror the multifarious life of society. The success of a drama, particularly a mystery drama, depends largely on the creation of suspense. If the theme is not very complicated, the readers or spectators do not feel any particular difficulty, even if the suspense is introduced in the very beginning; in that case the process of appreciation remains undisturbed. But if there are complications in the plot, it is desirable to let the reader or the audience first form a rough guess about the plot and then introduce suspense, instead of introducing it at the very beginning, for this will help them to appreciate the suspense more. Otherwise, if the audience has not even understood the suspenseful plot, the desire for release from the suspense cannot be intensified; rather people spend their psychic energy more on pondering over what they do not understand in the complicate plot, instead of being curious about what is coming next.
In my opinion this applies equally to both screen and stage plays and dramas. The difference between the two is that the assistance that the author of a screen drama derives from the art director or the studio-technicians, the author of a stage drama does not. The latter has to arrange the environment through the media of the dialogues of the different characters.
The range and extent of short stories are exactly the same as those of plays: but here the writer must know the technique of presenting a long story concisely. Suspense, too, is equally effective in short stories as in plays: dramatic quality is essential for a writer of those short stories which come in the category of sketches, for a sketch holds an intermediate position between a story and a drama. Some critics think that sketches also come within the category of dramas, and I do not see any reason to contradict their opinion. Actually the most significant difference between a drama and a story is that the characters of a drama act and talk before the readers or the audience in living form, whereas in a story or a novel it is the writer who talks – either personally or through his or her mentally created characters. The chief characteristic of a drama – be it an opera, ballet, drama, play, shadow play, etc. – is that it includes the self-expression of living characters.
Whenever literature properly utilizes the opportunities for relating any actual incident or imaginary event cohesively and adroitly, such a creation is called a long story. In Saḿskrta a long story is called Kathá, and a short story is termed Kathániká. The responsibility of the novelist, however, is a great deal more onerous than that of a story writer, for in novels the systematic narration of a story is not the sole or primary element: along with it, psychological analysis as well as the conflicts of characters must also find proper expression. To compose Coastal Literature around stories is extremely difficult, if not impossible; but in novels it is quite possible. Novels are a form of fiction, or upanyása. (It is difficult to find exact equivalents in Saḿskrta for these two words, “novel” and “upanyása.” The word upanyása, current in languages like Bengali, Hindi, etc., means “to place together, to juxtapose.” There is some confusion in the meaning of the word in Bengali and Hindi. In some Indian languages the word kádambarii is used for upanyása; this is probably due to its being related to the Saḿskrta book entitled “Kádambarii.” The novel form of literature never existed in ancient Indian literature, and thus there is no Saḿskrta term for this word.
Generally it is noticed that human thinking capacity becomes somewhat dull in the wake of a major catastrophe. This accounts for the present psychic state of the human race, following two major wars which took place within a short period of time, with various miseries and tribulations as a result. Humanity is presently unable to think, read or comprehend anything serious. Even artists and litterateurs who are capable of thinking or expressing serious matters do not feel any urge to do so, thinking that in this way they will not get any encouragement or patronage from the public. To say that there are no artists today is an absolute falsehood: there are still some, though they are lacking in vitality. What is scarce is not artists but patronage and encouragement. Even if we accept that the real artist does not create art in the hope of receiving encouragement from anyone, I would say that when artists, propelled by their heart’s emotion, or engaged in the endeavour to lose themselves in the expression of their art, undertake to create something, even at that time it is necessary to supply them with the necessary provision for the expression of their vital force. The lack of such provision means that both the artists and their art meet their premature doom. So instead of blaming the artists, condemning their worthlessness with rude language, one has to admit this paramount truth – that since we ourselves are incapable of thinking or understanding anything serious, we are actually pushing the truly creative, quality artists towards destruction.
