Nautanki Performance
with Dr. Devendra Sharma and Co.

Saturday, October 24, 2015
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Wisconsin Ballroom


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:


  • Nautanki Sultana Daku depicts the exploits of Sultana, the notorious dacoit (thief) from early 20th century India who lived in the jungles of Uttar Pradesh with his gang of 300 robbers and his lover, Phulkanwar, and plagued the agents of a colonial government. Sultana was a Robinhood-like bandit who robbed the rich and helped the poor. He became a big symbol of local Indian resistance against British rule in northern India when he could not be caught by the British for many years. This Nautanki is a humorous tale of the cat and mouse chase between Sultana and the British superintendent of police — Freddie Young. Dr. Devendra Sharma has brought this century old, extremely popular Nautanki classic to life for a contemporary audience.

  • Nautanki Indal Haran is a representative late 19th century Swang-Nautanki. Authored by the Indraman Akhara (traditional community Swang-Nautanki repertory) of Hathras. Indal Haran is one of at least 20 Saangit-Nautankis that depict the exploits of the famous 12th century Banafar/Chandela warrior brothers Alha and Udal. These two brothers are considered divine human beings in central and northern India and stories of their valor are sung everywhere. This particular Nautanki is an amazingly engaging tale of romance and bravery. Directed by Dr. Devendra Sharma

  • Nautanki Mission Suhani, (contemporary Nautanki) follows Suhani, a confident young Indian bride, and Chaliya, her Non-Resident Indian (NRI) groom, who has taken her dowry and left her in India. Against familial and societal pressure, Suhani travels to the U.S., where she finds her husband, recovers the dowry, and finds her love! Nautanki "Mission Suhani" brings attention to serious social issues through music and humor. According to Indian Express, a prominent newspaper in India, thousands of women in India are fighting for their rightful place with their husbands in America. These NRI men go back to India to get married, take a huge dowry, and then return to the US, abandoning their wives back in India. Working with his father, Pandit Ram Dayal Sharma, a prominent Nautanki master, Dr. Devendra Sharma crafts a brilliantly entertaining, thought-provoking, and moving musical that examines women's empowerment.

  • Nautaki Hanuman Ki Ramayan (contemporary Nautanki)- After Valmiki finished writing the epic Ramayan, he realises he has competition. The sage Narad tells him that there is a better Ramayan, written by Hanuman. Valmiki is devastated. After making an arduous journey to the Himalayas, he comes across Hanuman's version of the epic. He is very impressed with the writing, but fears that no one will now read his work. When Hanuman finds Valmiki, he swallows his version of the epic, paving the path of Valmiki's writing to become popular. Written by Pandit Ram Dayal Sharma and directed by Dr. Devendra Sharma


Dr. Devendra Sharma
Performer, Writer, Director

Dr. Devendra SharmaDr. 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