The two-day conference on Postmodernism:Theory and Practice at the Kalina campus of the University of Mumbai also threw up another debate that I found interesting (Read my earlier post on the conference: Postmodern Pluralism and the Rise of Fundamentalism).
The issue under discussion was Folk theater and traditional art forms. A paper pointed out how elements of Marathi folk theater were being given a new lease of life because they were being incorporated in the mainstream Marathi plays. One could infer, from the paper, that the only way many of these dying art forms can survive today is by transforming themselves and becoming a part of the mainstream culture.
Participants in the conference were quick to point out that such change is a "corruption" of the traditional theater and art form. Folk theater and art forms are usually performed by the "marginal" cultures and castes. In fact, as a participant pointed out, caste is a mark of folk theater. That much of the folk theater and art can be fully understood only against the background of the caste and culture that it sprang form. That many of the folk art forms are in fact a protest against, and a criticism of the dominant castes.
But these art forms are dying. The only way they can survive is by moving across boundaries and by finding a wider audience. In this process much of the cultural richness of an art form is lost upon the "alien" audience who look upon it as something exotic and interesting. What we find in the mainstream plays in Marathi are the digested and abridged versions of the traditional folk art forms - "secularized" for consumption of an audience that doesn't fully understand (or even know) the culture that gave birth to it. Added to this (as some participants in the debate pointed out) is the fact that many of these art forms have now been "appropriated" by the dominant castes. Folk theater and art forms, they pointed out, have lost their traditional social relevance and now survive merely entertainment.
Folk theater and art forms are thus caught in a paradox. They need a wider audience and more performers in order to survive. Unfortunately when the cross boundaries, they become shadows of their former selves - becoming merely pieces of entertainment and losing their traditional relevance.
None of us had any suggestions to offer out of this dilemma.