The essence of poetry or poetic literature is its penetrating appeal: here the emotion of the heart is predominant. That which is narrated in prose, in simple, direct language is expressed in poetry tinged with the colour of the core of the heart, and with subtle suggestions of the unknown. The readers are required to understand the dynamic relation between the past and the future through the feelings of their hearts. That is why poetry is comprehensible not merely by listening or reading, but by touching the poet’s heart with one’s own. These days humanity has lost its aesthetic appreciation for poetry as a result of the torments from the harsh blows of reality. Poetic literature, particular the epic, has become completely obsolete. And yet when humanity first attempted to determine the relation between the natural and the supernatural, when the subtle aesthetic sense was awakened in them for the first time, then the basket of literature was filled with the cowrie-shells of poetry. But today these cowries are obsolete: they have no value in the market; and poetic literature, too, is in the process of decay. Few people buy poetry books to read. Yet during the spring of youth, when the ebullience of the heart is pronounced, adolescents still read poems and try to explain them to others, or recite them with all the sweetness of their hearts. But with advancing age, when the once sensitive mind, smitten by the blows and counter-blows of the world, becomes hardened like as over-burnt brick, charred in the fire of worldly ordeals, then its capacity to appreciate poetry is reduced to nothing. People come to like only those things that have some relation with reality, and the ebullience of the emotion of the heart no longer has any appreciable value. Of course there are exceptions, but generally we find that the poems that elderly people recite are invariably those that they had memorized during their early youth. The poets, in order to survive this situation, are now tending towards composing realistic poems. This is not altogether bad, for at least in this way poetic literature may find the path to longevity.
The poverty of the lyricists is not so marked at present, since the market for songs is still existing due to cinema, radio, stage and recordings. Although what the lyricists receive as remuneration is nothing compared to their labour, still their prospects are far better than that of the poets. Anything serious in lyricism is heading for destruction: all that is left is the showy glitter of language. The purity of rágas or ráginiis (classical melodies) has been lost, and what remains is merely the glamour of adulterated, non-classical tunes; from the viewpoint of lyrical value, modern songs are gradually heading towards bankruptcy.
Similarly, there is no current demand for, or appreciation of, essays with serious themes. People want light and attractive essays today; thus to satisfy this demand novelists and essayists have started composing charming compositions in which seriousness has no scope. In lucid language the essayists tell their stories with some flashes or erudition here and there, dwelling on small or great themes, from the lowest to the highest. The writers of such narratives or descriptions have no recognized standard before them, nor is there any constructive endeavour on their part to create one, either. The writers seem to give more importance to linguistic jugglery, thereby relegating their main theme to a secondary position. When the contents of a composition aroused a sense of literary appreciation or manifest the author’s sense of responsibility, only such a composition may be called an ideal essay (rasaracana). While the more superficial compositions lack the profundity of thought, the authors of serious compositions must, on the other hand, acquire the flair for narration in a consummate conversational tone. Many quality novelists lack this ability, and hence they fail as writers of attractive compositions.
There is yet another form of literature gradually gaining importance: children’s literature (shishu sáhitya). Here the sense of responsibility and proficiency of the authors is more important than in any other branch of literature. In every sentence of juvenile literature there should be a wonderful attractive power – a crystalline simplicity and an open-heartedness without any hesitation. The author of juvenile literature has to explain through language and thought how life should be lived with purity and straight forwardness. The child’s mind is filled with fanciful imagery, and so the litterateurs will also have to soar in the sky of imagination with outstretched wings. However, they cannot afford to give indulgence to intricacies and complexities in this visionary ascent. The thirst for the distant, and the earnest zeal to know he unknown that abides in the child’s mind must be fulfilled by drawing pictures of magical lands and relating colourful fairy tales. “Real” or “natural” is not so important here. What is more important is to carry the child’s mind along in the current of joy, and in the process to acquaint the child with the world in an easy and simple manner. The harshness of reality should not be portrayed: the child will not want to read or listen to it. “The prince of the mind with his wings outspread in the azure sky soars to the kingdom of the old witch beyond the worlds of the moon and the sun; and, tying his Pegasus to the golden branches of the pearl tree, proceeds in quest of the sleeping princess in the soundless, serene palace. Being informed of the whereabouts of the magic wands of life and death, and rousing the princess from her centuries-old sleep, he gathers all the information about the sleeping den of the demons, and seeks to establish himself in the world like a hero…” Picture after picture, colour after colour, must accompany the words: this the children’s minds crave.
For those who are a little older than small children, that is, boys and girls in their early teens, farces and satires are quite successful. In these the children can find the ideals that are conducive to the formation of their characters. But for those who are comparatively young, simplicity will be the guiding principle in whatever is written for them. Giving undue indulgence to the play of words, flowery language, figures of speech, or long, didactic preaching, will turn juvenile literature into trash.
A much neglected part of children’s literature is the lullaby.
In most cases, it falls under the category of verse. It portrays the visionary environments in which all children’s literature has to dwell. But the unfoldment of scenes in lullabies takes place much more rapidly.
