While movies often hit you with the reality of life, books tend to take you to an alternate world. A fine balance between these two, however, is what theatre brings to the table—for a good play not only entertains but also educates and inspires. Here’s a list of five classic Indian plays that you would (trust us, when we say) happily ditch your Netflix night for! By Sushmita Srivastav
Girish Karnad was just 26 when he wrote Tughlaq as an elaborate 13-act play in Kannad. Later, he went on to become a celebrated actor, film director, writer, playwright and a Rhodes Scholar, and the play, well, it is still considered one of the best theatre works in India even after 56 years. Tughlaq, later translated into various languages including Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, and English, is Karnad’s take on the eponymous Sultan of Delhi who had a vision of uniting Hindus and Muslims back in the 14th century, and whose idealism leads to disillusionment and chaos. Ingeniously written, the play is more than just a political allegory, it is a reality check that fits in quite well even in today’s picture.
Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe! (1967)
Vijay Tendulkar, the eminent playwright and novelist, was known for never soft-peddling his views and always coming forward as the man who believed in strong opinions and defiance. That’s probably why his work always attracted controversies but also huge popularity. Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe! too was filled with taboo subjects like infidelity and infanticide and of course, raised many eyebrows when first staged in 1967. The play revolves around a mock trial of a teacher who is accused of developing illicit relations with her colleague and infanticide. The story unfolds as a play inside the play and bares the hypocrisy of a patriarchal society while vacillating between illusion and reality. Translated to Silence! The Court Is In Session! in English and Khamosh! Adaalat Jari Hai! in Hindi, it was also adapted into a famous Marathi movie.
Dear Liar (1958)
The theatrical adaptation of Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw’s real-life relationship with popular stage actress from England, Mrs Patrick Campbell from ’90s, is a love story not to be missed. Written by Jerome Kilty and directed by Sayadev Dubey in 2013 for the Indian audience, the two-hour Broadway play has a promising cast including veteran actors Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah in lead roles where they recreate the magical relation through an exchange of beautiful letters written over a period of 40 long years.
Ebong Indrajit (1963)
Badal Sircar’s Ebong Indrajit talks to each one of us about something that we all have experienced at least once in our lifetimes—existential crisis. Taking one through the roller-coaster journey of finding the meaning of life while facing failures, fears, and a lack of motivation in youth. Sircar’s absurdist Bengali drama was adapted later in different languages and captures the crisis and loneliness in a middle-class urban man’s life with dismaying accuracy. Said to be a landmark in Indian theatre, Ebong Indrajit gives you a taste of sad reality and leaves you bitter, but for all the right reasons.
VV Shirvadkar aka Kusumagraj’s memorable drama, Natsamrat, was a no less than a revolution to the Marathi theatre world. Fascinatingly, the play was about a veteran theatre artist who left the stage but could not accept that his life as an artist had ended. Written by Shirvadkar as an attempt to match the sheer depth and tragedy of masterpieces like Othello and King Lear, the play was later adapted into an eponymous motion picture starring celebrated actor, Nana Patekar.