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The .



Edited and with introductions

by James R.Brandon

Unesco Paris 1971

The performing arts in Asia

Published in 1971 by the

United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization
Place de Fontenoy, 75 Paris-7e
Printed by Paul Attinger SA, Neuchtel

In October 1969, Unesco organized in Beirut a Round
Table which brought together artists and producers,
scholars, historians and critics to discuss the relationships
between, and the mutual impact of, traditional and contemporary live performing arts in Asia and the newer
media of mass communication. This Round-Table discussion was organized as part ofthe programme authorized
by the General Conference at its thirteenth session in 1964
aimed at examining the present situation and trends and
possibilities of artistic creation and of attempts at n e w
forms of expression linked with the n e w techniques for
the dissemination of culture. A number of studies were
accordingly undertaken and meetings were held to enable
specialists in the different arts to discuss n e w means of
expression and other factors which influence contemporary artistic creation, and the response of the artist to the
needs of an ever-growing public which is no longer bounded by national cultures or frontiers.
This publication is based on the papers presented at
the R o u n d Table and draws as well o n reports resulting
from other international meetings held b y Unesco and
the Lebanese Centre for Cinema and Television.
Professor James R. Brandon, professor at the University of Hawaii, w h o was closely associated with the
Beirut meeting, was invited by Unesco to edit the contributions to the present volume and to add his o w n
views. T h e views expressed are those of the editor and the
individual contributors and not necessarily those of

T h e designations employed and the presentation of
the material in this work do not imply the expression of
any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Unesco Secretariat concerning the legal status of any country or territory, or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitations
of the frontiers of any country or territory.

List of contributors
Jean de Baroncelli, Film critic, Paris (France).
S o m Benegal, Theatre director, New Delhi (India).
James R. Brandon, Professor, Department of D r a m a and
Theatre,UniversityofHawaii,Honolulu (UnitedStates
of America).
Jacques Brunet, International Institute of Comparative
Music Studies,West Berlin.
B. D. Garga, Film critic, Bombay (India).
Alamgir Kabir, Film critic and director, Film School,
Dacca (Pakistan).
Mrs. Kashiko Kawakita, Film producer and critic, Tokyo
M. J. Perera, Professor, University of Ceylon, Colombo
B e n G. Pinga, President, Film Institute of the Philippines,
Manila (Philippines).
Leonard C. Pronko, Theatre historian (United States of
Mrs. Milena Salvini, Historian and critic of Asian theatre,
Paris (France).
Tran V a n Khe, Matre de recherches, National Centre of
Scientijc Research, Paris (France).
Mrs. Kapila Malik Vatsyayan, Deputy Educational
Adviser, Ministry of Education, New Delhi (India).


General introduction
Part O n e Fundamental aesthetics
Aesthetic theories underlying Asian performing arts, by Kapila Malik Vatsyayan
Zeamis theory of noh
Part T w o The theatre
View from the West: a theatre of feast, by
Leonard C. Pronko
T h e Cambodian nang sbek and its audience,
by Jacques Brunet
Performing arts in Indonesia, by Milena
Theatre in Thailand, by James R. Brandon
Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam,by Tran V a n
Popular theatre and dance in Ceylon, by
M. J. Perera
Western and Asian influences o n modern
Indian theatre, by S o m Benegal
Japan: theatres response to a changing
society, by James R. Brandon
Part Three Theatre, cinema and other mass media
Introduction to Part Three
Screen adaptations of Indian literature, by
B. D.Garga
T h e role of the cinema and radio in the preservation and development of Ceylonese
theatre, by Milena Salvini
T h e Japanese film industry, by Jean de
Japanese film exhibits abroad, by Kashiko
T h e Chinese cinema, by Jean de Baroncelli
A study of the Pakistani cinema, by Alamgir
Cinema in the Philippines, by B e n G. Pinga






Part Four Discussion extracts

Shadow theatre
Popular performing arts
Current problems of the theatre
Cinema and television


General introduction

T h e performing arts of Asia deserve to be better k n o w n

by theatre artists everywhere. Their riches are legend, but

as a practical matter to appreciate Asian performing arts
requires a sympathetic frame of mind and advance preparation. T h e arts are so closely connected with Asian
religions, mythology, philosophic and mystical systems,
and cultural patterns in general, they cannot be easily
understood outside of their natural context. Also, they are
very complex artistically, exhibiting a remarkable fusion
of music, dance, spectacle and drama (in contrast to the
Western tradition of separating these components into
separate arts).
Speaking for the Western view, Leonard Pronko
admits :There is confusion and misunderstanding regarding Oriental theatre, even by those w h o are theatre specialists. Or rather there is no misunderstanding, for there
is n o understanding at all. Within Asia itself, the performing arts of a given country are generally u n k n o w n
outside that countrys boundaries (withthe sole exception
of motion pictures of major Asian nations). Paradoxically,
the Asian theatre artist or scholar is likely to be more
conversant with Molire, or Tennessee Williams, or Western ballet, than with Japanese noh, or Indian kathakali,


General introduction

or Cambodian Royal Ballet. And African and Middle

Eastern contact with Asian performing arts has been
almost non-existent. The 1969 Beirut Round Table on
Theatre,Cinema,Literature and Plastic Arts in the Middle
East and Asia was therefore highly significant, for
theatre artists, scholars and critics from Asia, the West,
Africa and the Middle East met and jointly explored the
heritage of Asias traditional performing arts and the
status of these and the newer mass media in contemporary
S o m e are classicarts-such as Thai classical dance,
Japanese noh, Indian Sanskrit drama-which, because of
the patronage of sophisticated aristocrats in the past, are
among the most refined performing arts to be found anywhere in the world. Others are folk arts, village arts like
the Balinese legong girls dance or barong trance-dance.
Of particular interest are the dozens of populartheatre
forms which grew up throughout Asia in the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries. Though they are different from
each other artistically (often borrowing from national
classic theatre forms), populartheatres like Malaysian
bangsawan, Indonesian ketoprak, Chinese ching hsi opera,
and even Japanese kabuki, are sociologically analogous :
they are commercial, eclectic, theatres designed for the
urban workers and merchants. Most developed during the
period of peak Western influence in Asia, and superficial
Western elements sometimes appear, but direct imitation
of Western theatre models is rare in popular theatre.
Western-derivedspoken theatre, especially of the naturalistic or realistic type, established itself as a separate
strain of theatre arts in all of Asia, but most strongly in
Japan, China and the Philippines. And the most recent
development of note is the phenomenal growth of cinema,
radio and television. Nowhere has this growth been more
rapid than in Japan. In some respects these new mass
media seem to exist independently ofthe living performing
arts ; but they m a y also be used to extend the audience
for traditional dance and drama performances or they
m a y create new and unique cinema and television art