Seeing picture after picture in his or her mental mirror, the child dozes off into the bosom of sleep.
So the composer of lullaby has to be an accomplished painter at heart.
[Hush, my child, listen! said your brother tonight He’ll buy you two horses, one black and one white You’ll ride the white in the morning bright And then ride the black one in the failing light.]
The mind of the child gets lost in the horses, their colours, the time of day and the joy of riding on horseback, and thus musing over these pictures he or she slowly and gradually falls asleep.
It is important that these lullabys should convey the inspiration for the development of heroism and knowledge, but there should be no frightening ideas in them. Even if inadvertently any fear complex is created in the children’s minds, these compositions cannot be regarded as lullaby.
Through these verses a child can easily become acquainted with nature in a way which makes the world delightful and captivating for them:
[“Asleep, asleep, all asleep – The wasp, the flea, and the bumble-bee Awake am I, awake I keep” Says the Shiulii-flower tree. Child: “Why does the Shiulii keep awake?” Mother: “For the blossoms will fall at daybreak. And at that time, my darling, you will awake.”]
Indispensable domestic duties may also be taught through the medium of delight, as in such verses:
[Alas, alas, hasn’t Rani learned the cooking art She puts chillis in shukto,(3) ghee in ambal-tart?(4) Asking Auntie, “Shall I put spices in broth? From the sweet rice porridge, shall I drain off the froth?” While the guests wait for dinner, hungry every one – Now what’s to be done, oh what’s to be done?]
Often through these rhymes even the weary, long-suffering images of oppressed people may be vividly expressed, and contrasted with the pomp and glamour of prosperous society. But then this, too, should be expressed in a light-hearted fashion:
[Khukhu will be wed in the wondrous land of Hattamala Where they till their fields with oxen and bulls And brush their teeth with diamond-powder Where there’s fish and green gourd by the basketful – But going there to fetch Khukhu, Her mother-in-law scorns her by turning her back.] Thus these neglected folk-lyrics and lullabies have enormous value in the formation of children’s character. Enlightened litterateurs should pay attention to this aspect of literature also.
Towards the Transcendental Entity
As the sense of subtle aesthetics was developed in human beings in the course of evolution, a desire for the creation of art was also awakened in them. The ideal of the artist is be to established in transcendentality beyond the bounds of the sensory world. So the artists, or more precisely, the worshippers of fine art, have to be spiritual aspirants if they want to move on the right path. The cultivation of fine arts is but a mockery on the path of those who have not developed spiritual sentiment or accepted the spiritual ideal as the goal of life. Only those who look upon everything of the world in a spiritual spirit can realize in everything the blissful, transcendental Entity. The greater the realization of this transcendental Entity, the greater the understanding of one’s oneness with Him, and thus the greater the success in the creation of art. The successful creation of art is absolutely impossible by those who, in spite of their possessing some creative faculty, do not seek that subtle Entity. Such people’s thought processes go adrift, like a sailboat with a torn sail. Their mental aberration is reflected through all of their writings, which ultimately become strange and grotesque. Besides this, in the individual lives of such artists, there occurs a serious catastrophe. In the battle between their transitory sense of aesthetics and their lust for material happiness, their strength of character is torn in this tension between the subtle and the crude. That is why we find that in the history of the world those who lacked purity or spiritual ideals and spiritual austerity – no matter how great their genius as poets, litterateurs and artists, no matter what reputation they had earned in their respective fields of art – could not command respect and prestige as human beings in society due to their loose characters. It is due to this lack of firmness of character that the talents of many good singers, actors, and other kinds of artists have prematurely withered away, before attaining full development.
As mentioned above, the greater the touch with transcendentality, the greater the success of the artist, for knowingly or unknowingly the human mind is seeking transcendentality. People yearn for the unknown: they cannot remain content with the known; thus where there is an endeavour to create art merely out of the events of daily life, it does not appeal to the intuitional faculty of the human mind. Can there be an artist without genius? Is art the result only of sincere endeavour, of hard labour? Quite a knotty question! I think the answer lies in the inherent spiritual thirst of human beings. In other words, a genius is born into this world with a powerful innate spiritual hunger, whether he or she realizes it or not. For those who do not have this spiritual hunger, the effort to become artists by toilsome labour alone is absolutely useless. But then, if a person who has no creative genius succeeds in kindling his or her spiritual urge and desire for the infinite, then it will not be impossible for him or her to develop genius.
