BENGALURU: Indian writing in English, specifically Indian drama in English, increasingly makes headlines today. And for good reason. The recent past has seen a spurt of plays penned by a growing crop of Indian playwrights exploring contemporary issues and themes.
Unfortunately, very little of this has been documented or given the attention it deserves. How many of us can or do remember the names of productions, let alone plays that were penned and published in the fifties and sixties? This is where In Order of Appearance makes a difference.
The title is deceptive. At first glance you may be forgiven for thinking that In Order of Appearance is about credit titles of a star-studded film or TV serial. An e-book, arguably the first of its kind, it is a compendium of Indian playwrights and their published plays in English from 1947 to 2010. The brain child of Bangalorean and thespian Abhijit Sengupta, it provides an invaluable source of information for theatre practitioners, enthusiasts and students alike.
What inspired him to research and put together this rich body of work? Sengupta, who was earlier secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, reveals “the idea came when I retired in 2008 that I should do something about Indian drama in English. I looked at the history and found that were just a couple of bibliographies…. Given the number of plays that have been written,this wasn’t enough.”
In Order of Appearance covers about 807 plays by 255 playwrights. According to Sengupta, “in 53 years between 1947 and 1999, including all full length and short plays for children, but without taking into account 10 undated plays, 417 plays are known to have been written in English, whereas in just 11 years between 2000 and 2010 as many as 380 plays were written.” He is careful to point out that it does not include translations or adaptations. “People make mistakes about translations,” he explains. “They are not a part of Indian drama in English, but are a part of vernacular plays which have been translated in English.”
A lot more than a compendium of plays and playwrights, the book also provides information about theatre groups, synopses of the plays along with cast and crew details. “The idea is the reader to get a sense of the play, and what it might involve as a production. “For instance, is the play a two hander or does it involve a cast of 20 or does it have an all women cast? I hope that has come through,” he adds.
As a result, the reader also gets a flavour of the plays in the context of time and of various theatre companies then and now. “Among the groups I’ve talked about are Theatre Group in Mumbai, Yatrik in Delhi, Bangalore Little Theatre and the Madras Players. I’ve also included a couple of paras about how they went about doing theatre,” says Sengupta, whose book is available on Kindle on Amazon.