General introduction


forms from traditional materials. T h e major question

before the Beirut R o u n d Table was the relationship between the indigenous performing arts and the n e w mass
arts of film, radio and television. This theme will be seen
running through most of the contributions to this volume.
This book is based on the papers which were prepared for discussion at the 1969 Beirut R o u n d Table.
Excerpts from other published works are also included to
supplement these specially prepared materials. Although
the breadth of subject matter and wide geographic area
being considered precludes including all performing arts,
and indeed all Asian countries, nevertheless the general
ill find here more contemporary reports, and of
reader w
greater variety, than in any previous volume.
T h e contributions are organized into four parts.
This arrangement is necessarily somewhat arbitrary w h e n
an article covers several topics. Part O n e introduces the
t w o chief theories of theatre in Asia: that derived from
the Indian Natyasastra and Zeamis theory of Japanese
noh (together with Aristotles Poetics, these constitute
the worlds three great dramatic theories). In Part T w o
the contemporary situation of theatre and dance in seven
Asian countries is described. Part Three focuses upon the
relation of life theatre and the technological media-film,
radio and television. Part Four consists of summaries of
the major topics discussed at the R o u n d Table.

Part One

Fundamental aesthetics


Aesthetic theories
underlyingAsian performing
Kapila MalikVatsyayan

T h e staggering multiplicity of forms and styles of the

performing arts in Asia, especially Japan, Thailand, C a m bodia, Indonesia and Ceylon, defies all categorizations and
classifications in Western terms. C a n these performing
arts be divided into clear-cut categories of the classical and
the folk? C a n one identify certain forms as belonging only
to a highly developed urban lite and other forms a8 belonging to a rural culture? C a n one label these forms as spoken
drama, opera, operetta, musical comedy, symphony orchestra and community dances? Again, in terms of the
impact that these forms m a k e o n the lay spectator, can
it be said that the content of the theatrical spectacle is
realistic? Is the spectator, w h o is looking for the drama
of climax, the theatre of conflict, not sorely disappointed?
Do these forms not flout all rules known to Greek drama
(and the Western academic drama until the twentieth
century)? There are no unities of time here, no character
development, no internal conflict, no striving of the individual to find an identity with the cosmos.
W h a t then is the impression that these arts m a k e
on the spectator? O n one level, there is a strong impact
of a performing art which belongs to a bygone age and to
an alien civilization. T h e modern m a n is bewildered by



The performing arts in Asia

the magical, the ritualistic and trance-dances of this

region. Their very existence seems to be incongruous or
anachronistical with contemporary civilization. On another level, he is deeply impressed by the high literary
content of the dances and the dance-drama, the m y t h
and legend, which constitute the content of this theatrical
spectacle; all this leaves an overpowering sense of antiquity. In presentation, the forms are highly stylized;each
distinctive form seems to have achieved a unique stylization both in the manipulation of the note and the h u m a n
body. Most stage acting can be seen as a set number of
poses, statuesque in quality, and the actor moves from
one pose to the other in order to create movement. T h e
music which accompanies these dances or dance-dramas
m a y sound somewhat monotonous at times but is clearly
a part and parcel of the dramatic experience. Again the
spectator is impressed by the intricate rhythmical quality
of both the dance movements and the music. T h e gestures
are symbolic, the costuming is unrealistic, the music is
melodic and the presentation cyclical. These general impressions, of a n art which is spiritual and magical in
character, highly charged with literary myth and legend,
presented through a seemingly improvised dance, drama,
opera style to a highly complex percussion accompaniment, provide us with a clue to an understanding of the
fundamental foundations of the performing arts in Asia.
Japanese bugaku court dance, along with the highly
stylized, sophisticated theatre of noh and kyogen, share
these salient features. T h e wajang kulit (shadow drama),
the wajang beber (paper scroll play) and the wajang
topeng (masked dance) of Indonesia manifest another
aspect of this tradition. T h e stylization of the wajang
djawa, wajang melayu and wajang siam of Malaya is
derived both from India and Indonesia. T h e court ballet
of Cambodia and the khon (masked play), the Zakon nui
and the nang yai of Thailand present yet another type of
stylization based on the principle of suggestion. And then
there are hundreds of forms and styles existing in India.
T h e kathakali, bharatanatyam, manipuri, Kathak and

Aesthetic theories underlying Asian performing arts


Orissi are classical dance forms which have emerged out

of a vast store-house of traditional dance-drama forms.
T o all these must be added the thousands of folk-dance
forms which can be seen in India and South-East Asia,
ranging from the spirit dances of Kerala and B u r m a to
the trance-dances of Bali and Ceylon.
W h a t exactly does even this cursory listing of forms
show? W e are aware of a bewilderingly rich tradition of
the performing arts of South Asia, a tradition which seems
to have survived through several centuries of political
history marked by invasions, unrest and economic underdevelopment. T h e amazing continuity of tradition and the
tenacity with which these forms have survived at various
levels of social strata presents a challenge for any serious
researcher of the performing arts.
W e are concerned here with t w o questions, the first
being h o w these forms survived and developed through
successive historical periods. It is quite clear that these
forms have continued through the transmitting power of
the oral tradition. There are no stage scripts; no musical
scores; no documentation; and yet many of these forms
can be traced back to the first century A.D. or earlier. As
early as 1500 B.C. complex methods of memorizing had
evolved in India. T h e Vedas were preserved strictly in the
oral tradition, transmitted by word of m o u t h from generation to generation. In the recitation of Vedas special
techniques were evolved: an intricate system of m n e m o n ics facilitated memorization. Every hymn was memorized
not only verse by verse or line by line, but word by word,
word-pair by word-pair, in not only a forward sequence
but also a reverse order. This was rendered in the correct
intonation and through the right musical note. T h e syst e m of oral rendering w a s so perfected that although there
were many schools of interpretation,there has been strict
unanimity about the text for hundreds of years and over
an immense geographical area.
W h a t is true of the Vedas is also true of the epics.
It was the oral renderings of these works which travelled
across the seas to Java, Sumatra, Thailand and Cambodia.



