Director's Note: Saangit/Swang/Nautanki is one of the most popular performance genres of northern India. Before the advent of Bollywood, Nautanki was the biggest entertainment medium in the towns and villages of northern India. Often, 25,000 to 30,000 people would gather to watch Nautanki performances. Nautanki’s rich musical compositions, fine poetry, and humorous, entertaining storylines hold a strong influence over north Indian people’s imagination, and even after the spread of mass media (such as television and DVDs), a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 can be seen at the top Nautanki performances. Nautanki in its original form is an all-night performance of around 10 hours. It starts at night, at around 8 pm, and continues until the sun rises. Often, a Nautanki story will go on for many nights, and it can easily take five nights for the story to finish. Also, Nautanki invites community participation at all levels and is traditionally informal in nature. A Nautanki performance is like a festival, with shops set up around the performance area selling sweets, betel nuts, and chai for people to enjoy. Doing Nautanki in a closed proscenium space does not create the same feel as the milieu surrounding a traditional Nautanki performance, but in today’s changing circumstances, Nautanki is adapting itself well to different spaces.
We have tried to retain the informal, interactive, and festive feel of Nautanki performances. Another challenge I have faced in introducing Nautanki in America is that of course there are no traditional Nautanki artists here. However, I am fortunate that the Indian diaspora in the US has really been attracted to Nautanki and has shown a lot of interest in learning this art form. To put on this performance, I have trained professionals (engineers, doctors, and others) in the San Francisco Bay Area for years in this demanding and unique performance tradition. It is heartening that now they have started to identify as Nautanki artists themselves. I hope with this context you will enjoy these few Nautanki scenes to the fullest:
Dr. Devendra Sharma is a performer, writer, and director of Swang-Nautanki, Raaslila, Bhagat, and Rasiya, the traditional musical theater genres of northern India. He belongs to a long lineage of Swang-Nautanki exponents going back at least four generations. Dr. Sharma was trained in the famous Swami-Khera Gharana by world-renowned guru, Pandit Ram Dayal Sharma. He has given more than 500 performances to date worldwide and directed many films illustrating Indian folk traditions. At present, Dr. Sharma is an Associate Professor of Communication at California State University, Fresno. Dr. Sharma has been invited to perform, direct, lecture, and conduct workshops on Nautanki across the world at renowned institutions such as the Théâtre du Soleil, Paris; University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies; University of Oxford; Columbia University; University of Texas-Austin; Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune; Banaras Hindu University, Banaras; Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi; University of California at Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Davis; Central Michigan University; and Prithvi Theater, Mumbai, to name a few. Dr. Sharma has contributed prominently in theater, films, and television in India. As an actor-singer, Dr. Sharma has performed lead roles with famous repertory companies such as renowned Indian director Habib Tanvir’s Naya Theater for more than 20 years, and National School of Drama’s Repertory Company. He played the role of Faqir in Habib Tanvir’s Agra Bazar for more than two decades, starting from “Nehru Shatabdi Samaroh” in 1989. Among his current projects, he just finished enacting the role of Raibahadur Shyamnandan Sahay in TV series Samvidhan directed by renowned Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal. He is also writing a Bollywood feature film utilizing the performance tradition Rasiya/Nautanki, to be directed by Shyam Benegal. Dr. Sharma's artistic mission is to use the indigenous performing arts to bring critical attention to contemporary global issues and empower marginalized people. To learn more about Dr. Sharma’s work, visit www.devnautanki.com.