Dr. K.G. Paulose
Three characteristics distinguish classical theatre from other forms of performing arts – i. it inherits the age-old Natyasastra tradition, ii. even in regional manifestations it preserves the national character and iii. the acting pattern is mostly stylized. In its functional part classical theatre strives to preserve the existing social order where as the other forms deliberately break it.
Classical forms emerged from the popular. Theatre prior to Bharata was mass-based. The Jathaka stories give the details of many popular entertainments. Performances were held in temporary cloth-tents or open stages. Thousands witnessed the shows. The audience laughed and rolled to express their ecstasy-haseti remeti cha. In those days there was a danseuse by name Janapadakalayani. As the name indicates she was the darling of the villagers. When she danced the audience applauded shouting ‘well done’, ‘excellent’ etc. The aim of all the performances was to cause merriment and laughter so that people forgot the worries of ordinary life. Even the monks went to see these performances. Thalaputa, who led a 500 strong theatertroupe from the South, raised an innocent question to Lord Budha-
‘Will not these artists who serve the public like this, attain a position
equivalent to that of Gods in the other world?’
This pre-Bharatan theatre had a lot of shortcomings. Most of the presentations were rather crude; actors drawn from the lower strata of society were ignorant of the use of ornate language or stylized acting. The structure was rather loose. Yet it attracted the masses. Bharata refined the crude stage, confined it to well-built halls and prescribed a grammar for performance. Just like Panini refined the Sanskrit language from various prakrts, Bharata culled out from popular forms an elegant performing style. He elevated theater to a higher level. The first Natyagruha, with guards on all doors, was constructed to crush the voice of resistance. The classical stage will not tolerate any kind of revolt that upsets the existing order because it stands for the sthavara in society.