The performing arts in Asia

There was, of course, also the direct impact of Sanskrit in

certain parts of South-East Asia, such as the Kingdom
of C h a m p a as early as the third century A.D., but the oral
tradition and its methodology of transmission accounts
more than any other single factor for the pervasive influence of the Indian myths and legends and epics in
South-East Asia. It is also necessary to mention that the
Indian myths and legends, the religion and the belief
could have taken root in alien lands only if there was
already a state of preparedness, of receptivity. T h e indigenous cultures of these areas provided a fertile ground
for the assimilation of Indian influences.
T h e second fundamental question regards the formulation of dramatic theory and h o w it was practised by
creative artists. It is the practice which gave it validity.
As early as the second century B.C. (or second century
A.D.) a theoretician and codifier of the Sanskrit dramaturgical tradition, Bharata, claimed for the stage an unparalleled comprehensive power. Truly he declares there
is not a maxim, not a theme, not a world, not an art or
science which is not encompassed by this art. In order to
understand the theory w e may, once again, refer to the
random impression which this theatrical spectacle leaves
on the lay spectator. All that w e have said earlier about
the nature of the theatrical experience reminds us vaguely
of total theatre, a term m u c h discussed lately.
In recent years m a n y definitions of total theatre
have been offered and discussed. It has been suggested
that total theatre is merely the conventional dialogue
drama of the word with embellishments of other
media such as poetry, m i m e and song added: equally it
has been said that total theatre rests for its success on
the magic of the word. Finally it has also been suggested
that total theatre is the total amalgam of various media
in integrated manner which can satisfy at once both intellectual and popular desire.
For amoment,ifone weretoacceptthethirddefinition
and add to it the proviso that no given admixture results in
total theatre and that it seeks to present as an organic

Aesthetic theories underlying Asian performing arts




whole a spectacle which achieves a totality of participative experience from the audience, one can be convinced that some forms of the traditional theatre of Asia
meet this definition.
H o w reminiscent of this codifier sounds Jindrich
Honzl, the leading figure of Czech avant-garde theatre,
w h e n in 1940 he declared: It is the task of the dramatic
artist to regulate the effect of various theatrical means
into impressions of equal,accent.. .. There is no such
thing as theatre art but there are music, the spoken word,
the actor, dcor, props and lighting which jointly produce
theatrical art so that it appears to be the s u m of the other
arts. It is clear that the fresh ground which the West has
just broken was in some ways an accepted principle of an
age-old Asian theatrical tradition. T h e inadequacy of the
word, the dissatisfaction with the theoretical dependence
on Aristotles mimeses and the confrontation with Eastern
traditions helped to create the n e w form of theatre,which
broke a w a y from naturalism and realism.
In the East the situation m a y be looked at M e r ently. Here was a tradition which was built on the purposive negation of the principle of conflict, for that matter
on the assertion that death was not a finality, and which
sought to evoke a state of awareness, a state of being
through the theatrical spectacle. In the tradition there
was also an unchallenged recognition and acceptance of
the interdependence and interrelationship of the arts.
Indeed, no art asserted its autonomy and at no time was
it accepted that the artist in one m e d i u m could be effective
without a technical knowledge of other media.
T h e fundamental beliefs of the people gave rise to
a theory of aesthetics :a theory which could haveresulted
only if the aesthetician shared the visions of the seer and
beliefs of the philosophers. In India, at the highest level,
the traditional Indian artist considered artistic creation
as the supreme means of realizing the universal being. Art
was thus considered a unique discipline, a yoga and a
sacrificethrough which the artist was to seek salvation
here and n o w in this world. This discipline led him to a


The performing arta in Asia

state of complete harmony or a state of total release from

the so muchness of life. It led to a recognition of ones
truer self. Since all activity w a s considered as dedicated
activity, a sacrificial offering, the creative work w a s also
an offering at this level. T h e problem before the artist,
therefore, w a s not a problem of reflecting life as it is, but
of suggesting or revealing or re-creating through finite
forms and symbols a vision suggestive of the infinite
universal being. With this objective in view, physical
perception or the imitation of natural phenomena could
not be the sole purpose of the artist. Indeed, he sought
again and again to transcend the reality of everyday living
to a higher reality. O n e m a y go so far as to say that the
artist sought to establish a hierarchy of realities. Through
the aesthetic experience the artist also sought to achieve
an experience of supreme bliss, a bliss which w a s second
only to the experience of absolute bliss termed as Brahmananda in Sanskrit.
T h e aesthetic which emerged as a direct result of
these beliefs w a s the theory of rasa. Since the h u m a n
being and his subjective motion were not themes important enough to be portrayed in art, life w a s seen as a
series of states of being which, though diverse, led to
the one transcendental experience of bliss, a state of
T h e theory of rasa, as conceived by the Hindu
aesthetician and as practised by the artist, has t w o aspects.
T h e first is the evoked state (rasavastha)in which transcendental bliss is experienced by the viewer; the second
is the sentiments, the moods, the permanent and transitory states, which were the object of presentation. While
the first w a s the ultimate objective of all artistic experience and expression, the second gave the artist a unique
method of abstracting and thus universalizing the content
of art. T h e artist chooses one dominant m o o d or state as
his subject matter and then through the presentation of
a series of allied transitory states seeks to evoke a similar
state of being in the heart of the spectator or listener.
T h e principle of abstraction demands also a widely shared

Aesthetic theories underlying Asian performing arts


body of ideas, myths and legends which could be symbolically presented. All character in drama is a symbol, a
vehicle for suggesting something other than itself. This
quality can be seen in practically all forms and styles of
the performing arts in Asia. T h e technique of the arts
which emerged as a result of this particular attitude towards the objective of the artistic experience and the
content of art was a set of rules-formulas which would
enable the arts to create form which would, in turn, evoke
a particular state of being (a rasa) in the mind of the
spectator. These principles are evident in the rules of the
proportion of architecture, in the detailed formulation of
the principles of measurement (tala and mana) along several planes and the deflections of the h u m a n body (bhanga)
in Indian sculpture, in the relative disposition and proportion of colour and in the patterns of division and c o m bination of the movements of the major limbs (unga)and
the minor limbs (upanga)in dancing, and in the use of
intervals (sruti)and notes (swara)in a given m o d e (raga)
to create a particular m o o d in Indian music.
It is this aesthetic theory of rasa which provides an
underlying unity to the Indian arts. Deriving from this
fundamental belief about the nature of the aesthetic experience, they share with one another the principles of
technique while maintaining their autonomy. T h e m a n y
theoretical works o n dance seldom, if ever, discuss the
technique of this art form in isolation: both literature
(or at least an aspect of it) and music (sangita) are invariably discussed. Conversely, the treatises o n sculpture,
drama (natya),music and painting invariably either devote
a portion to dance itself or discuss certain elements
of the technique of these art forms in terms of the technique of dance (nrtya or nrtta). Thus, treatises on painting discuss the delineation of the eyes in terms of the
glances of Bharatas Natyasastra and treatiseso n sculpture
enumerate in great detail the nrttamurti (dancing aspects)
of the various gods and goddesses and discuss the symbolism of the hastamudra (hand gestures) in terms of the
hastabhinaya of the Natyasastra.


