Play it again

Music, a forgotten component of theatre, is the highlight of the ongoing festival of the National School of Drama

There was never a silent era in theatre. The stage has always throbbed with sounds and songs and simulating actions. Some of the best theatre directors in India were also its best music directors—from BV Karanth and Bhaskar Chandrawarkar to KN Pannikar. Together, they created a vast canvas of soundscapes that traverse the whole arc of human emotions.

Yet, for most theatre-goers, music has always been secondary to the story and acting. So it is fitting that the Bharat Rang Mahotsav— the annual festival of the National School of Drama— is highlighting, for the first time, the role of music in theatre. A segment called Natya Naad presents the trademark songs of various parts of India and of various theatre personalities.

For theatre directors, music was often the means to add multiple layers to the play. Govind Pandey, who assisted Bhaskar Chandrawarkar in Ram Nam Satya Hai three years ago, recalls how the theatre director used pipes and bottles, wooden blocks and combs to create background music for the opening scene about AIDS patients. "It was his way of saying that nothing is dead as long as it has music in its soul," says Pandey.

Similarly, director BV Karanth did not limit himself to regular instruments. He had a collection of bamboos and stones and also produced sounds with marbles, coconut shells and asbestos sheets. "Technology has supplied us with a vast digital menu of sounds but where's the effect that Karanth could create by simply crunching dry leaves during the forest scenes?" asks Dushyant, the coordinator of Natya Naad. Four theatre companies will present Karanth's music from his Kannada plays, his works in Bhopal and the Punjabi songs he used in Yerma, Kitchen Katha, Fida and Nag Mandala.

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