Conversation with Dr. Soumyabrata Choudhary :On the Aesthetics of Theater and Rethinking Pedagogic Practices

On the Aesthetics of Theater  : Rethinking Pedagogic Practices

In conversation with Dr. Soumyabrata  Choudhary. We discovered the inherent potential of theater for creative learning.

Dr. Soumyabrata Choudhary

Why is it that we all like engaging in conversations more than sitting before a panel in an interview? The reason perhaps all of us would agree is that a conversation unlike an interview is a much more relaxed, dialogic and interactive space that allows us to know the speaker more as a person than as merely an expert/professional. A conversation is a space where we share not just answers to specific questions but also participate passionately revealing our own dreams and passion, fears and dilemmas. Thus unlike an interview a conversation allows us to challenge the traditional roles of the interviewer and the interviewee (and of course the decorum that constricts our body language and degree of involvement) and brings us into a domain for a creative and rigorous exchange of ideas that helps us see more holistically and a evolve an understanding that is born out of compassionate engagement. The conversation that follows reaffirmed our faith in ‘conversation’ as a tool for not only critical enquiry but also for an existential/humanistic understanding of the ‘other’.  After all what is the meaning of education if it does not enable us to relate to others as humans before technicians-  conversations help us build a bridge of understanding, and through this understanding comes true knowledge.

The New Leam is of the belief that there is an urgent need in our times to rescue education from the reductionist orientation that sees it as merely the process of acquiring textual knowledge; we assert that the goal of education is more to create thinking/reflexive beings  who are  sensitive to their times. Thus education is not merely geography or mathematics or physics but also about cultivating the inner voice and finding one’s meaning in life. To be able to look at education as an integrated whole comprising of the synchrony between mind and heart, between reason and intuition it is extremely important that we we create an environment that values creativity, originality and wonder.

It is here that Arts are an important medium of educating the young.  Art allows one to integrate the inner with the outer world and express oneself creatively. At the same time, to master an art one must have inner discipline and a deep sense of commitment. Thus be it painting, sculpture, poetry, dance or dramatics all help the individual develop an integrated personality and discover the possibilities that lie hidden within. Education in the broadest sense of the term then has the similar purpose as that of art.

It is this phenomenal power of art that brings us face to face with Dr. Soumyabrata Choudhary and he shares with our team his own experiences and ideas about the field of theater and dramatics- how over the decades the medium has evolved and changed and how it helps the individual discover the voice within.

We began with a discussion on how theater as a medium of expression has evolved and grown over the decades and what are some of the most striking reasons that have lead to this transformation of orientation.

The idea that seemed to emerge most strongly was that the forces of globalization and liberalization have lead to the creation of not only market centered economies but also of mindsets and attitudes that iconize the market. This has brought about changes in the way that art is understood both by an artist and his audience.  Theater has now become more like a product of middle/elite class consumption rather than purely a medium for generating social consciousness and dissemination of culture. Thus more and more city centers emerge that organize theater festivals and hold a wide range of dramatic programs in Urban Indian Centers.

The point of worry however is that although it may seem that now theater has become part of the popular culture of cities and people are more readily open to it but at a deeper level what is frightening is that how theater that was originally used as a medium for the dissemination of socio-cultural/political massages among ordinary masses has now come to be seen as a source of entertainment that can be purchased with money. Thus the audiences that we find are largely educated, culturally advanced and economically prosperous. Ideally we should have arrived at a point where theater could be seen as a meaningful agent of social change and become popular among all social classes. Moreover, with the massive inflow of money and gigantic business at the box-office Indian cinema has captured massive public interest and most young people are pulled towards films and the associated ideas of style, glamour and lifestyle rather than thereat or dramatics.

Dr. Choudhary reminds us at this juncture that although this may be the dominant trend now we also find some exceptionally talented youth who step into the field of theater and excel in it despite the endless struggle for meaningful roles and even basic survival. Theater as he argues has an important role to play especially in times where we experience a homogenizing culture industry that promotes fixed notions of ‘beauty’, ‘success’ and ‘talent’.  In these times, when commercialization has penetrated into every domain of life, theater has the potential to rediscover itself as a means of resistance.

Dr. Chouhary asserts that the repository of consciousness is culture.  Culture, in this sense, is what allows us to make sense of our world, shaping our ideas about what is right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, just and unjust, possible and impossible. The power of cultural hegemony lies in its invisibility. This is embedded in stories and images and figures of speech, culture can be understood as a different kind of politics that doesn’t look like politics and is therefore easier to escape than notice, and it is much more difficult to resist. When a culture becomes hegemonic, it is never questioned but seen as “common sense” for the majority of the people. It is here that the potential of theater lies, in being what is termed in Gramscian terms as “counter-hegemonic” culture.

Dr. Choudhary firmly believes that the task before theater then is to build a radical counter-culture within the shell of the preset society and carve out a new cultural possibility. This dream has been upheld by many creative theater artists in the past like Habib Tanvir, Balraj Sahni and the tradition continues even to the present times.

Thus among the innumerable insights that this conversation left us with one of the most striking was how theater can indeed speak a language and how this language carries immense potential for social change. It is in this sense that theater can indeed play such an important tool in critical pedagogy. It can help young learners to think creatively and even discover the voice within. Moreover in an age where market-seduction is hard to resist and commoditization of minds, bodies and ideas characterize our times- the possibility of seeing theater as a crucial tool for generating collective consciousness seems more than necessary.

Thus this conversation throws light on our present crisis but at the same time it also enables us to see why despite living in a market centric society where homogenized culture is a byproduct- there is a possibility of creative resistance through art. Art holds within it the potential to link dream and reality, reason and emotion, logic and intuition. It is this immense force of art that makes it such an important component of education as a means for holistic development and creative consciousness.

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