The performing arts in Asia

~- - -



Turning our attention to architecture,sculpture and

painting, we find that these arts also manifest the principle of multiplicity and unity on the spiritual, philosophic and aesthetic planes. Architecture proves most
powerfully that all art reposes on some unity and its
details, whether few and sparing as in the Buddhist stupa
or crowded and full as in the Hindu temple,must go back
to that unity and further its significance: otherwise it is
not art and has not fulfilled its function.Indian and SouthEast-Asian architecture, whether Borobudur or Angkor
Vat, constantly represents the highest oneness of the self,
the cosmic and the infinite in the immensity of its world
design. All the special features of this architecture, its
starting point of unity in conception, its crowded abundance of mass and design of significant sculpture, ornament and detail, and its return to the oneness, are the
necessary units of this immense epic p o e m of the Infinite.
Without going into the technique of architecture which
lays down the method by which this infinite multiplicity
can fill the ultimate oneness, it is enough for our purpose
here to be fully aware of the tremendous unity of purpose
and design which these structures symbolize.
In terms of aesthetics, since architecture,more accurately the temple, represents heaven on earth, it arouses
wonder (vismuyu),and leads to the aesthetic experience
of wonder (udbhuta).This principle in architecture is also
seen in the architectural designs of the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan in Indonesia;at its finest it is also
evidenced in the architectural designs of the temples of
Angkor Vat and Angkor Thom in Cambodia. Just as Indian architecture reveals the unity through infinite multiplicity, Indian sculpture embodies the spirit and soul of
the cosmic Infinite in the form and body of the particular,
the impersonal individual-which in turn suggests the
cosmic and the Infinite.
A study of the alphabets and basic laws of composition of these arts clearly indicates the parallel techniques
followed by them. The various aspects of technique are
the first constituents to which each of these arts reduces

Aesthetic theories underlying Asian performing arts

~ _ _
_ _ _ _ _- ~-


itself, but it is the significance which is given to these

constituents that gives Indian art its distinctive, spiritual
and suggestive character. F r o m the multiple base of the
constituents a well-organized process leads up to an apex
where each of the constituents of form has a corresponding
spiritual or emotional value. T h e lines of technique m o v e
to form an artistic whole, corresponding to physical and
spiritual experiences which merge in one overpowering
symbol of an inner state of being.
And finally through a beautiful and complete language of movement, Indian dance provides the most concrete manifestation of the inner state and vision w e have
spoken of. T h e Indian dance, like Indian poetry, music
and sculpture,seeks to communicate universal, impersonal
emotion and, through the very m e d i u m of the h u m a n
form, it transcends the physical plane: in its technique,
it employs the technique of all the Indian arts and it is
impossible to comprehend the architectonic structure of
this form without being aware of the complex techniques
of the other arts which it constantly and faithfully employs
and synthesizes. T h e themes which the Indian, Indonesian
or Thai dancer portray are not only the r a w material
of literature but are also the finished products of literary
creation; the music which seems to accompany the
dance is actually the life-breath of its structure and,
indeed, dance interprets in m o v e m e n t what music interprets in sound; the postures and the stances it attains are
the poses which the Indian sculptor models; all these
the dancer imbues with a living spirit of m o v e m e n t
in a composition of form which is both sensuous and
Indian dancing encompasses nrttu (pure dance) and
ubhinuya (nrtyaor mime, gesticulation). T h e nrttu portion
of dance depends for its life-breath on the music and the
rhythm which accompany it: the abhinuyu (mime) portion
depends for its expression on the theme of the narrative
or lyrical literary composition (termed suhitya by practising dancers) which is sung. T h e abhinuyu portion of dance
was indeed conceived originally by Bharata as an integral


T h e performing arts in Asia

part of nutya (drama). In the Nutyasastra, he discusses it

as an aspect of nutyu (drama) which constitutes dancing
also: the h u m a n form is analysed from the head to the
toe to show, on the one hand, the various possibilities of
movement of every part of the h u m a n figure and, on the
other, the use of these movements to express certain
states (bhuva)and emotions. Throughout the discussion
of the major limbs (unga)and the minor limbs (upangu)
in the Nutyasastra, w e find that Bharata first states the
movements which are physically possible and then enumerates the use to which they can be put in m o v e m e n t
choreography to represent the dominant and transitory
states. H e first discusses the dominant states and shows
the manner in which each one of these states can be
represented on the stage through speech and movement:
this is followed by an analysis of the movements of major
limbs (unga)and minor limbs (upungu) and the methods
of using them to express certain sentiments (ram): thus
the rules to represent certain dominant states (sthuyi
bhuva) and transitory states (yabhicari bhavu) are laid
down. Every m o v e m e n t of each single limb and organ of
the h u m a n body has a corresponding emotional quality,
which is analogous to the emotional expression of the
musical interval (sruti)in music. Every gesture and movement of eyes, eyeballs, eyebrows, nose, cheeks, lower lips,
chin, mouth, neck, chest, torso, abdomen, waist, thigh,
shank, knee, feet and hands thus assumes a significance
it would be impossible to imagine ordinarily. This language
of gestures finds its complete articulation in the hastabhinuyu (hand gestures) where practically all the permutations and combinations of the fingers, palm and the
wrist have been worked out and each hand pose (hasta)
has been employed as words are in a language. Like drama
thus the m i m e portion of dancing employs the entire
h u m a n form to speak a language of movement through
which a dominant state can be presented and a sentiment,
a m o o d (rasa),evoked. T h e dance does a w a y completely
with speech of the drama proper and employs only music
and song for that purpose.

Aesthetic theories underlying Asian performing arts


Again the characters that the Indian dancer depicts

are not only the gods and goddesses and demons of Indian
mythology but also the heroes (nayaka) and heroines
(nayika)of Indian drama. W e find the frequent portrayal
of these heroes and heroines in dance; a nayika like the
abhisarika (the lady going for a tryst) often forms the
heroine of the Indian dance. Indian dancing also follows
all the principles of presentation of the Indian drama
(natya).The convention of the stylization (natyadharmi)
is the backbone of the entire presentation of the Indian
dance; it shares with Indian drama its deliberate and
purposive renunciation of stage scenery and the imitation
of lifelike gestures, its emphasis on stylization of presentation and special representation.The dance is a limb of
the drama proper in so far as m i m e or gesture (angikabhinaya), costume and make-up (aharyabhinaya)form a
part of drama, and in so far as the kaisiki vrtti (the graceful
style) belongs as much to dance as to drama, and inasmuch as every aspect of drama has an element of dance
which is indistinguishable from the former. The choreography and movement pattern of dance is built on the
themes of literature which have been set to music; this
music has been conceived to correspond to the dominant
state (sthayi bhava) and the transitory state (vyabhicari
bhava) of the literary piece. In order to evoke a particular
state, music employs a particular raga, with its particular
notes (suara)in a given order: the dancer in turn creates
a whole state where the theme, the song and the rhythm
all contribute to evoke the particular mood or sentiment
(rasa).The poses which the dancer utilizes for this purpose
are identical with those of Indian sculpture, and very
often the one is a visual representation in movement of
the static pose of the other.
M a n y examples could also be noted from the presentation of the Ramayana and Mahabharata inthe dancedrama, puppet and shadow plays of Indonesia, the khon
and lakon of Thailand, and the classical ballet of Cambodia, of the survival of artistic principles and techniques
of the Natyasastra. Each country evolved its distinctive


