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About A Vision for Rang-Manch

Evolving from early ritual practices and festive-religious observances, dramatic performances came to occupy a pivotal place within the community’s life in cultures of both East and West. Over time, the performing of plays conferred all kinds of powers and benefits, both on those upon the stage, and those in attendance as spectators. For when, as Shakespeare famously put it, all the world’s a stage, then through plays one could get insights into the order of nature and the nature of man, as well as into the circumstances of historical societies. Holding a mirror up to nature, the play could “show the time his form and pressure”, thus making a difference in one’s day and age by creating awareness through entertainment.

Marking as it does the maturation of its forerunner at RLA-Evening, Prayas, Aryabhatta’s theatre group Rang-Manch attempts in its own way to encompass the wide range of potentialities offered by the doing and viewing of plays. The goal is multifold: (1) The promotion of communication within the college and university community (it will be noticed that, as words and concepts, ‘community’ and ‘communication’ have much in common). (2) Opportunities for lively creative interchanges and hands-on collaborations among participants and viewers. (3) Honing of staging skills-sets including familiarization with variant performance styles, techniques, idioms and tonalities. (4) Imparting of pleasurable as well as meaningful entertainment. (5) Representing, understanding and intelligently commenting upon different areas of life and topics of current relevance, especially those that might hold interest and meaning for tomorrow’s generation, which college students by definition are.

Rang-Manch attempts to break ground in all of the above domains. At the same time, among other things through the work of Rang-Manch’s sister forum Street-Struck (which, as the name implies, contrasts with being ‘star struck’ or ‘glamour struck’, and specializes in the earthy simplicity and communicative directness of so-called street plays, or ‘nukkad natak’), Aryabhatta’s theatrical experiments encourage improvisatory collective ‘scripting’ and spontaneous performances that can be ‘staged’ just anywhere, anytime, with minimal paraphernalia or ‘props’. Such performances, though enormously entertaining, peppy and ‘fun’, actually derive much of their sting and effect from being able to involve and grip young audiences with a sense of spot urgency towards living issues of their day. To take just one instance, questions of gender justice and issues such as girls’ education, safety, agency, dowry or widow remarriage have found reflection in the college groups’ repertoire.

This means that doing plays for our college’s theatre group is something more, and more ‘real’ and edgy than just being able to put over slick, well-polished production pieces. We are an educational institution, and doing plays for us has got to mean not just entertaining, but educating. Yet to educate here has no implication of something patronizingly channeled as top- down ‘instruction’, or a ‘lesson’ to be poured into a waiting vessel of passive learners. Rather, our performances are meant as collaborative, mutual and two-way exercises in co-learning. We learn as we perform; and the audience teaches us something too, as we unfold the performance, not just for them, but with them, and also for us.

Still more subtly (as pioneer of college theatre in Delhi University director Barry John once said), student theatre is educational theatre. It is theatre in the service of education – which emphasized Barry, really means self-education. For what doing plays ultimately teaches the young persons who participate in the process, is about themselves, i.e. about their own so far unexamined inner experiences as developing persons. A “play” is serious stuff: it is about self- exploration, self-expression, self-discovery. And so, what one discovers in that exciting (and sometimes troubling or challenging process) is not always easy to either get or digest. But it may be the most important part of college theatre’s educational purpose: to achieve an insight into one’s own history, into what lies within, and thus to begin to understand her/his least suspected, least understood and seldom externalized (‘performed’) parts. In portraying others’ lives, one uncovers one’s own.

In an age where the shining lights of big and small screen and the celebrity culture have all but blinded us to this deeper inner dimension of enacted performances, Rang-Manch attempts in its way to close the gap for its students, both on- and off-stage, and for students in the university fraternity at large. And because this effort is sincere, spontaneous and authentic, one begins to understand the reasons for the success story that has taken us from strength to strength, from recognition to recognition, and from acceptance to affection and admiration, among Delhi University’s theatre outfits.