Naturalness and Unnaturalness in Art
Another consideration which is often discussed in the question of naturalness in art. According to many, art should faithfully express itself in the same natural way that, for example, people normally eat, sleep and talk: otherwise, it is said, that art will be defective. In the field of dramatic art, greater emphasis is given to this idea of naturalness these days. This has also affected recitation and other artistic modes, but I cannot fully agree with this idea. Depending upon the theme and nature of the topic, the introduction of diversity in theatrical expression is quite natural. To express crude ideas one must resort to crude language, crude gestures, and crude ways of expression in daily life. These, however, cannot be employed to give expression to subtle feelings. For this a particular language, a particular diction and a particular gesture will be necessary, and in such cases it will be easy to appreciate the beauty of dramatic performance as such – that is, on its face value, instead of looking at it as an expression of naturalness. Actually, the vivid presentation of the artist’s ideas is of primary importance, and to achieve this any means necessary should be adopted. We should not be over concerned with the naturalness or unnaturalness: none of the illustrious actors of the world ever worried over this point, nor do they do so even today. This dogmatic declaration about the importance of naturalness in art has not issued from the important personages of the theatrical world, but from petty people with superficial knowledge. The combination of language and gesture (mudrá) that makes dramatic acting successful must be fully utilized by the actors. To maintain naturalness one must not render the language confused or incoherent, or the characters gestureless and awkward. In individual life, in our so-called “natural” state we seek to express our inner ideas, and often the communication of these ideas to others is secondary. In dramatic performance, however, this communication is of primary importance.
The same holds true for music. The totality of song, instrumental play and dance (giita-vádyá-nrtya) is called saḿgiita or music. When a song is composed only to express the laughter and tears of ordinary life, there is hardly any difficulty in conveying this to the ears and hearts of the people: the song discharges its responsibility well enough through the medium of ordinary language and melody. But where the feelings and sensibilities are deep and subtle – where one has to create vibrations in the molecules and atoms of the body, in the chords of the heart – there the music has to follow an extraordinary path: Hence to those who are incapable of ingesting the subtle feelings of the Science of Music, the álápa or introductory portion of a classical piece, will be nothing but prálápa or delirious raving. If music must descend to the ordinary level of life to conform to the slogan of naturalness, then preeminence will be given to doggerels, as the sweetness and charm of real music becomes extinct. Indeed, the music that is in vogue in the world today in the name of “popular music” is nothing but doggerels of this type, though expressed in a better language. Language, rhythm and melody are the indispensable parts of a song: one cannot exclude any one of them. (The difference between song and instrumental music is that songs comprise rhythm, melody and language, but in instrumental music, rhythm is predominant, melody is subordinate, and language is absolutely nil.)
Dance and Recitation
Dance is customarily divided into 2 categories:
Many people are loathe to accept that gestureless rhythmic dance can be considered dance at all. Judging the characteristics of dance, it must be admitted that both gestures and rhythm are important components in dance: the gestures give expression to inner sentiment, and the rhythm gives it dynamism. If dance is only gestural and devoid of rhythm, it is called pantomime, not dance. And dance, devoid of gestures is nothing but another form of physical exercise – it is not art.
The greatest difference between recitation and acting is that in acting there is both language and gesture; while recitation (ávrtti) consists of only language. Thus in acting there is greater scope for the expression of refined aesthetic taste than in recitation.
Architecture and Painting
As for architecture, a perfect mastery of the science of engineering along with the knowledge of art is necessary, and thus there is a wonderful blending of the crude and subtle arts in architecture. No matter how great is the suggestion of subtle aesthetic sense in architecture, it never has scope for being unnatural. Yet it is in painting and sculpture, which are considered the subtlest of all arts, that we find the true expression of the wonderful aesthetic sense of the human mind. In the calm stillness of a painting or a sculpture, all has to be vividly expressed – laughter and tears, hopes and fears, gestures and language. Indeed, it is the arts of painting and sculpture that beautifully bridge the gap between the mundane and the supramundane.
As in dramatic acting, so in painting and sculpture the question of naturalness or unnaturalness arises, and here too the same answer holds true: the mode of expression must be chosen to suit the sentiment being expressed. In fact to raise the question of naturalness or unnaturalness in painting is absolutely unfitting. The artist at the time of giving physical expression to his or her mental image is not bound to reproduce a particular part of the body according to physiological science. Giving form to thought or idea is what is important: the artist is not a teacher of physiology. Bringing thought or idea into the world of form is his or her artistic sádhaná.