T h e performing arts in Asia

genres, but there was an underlying similarity of approach

and presentation. Without going into the complex and
highly developed techniques of each of these forms one
m a y conclude that there is sufficient evidence to prove
that a c o m m o n aesthetic theory governed all the arts,
both performing and plastic, in South and South-East
Asia. Roughly speaking, the c o m m o n trends m a y be identified as the negation of the principle of realistic imitation
in art, the establishment of a hierarchy of realities where
the principle of suggestion through abstraction is followed
and the manifestation in the arts of the belief that time
is cyclic rather than linear. Further, the arts are seen as
interdependent and interrelated. While each art has an
autonomy, this autonomy is only comparative and in the
field of the performing arts no form is seen in isolation.
T h e conception is of a total integrated picture, close to
but not identical with the modern concept of the total
theatre. This tradition of the arts appears to have been
pervasive from Afghanistan and India to Japan and
Indonesia over t w o thousand years of history.
While the aesthetic theories m a y have been consciously lost in some areas, the forms have survived,
because the performing arts have been an integral part
of the process of living :their traditional content has been
given contemporary validity through an ever-renewing
and reinterpretative oral tradition.
And the last provides the key to the vexing question, why and h o w the continuity of the performing arts
in India and South-East Asia has not been broken. O n e
artistic principle alone need be mentioned as a possible
answer. T h e aesthetic theory and technique had one concept k n o w n as the principle of sanchari bhava (improvisation and interpretation), that is, the artist, creator,actor
could improvise present variations o n the same theme
within a given set of rules. This provided the freedom to
the artist to create n e w form within a given framework:
the permutations and combinations were infinite, and the
joy of revealing the known, in n e w ways, was the aim of
the artist. T h e process of communication was complete


~ ~ _
_ - ~
Aesthetic theories underlying Asian performing arts


only w h e n the spectator and reader, i.e. an initiated one,

w a s put in a similar state of mind. T h e Sanskrit word for
the reader or spectator is rasilca: he is a potential artist
(suhrduya)himself. T h e bridge of communication w a s established w h e n the familiar w a s revealed through a known
language of symbols. T h e artist exercised freedom of creation, the freedom in a given frame of reference, of beliefs,
of philosophic principles and aesthetic theories.
Today, it is the frame of reference which is challenged and endangered through the impact not only of the
W e s t but of modern technology. This makes creation
impossible in the traditional sense. Also, the participating
audience so necessary for this communication is languishing. This is a question which must seriously concern us.


of nohl

Zeami (1363-1443), the founder of noh, is the greatest

artist of the Muromachi period. As a dramatist he wrote
more than one hundred noh, and as a noh actor he was a
master of the art, like his father, Kanami. Furthermore,
his theoretical writing on noh, in twenty-three treatises,
including Kadensho, is one of the authoritative books on
art, one of the greatest works in Japanese literature, and
a profound search for artistic truth.
W e experience nowadays, in performances of noh, a
religious and sober atmosphere of an almost suffocating
intensity, while the subtle and mysterious expression of
the noh m a s k reveals an extreme repression of joy and
sorrow. It is the sombre expression of an art that has
weathered a complete age, full of contradictions, and of
alternating release and suppression. Within the microcosmos of the noh stage where there still lingered the
m e m o r y of the days w h e n gods and m e n spoke together,
the noh attempted none the less to express the various
1. F r o m Foreword to Zeami: Kadensho, translated by Chuichi
Sakurai, Lindley W. Hubbell, Rokuro Satoi and Bin Miyai,
Kyoto, Sumiya-Shinobe Publishing Institute, Doshisha University, 1968. Reprinted by permission.

Zeamis theory of noh


h u m a n passions caused by the struggles of h u m a n relationships, attempting to do so through the symbolic

expression which is called yugen and trying at the same
time to express the dynamic power and rhythmical beauty
of sculptural movement in an extremely simplified form.
In this introverted tendency which was to determine the
national art form, w e can see the long history of a suppressed people. W e can hear the voices of joy and sorrow.
This has a definite connexion with the basic characteristic of noh, a kind of drama which includes singing,
dance and music, and which cannot be compared with
Occidental dramaturgy. This world of beauty, consisting
of an art of subdued brilliance and an abstract formal
aesthetic, can create wonderfully fresh experience, even
w h e n exposed to the light of the modern intelligence. T h e
life and essence of noh, during its long history, c a m e to
have a close relationship with feudalism, becoming the
authorized ceremonial drama of the samurai through
the E d o period. But at the same time almost every
line of the texts of noh drama, and the theories on
noh, written by Zeami himself, prove clearly that the
substantial character of noh was already formed in the
Muromachi period. Kadensho itself is only one of Zeamis
m a n y works. But even in this w e can find important statements concerning the things mentioned above.
T h e most important aspect of Kadensho is its explanation of hana (flower). W h a t is this hana? As the
meaning given to it by the author varies from phrase to
phrase, w e cannot define it in one word. T h e temporary
hana, or hana which comes and goes at different times in
an artists life, is, in general, the aesthetic beauty in his
style of acting, as the result of long years of hard training
added to the innate artistic character of himself and his
age. In the chapter, The Secrets of Noh,Zeami explains,
in more detail, by giving examples, the various aspects
of its flowering. Summing it up, the main purpose is to
give the audience a n impression of rarity and truth. To
create fresh and vivid impressions in their mind and to
m o v e them is the actors constant concern. This does not


The performing arts in Asia

m e a n quick wit or cleverness, but m u c h awareness developed by accumulated artistic experience in the actors
consciousness and spontaneously expressed. Zeami says :
Hana is mind, technique is the seed. If the conscious
mind is used in such a case, after severe training, it is only
that the seed, the accomplishment of technique, will
bloom as a flower on the stage. So although the seed is
exercise, the hana which results from it, and which has
accumulated in the actors mind, will from time to time
find expression. As Zeami said: Whatever is suitable to
the occasion is real hana. W e must not forget that this
hana which comes and goes is the result of a performance
from which showiness and dryness are excluded, but
which has freshness, freedom and fluidity. H a n a is the
very essence of variety.
T h e actor w h o establishes a company must have a
deep concern for its prosperity, must win the approval
of all classes of the public, and must himself be recognized
as a master. Zeami tells us that the performer must vary
his performance according to circumstances, gauging the
taste and psychology of the audience. At the s a m e time
he must preserve his integrity as an artist and never
pander to those in power. H
is aim must be to remain
faithful to his o w n artistic conscience as far as he possibly
can. Although he must perform differently before the
cultivated audience which appreciates yugen and the
c o m m o n audience which is less sensitive to it, he must
never abandon hana and yugen. Hard practice throughout
ones career, without ever losing the freshness and eagerness of the neophyte, is the basis of good noh. It is as a
result of this that hana and yugen will come to bloom on
the stage. H a n a is the essence of variety. At the same time
it is based on fixed and unalterable form. This seeming
contradiction is reconciled by the intensification and purification of ones centre. Monomane (imitation) is not a
synonym of realism, as it is understood in modern
Western art. Monomane means to imitate the essence, not
the particulars, and to represent the individual under his
general aspect. N o actor can go outside of the restrictions

