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The Theatre of Veenapani Chawla​

An Artistic Path 

An excerpt from a Frontline article by Deepa Ganesh. Printed on July 25th 2014

An exhaustive study presenting a multidimensional view of Veenapani Chawla’s journey in the realm of theatre.
Religion has tradition, music has tradition, even revolution has tradition. As opposed to the monotony of modernity, tradition is richly diverse and resilient. With a penchant for refashioning the world in its own image, modernity, even with its impatience for all things ancient, does open up new avenues. Without being irreverent, how do we invest tradition with new meanings? How do we bend and transform ancient art practices to the requirements of innovative creative thought? Can a form of art embody inter-disciplinary ideas and yet remain true to its original purpose?

The Theatre of Veenapani Chawla: Theory, Practice and Performance, edited by Shanta Gokhale, is an absorbing account of a dedicated practitioner of the art whose body of work is not merely the outcome of a continued engagement with theatre per se but a serious quest into the possibilities of the body and consciousness and how the most organic expression of these seemingly twin constituencies has to be a consequence of its ties with other artistic forms and their inherent philosophies.

This exhaustive work on Veenapani Chawla is warm and dynamic, which is typical of its editor. The book breaks away from the heaviness of academia, refrains from theorising, and pays keen attention to the creative process of the director. This approach is perhaps unique to Shanta Gokhale because she herself is a writer and a translator, and the creative seekings of an artist perhaps forms a large part of her interest.

The book presents a multidimensional view of Veenapani Chawla and her work, bringing to the table diverse perspectives that look at her oeuvre in unusual ways. It is an interesting presentation of articles, newspaper reviews, interviews, texts of plays and a DVD which contains the performance of the play Hare and Tortoise (2007).

Shanta Gokhale, in her “Note on the Book”, says: “I had envisaged a monograph that would be both a description and a critical analysis. However, when I began to think about her work, I began to realise it was multidimensional and equally important in all its dimensions…. If this book was to fulfill its purpose of communicating to the reader the diverse ways in which Chawla had widened the world of theatre for herself and for her core group of actors, it would have to include the various papers she presented at various seminars and institutions. Further, considering the difficulty of understanding, through mere description, what her plays looked and sounded like, led to the idea that the book should contain full texts of the plays. Finally, given that she believed in hybridity…. It dawned on me that the most appropriate form of the book had to be multi-vocal.”

The book is divided into seven parts. It opens with the essay “Mumbai Years”. The essay is crucial to the reader’s understanding of Veenapani Chawla’s journey in the world of theatre. From Mumbai to her final destination, Pudhucherry, in 1993, the shift is more than geographical. Pudhucherry is at once the seat of Veenapani Chawla’s spiritual beliefs and the symbol of her quest for the philosophical in her theatrical pursuits.