Zeamis theory of noh



. _ _ _ ~ ~ _ _ ~ ~ _ _ _ _

imposed by m a s k and costume. For instance, to express

sorrow he lifts his hands and covers his eyes with them.
H e can express sorrow only in this fixed gesture of hiding
his tears. T o achieve a vivid expression of individual
emotion through restricted and conventional forms he
must study these forms endlessly, in order to understand
correctly the theme and the kurai (value) of the play, and
to attain hana. To have hana is to have grasped the universal within the individual. It is to have creative freedom
within limitations. T h e form can be handed on from generation to generation, but the hana cannot. That must be
acquired by each artist through his o w n efforts.
Yugen was the central ideal of mediaeval literature.
According to the generation,the individual and the genre,
the conception and the nuance varied. B u t yugen in noh
was comparatively simple and clear, being almost a synonym for elegance and beauty. In the mediaeval world the
striving to achieve yugen arose from the aesthetic aims of
the Heian period. T h e nostalgia for the life of the court
was the real keynote of the renaissance in the Muromachi
period. But because this past splendour could n o longer be
captured in the world ofreality,the m e m o r y was transmuted into a longing for things eternal and imperishable, with
profound metaphysicalresults in the world ofideas.Inspite
of Zeamis insistence, the aesthetic of yugen was a representation of that of the age ofthe Imperial Court; in actual
practice it became a profoundly introspective expression
of emotion. This development is inseparable from the establishing of the form of noh which took place in this period
and which makes it so outstanding an achievement.
As an alchemist takes out pure gold from the ore,
Zeami, abandoning all that is accidental and impure in
ordinary h u m a n movement, m a d e of the noh drama an
art in which the h u m a n body attains the highest formal
beauty and the purest style. To do this it was necessary
for Zeami to have a definite theory of yugen, and practical
experience. W e can see this in his theories on art. While
perfecting the simple and pure aesthetic of yugen by
strenuous self-cultivation,his yugen becomes profound,



The performing arts in Asia

deep into the world of emptiness, as oxidized

silver has a dull and elegant glow which is more beautiful
than mere superficial gorgeousness. T h e mysterious and
inscrutable effect of this unification of beauty and power
in the art of the noh was achieved by the utmost possible
sublimation of the physical and spiritual attributes of the
Middle Ages. On the other hand, they had to solve difficult problems :h o w to inherit the traditions of the ancient
literature and, above all, a sense of the aesthetic depicted
in narrative literature and poetry of the Heian period,
expressing their agony which they had to experience in
the course of emancipating m a n from a sense of alienation.
Noh in this situation endeavoured to create anew the
elegance of the Heian period. This was not attained without a severe struggle against inner and outer difliculties,
that is, to bring about a unity and harmony between
subject and object and between the universal and the
particular. This is far from modern drama. This simplicity
and elimination of detail, which are so di%cult for the
modern audience to understand, is found in all the Japanese arts of that period.
Zeami speaks of a stage in which hana goes beyond
maturity. This stage of beauty was a part of Zeamis
aim. Although yugen originates in the beauty of opulence
it culminates in the three supreme kinds of hana, as explained in his Kyui Shidui (nine grades of hana). T h e
lowest of the upper three grades is called kanka-fu,which
is symbolically described as the whiteness and purity of
snow lying on a silver garden. T h e second grade in this
triad is called choshinka-fu (among snow-covered m o u n tains one peak has ceased to be white). T h e first grade is
myoka-fu (the light of the sun at midnight). This is a
state of mind beyond thought and language. It is mind
without mind, kurai without kurai. It is beyond what is
called yugen, being my0 and m u (noumenon and void).
Thus hana, yugen and kurai become one and indistinguishable. T h e h u m a n is no longer human and art is n o
longer art. This state is the unique characteristic of
Japanese literature which culminates in Zeami.

Part Two

The theatre


View from the West:

a theatre of feast'

C. Pronko

A n d you seriousIy ask us to admit that w e prefer

a dull and mechanical theatre such as w e have
today to one where all the gayest, freshest theatrical art flourishes? It is preposterous!

T h e traveller w h o has feasted on the theatre of Japan,
China, and Bali cannot repress the feeling, w h e n he returns to the West, that the actors are exceedingly loquacious and singularly incapable of doing anything other
than talking. Our hypertrophied rational faculties have
led us in the past three hundred years, and particularly
since the industrial revolution and the late nineteenthcentury age of science, to theatre that is most often as
small as life itself, a theatre that requires careful listening
and intelligent understanding. W e sit in plush seats,
fatigued after t w o or three hours of dialogue interspersed
with a bit of movement, then disperse to discuss the

1. From Leonard C. Pronko, Theater East and West,Berkeley,

Calif., University of California Fkess, 1967. Reprinted by permission.


T h e performing arts in Asia

issues of the play, if it was a drama of any significance.

Our serious theatre is so sociology-psychology-philosophy
centred that it begins to acquire (as Ionesco claims Brecht
might wish) all the charm of a night-school course. Instead
of a feast for all the senses and for the mind as well, w e
are given the intellectual scraps from the top of the table
of theatrical history. As Genet has said, for us everything
happens in the visible world.
T h e theatre of Asia treats at least to some degree
the invisible world, and it treats that invisible world (as
well as multiple facets of the visible, palpable, audible
one) in a total w a y that makes of it a feast-a feast the
audience enjoys on most occasions, not for a trifling two
or three hours, but for five, six, seven hours and occasionally for the whole night through. It is a theatre of the
inner eye and of the outer eye at the same time. Like our
great theatres of the past, it is both realistic and theatricalized, both illusionistic and presentational. It possesses
at once reality and style, whereas w e most often seem to
embrace one or the other. O n e reason for this polyvalence
is the stress laid upon spectacle, often to the detriment
of words; w e are accustomed to the converse, and anything else strikes us as heretical, since for us theatre is
above all dramatic literature. Working with images-that
is to say, with a purely theatrical poetry which exists in
space and time rather than in any abstract sense on the
printed page-the Oriental theatre can appeal, in different
ways and to varying degrees, to that part of the h u m a n
make-up which is refractory to intellectual and conscious
Such a theatre of magic and hallucination both
engulfs the watcher and keeps its distance-for it is highly
stylized, a conscious work of art. It is at once subjective
and objective. While it depicts our personal dreams and
aspirations, our nightmarish fears and feverish hopes,
evokes our childhood heroes and demons, sweeps us up
in what Artaud called its great indraughts of metaphysical air, it does so with a profound sense of formal

View from the West: a theatre of feast


red on the small world of television and domestic

comedy in films, w e have lost touch with the vital, fullblooded total experience of great ages of theatre. W e are
cowardly, pampered, small-minded; too timid, too lazy,
too unadventurous to give ourselves from head to guts to
a theatrical performance of five or six hours. W h a t we like
to think of as the healthy, complete, vigorous theatrical
experience of the Greeks or the Elizabethans is beyond
us. Perhaps there is more than a grain of truth in Artauds
violent contention that our theatre today is a theatre of
idiots, m a d m e n , inverts, grammarians, grocers, antipoets
and positivists, i.e. Occidentals.
Prisoners of the self, w e seem unable, at any significant level of artistic endeavour, to break loose from the
moorings that bind us to our everyday existence, incapable of liberating the spirit that might allow us to
enter other spheres, investigate other levels of experience.
Caliban stalks the boards, and Ariel has flown. Or rather,
no, not even Caliban-he is far too heroic for us, too
imaginative and monstrous for most of us to swallow.
Prospero, with his familiars, has disappeared, leaving the
stage to the purely human, as though reality were m a d e
u p of nothing but Mirandas, Trinculos and Stephanos.
Most of the rich feasts of theatre in our century are
indebted to m e n whose vision embraced both Trinculo and
Prospero, Caliban and Ariel, visible and invisible forms of
reality ; to m e n w h o attempted to renew their vision
through a contact with classicalforme of theatre, including
those of the East. Directors like Reinhardt, Copeau,
Dullin and Barrault turned not only to Greece, the
commedia dellarte, and Shakespeare for inspiration, but
sought n e w air and n e w techniques in the theatres of Asia.
A m o n g dramatists, Claudel, Brecht and Genet reflect
significantly an acquaintance with Oriental theatre
Alan Pryce-Jones, writing in Theater Arts (October
1953) about &ThePlays That Never Get Written, suggests
that if Brecht could take a hint or t w o from noh drama,
so, with greater logic, could one of our native dramatists.


The performing arts in Asia

Or from the Chinese, the Indian, the early moralities. A

hint,yes,but a well-informedhint.T o employ a technique
without understanding it is to defeat its purpose. The
so-called invisible m e n on stage in certain popular American Chineseplays, or the black-clad invisibles used by
Tennessee Williams in The Mi& Train Doesnt Stop H e r e
Any More, all of whom draw attention to themselves,
quickly degenerate into the cuteness of false theatricality.
Such distortion is widespread, for there is confusion and
misunderstanding regarding Oriental theatre, even by
those w h o are theatre specialists. Or rather, there is no
misunderstanding, for there is no understanding at all,
but total ignorance. People who might discourse for fifteen minutes on the significance of the Morris dance as a
predecessor to drama, or the role of the interludes in
Elizabethan theatre, are incapable of distinguishing between noh and kabuki,to saynothing ofthe finerdifferences
between genres so utterly dissimilar as kabuki and Chinese
The happy blending of style and content revealed
by the theatres of Asia (and I mean content in the sense
of over-all action with its implications unverbalized and
even incapable of verbalization) deserves our study and
meditation, for the Oriental theatre has a number of
lessons to offer the West. I do not mean a vague lesson of
the Orientalspirit, but specific lessons in technique and
approaches to particular theatrical problems. Most of us
are cowardly-or perhaps simply lazy-and say that it is
all very well to understand the spirit of the East,but w e
must beware of imitating the techniques of Eastern playwrights. On the contrary, the Asian theatre can offer us
a rich repertory of techniques on which w e m a y draw,
seeking out Occidental parallels to Oriental classical
forms. Not imitation,but re-creation.
Such a confrontation might result in a renaissance
like the one brought about by the rediscovery of another
literature in Western Europe three or four hundred years
ago. Oriental literature and theatre might well be thc
fertilizing element w e need to bring forth fruit as rich as

View from the West: a theatre of feast


that produced by the cross-fertilizationof sixteenth-and

seventeenth-centuryWestern Europe with classical an-


At any rate, such theatrical dialogue of East and

West would allow us to see our own theatre in a wider
perspective, to understand which elements are essential
and which are pure provincialism. A number ofinteresting
questions might arise regarding freedom and discipline in
the theatrical art, the functions of the various parts of a
play, and even the possibility of writing a play. That such
an encounter is bound to take place sooner or later seems
quite clear. A glance at current periodicals reveals that
the Comdie-Franaisehas revived Voltaires LOrphelin
de la Chine, one of the first European plays to take as its
point of departure an Oriental drama; plans are announced for kabuki to tour Europe; an issue of the Tulane
D r a m a Review carries several articles about the Polish
Laboratory theatre including a number of illustrations
that show actors using training techniques of Indian
kathakali, Chinese and Japanese classical theatres, and
Japanese wrestling. The Orient is very much in the air,
and has been for some years now. But this is not enough.
W e need a thorough knowledge of specific techniques and
of h o w they m a y be applied to already existing plays,
or give rise to new works.


The Cambodian
nang sbek and its audience
Jacques Brunet

There are good grounds for supposing that the shadow

theatre originated in India. Extremely ancient writings
vouch for this and allusions to it are m a d e in the epic
p o e m of the Mahabharata, which clearly accounts for the
subsequent spread of this theatre with the diffusion of
Indian culture both to the west and the east of that country. In the Far East the shadow theatre usually depicts
the great legends of the Ramayana and Mahabharata,
subsequently taking u p local legends and also the masked
dances (the Indian origin of which is scarcely in doubt)
which have the same repertory.
Wherever the shadow theatre has developed, it has
been adapted to local cultures on both the cultural and
the technical plane. Until recently in Indonesia, the m e n
took their places on one side of the screen and the w o m e n
on the other side; in other words, part of the people saw
only the leather objects and the other part the silhouettes.
In Cambodia, where the shadow theatre is animated by
dancers holding in their hands large leather panels over
1.7 metres high before a giant screen 10 metres long, the
spectators are grouped all on the same side but the dancers
revolve round the screen, appearing therefore sometimes
in front, and sometimes in silhouette. In Indonesia the

The Cambodian m n g sbek and its audience


term wajang is the word used for the various forms of

theatre and in Cambodia r o b a m nang sbek thm means
dance of the large leather panels.
Although the shadow theatres were developed in
Asia-and in some countries they are still a living and
flourishing art-that is partly due to the importance given
to silhouettes. In Indonesia the cut-out silhouette (or
shadow) symbolizes the shades of departed souls. In
Cambodia the leather puppet has the same function as
the mask in sacred dances;it is the divinity itself which,
after a certain ceremony of taking possession, takes
shelter in and enters, in the true sense of the word, into
the dancer. The artist then becomes completely identified
with the character represented by the leather panel he
holds in his hands. It is, as it were, the whole Pleiad of the
Gods of the Ramayana w h o come down before the screen
and, once again, relive the action of the epic poem which
everyone has known since childhood.
M a n y works have been written on the symbol of the
Indonesian wajang and the part it plays. I shall,therefore,
not linger here further exept to stress certain aspects of the
nang sbek of Cambodia and of Thailand (called there
nang yai).
The character of the nang sbek is unique in the
world : the performance consists of presenting before the
screen large delicately fretted leather panels. Movements
are imparted to the puppets while the dancers execute
dance steps in accordance with very strict traditional
rules. N o w what is surprising is the resemblance between
these giant leather dolls which come to life before the
audience and the great stationary sculptured frescoes of
the temples of Angkor in front of which the visitor must
move to bring them to life. The treatment of the sculpture
is the same, namely each bas-relief, like each leather
panel,forms a whole which by itself alone relates an episode. But the behaviour of the spectator is different: it
is his movement along the long galleries of Angkor which
permits the legend to be enacted before his eyes whereas,
facing the nang sbek, he remains motionless while the


The performing arts in Asia

puppets pass in front of him. Here the choreography is

the important element in the performance, as its name,
morever, indicates: the danceof the large leather panels.
Identity of intention with Angkor is obvious:
whereas w e are fascinated by the dimensions and the
harmony of that temple which takes us absolutely into
another world so that every detail, every sculpture then
stands out in relief with an importance exceeding reality,
before the nang sbek and enveloped in the light of the
giant screen w e are brought to the point where each
leather figure which passes before us also takes on a dimension far beyond that of reality. Coming from seeing
Angkor by day, to be present at the nang sbeli at night,
one never feels that eight centuries separate these two
admirable sights. It is the samein Indonesia or in Malaysia where the wajang purwa takes its part perfectly in
the culture of these two countries:representing ancestral
shades, these forms could only be articulated puppets
which, although stylized, are most suitable to bring them
to life.
In China, the psychology of the shadows is very
different. Made by dolls, which are articulated also, they
have lost all stylization and correspond very well with the
h u m a n forms of traditional China. The characters are real
persons and not gods or supernatural heroes as in Hinduized South-East Asia and the stories they tell are very
realistic tales, even if they verge on the incredible. With
their always very materialist mentality, the Chinese have
created characters after their own guise. While the C a m bodian or Indonesian spectator goes to the theatre to be
amazed and to live for a short time in another world, the
Chinese spectator goes to be amused and to laugh and
therefore he will laugh more over h u m a n adventures.
It is 8p.m. The spectators are already in their seats
(five or six hundred sometimes) and eagerly await the
moment for the performance to begin. Now what are they
going to see? An episode from the Ramayana which has
been told to them since their childhood,which they have
often seen at the theatre,which they have heard as m a n y

The Cambodian nang sbek and its audience


times on the radio and which they have related to each

other on social evenings. A s to the nang sbek, they have
already seen it hundreds of times; the whole legend has
already passed before their eyes and nevertheless -they
still expect something from this performance. Although a
Westerner would soon be tired of seeing the same ballet,
the same film or even the same play several times over,
a Cambodian does not feel this monotony. The reason for
this is, in fact, that the story is scarcely important. The
K h m e r is affected by a movement or a doll if that doll
and that movement are beautiful. A farm worker-dancer
of nang sbek said one day that he danced for the pleasure
of making beautiful movements. W h a t the Cambodian
peasant comes to see is beautiful dance movements, even
if they are always the same; he is never weary of being
surrounded with the harmony which is essential to him.
It is also to hear the fine music (the finest that can be
heard in Cambodia) and to see wonderful sculptures
Still another reason is sociological: the Ramayana,
coming from India, was very quickly adapted to local
conditions and each character in the legend has become
a person of Cambodian psychology to the extent that the
spectators easily recognize their people in the characters
which pass before them.
These characteristics are found in all forms of the
traditional theatre of Cambodia. The Royal Ballet, more
particularly reserved for the court,is in the same vein and
when public performances take place, the attitude of the
audience is the same as for the shadow theatre. It can
even be said that for them, the theatre is not separate
from everyday life: everything happens in the open air
in the middle of the rice plantation, without a fenced-off
enclosure and without anything to pay. As the performance goes on for hours (from 8 p.m. until 1 or 2 in the
morning), people are constantly moving about, going to
eat something, then they come back or again they stroll
if they feel so inclined. They gossip with a neighbour and
everyone gives his opinion.


T h e performing arts in Asia

This is due to the fact that art forms an integral

part of life. There is no such thing as Fine Arts with
capital letters in the traditional society, requiring of the
theatregoer a special culture and knowledge which distinguishes him a little from his circle. Whilst in the W e s t
going to the concert is a n act of the culturally privileged,
in Asia music can be heard everywhere for in each village
there are m a n y orchestras and the farmers take up their
instruments readily. A t any m o m e n t here, everybody can
listen to fine music.
It is not surprising therefore that the cinema has
been given the n a m e of ballet khon, which is rather a
general term to indicate that there are actors to be seen.
With the same idea, in Thailand the cinema has been
given the n a m e of nang, a n a m e for the shadow theatre
which means leather from the resemblance of using a
screen. B u t the resemblance stops there and the K h m e r s
-like the Thais-distinguish clearly between what forms
part of their national heritage and the cinema, the characteristics of which are entirely different. T h e use of the
word nang and of the word khon spring essentially from
the lack of a word which might translate cinema. Although the connexion with the shadow theatre is explained
b y the use of a screen the similarity stops there. There
is, in fact, in Cambodia another shadow theatre, the ayang,
very small and using articulated leather dolls. Its stock
of plays is mainly comic and it has been given the nickn a m e of K h m e r Charlie Chaplin. But this is not because
of Chaplins films as films, but simply because the character provokes laughter. And laughter is the link between
the t w o kinds of performance.
To the K h m e r mind, nang sbek and the cinema seem
scarcely related, for in fact their characteristics are c o m pletely opposed to each other. A s w e have just mentioned,
while the traditional theatre is free and always open, one
must pay to go the cinema. Already that is something
disconcerting. To pay to go in is to give oneself a treat,
something which is not a normal and everyday matter.
It is to recognize that one is going to find oneself in a

The Cambodian nang sbek and ita audience


special atmosphere. But, on the other hand, the cinema

has in itself nothing artistic. Of a type of construction
that is remote from the traditional rules which the K h m e r
knows well and admires, the cinema to him seems m u c h
more commonplace and, in fact, too close to reality to
arouse his enthusiasm. A t the most he is interested by
the novelty of the peculiar technique of the cinema. T h e
cinema becomes a diversion in the Western sense of the
word: one economizes to treat oneself to this luxury, one
chooses the time and the film and one is vaguelycurious to see the fine pictures and to learn about what goes
on in other countries. People in fact go to see European films for their documentary value and not for the
story which, to them, seems of secondary importance.
Moreover, Cambodians do not find at all in modern
films the emotions which are aroused in t h e m b y theatre
played according to their traditional rules. T h e psychological problems raised in these films leave t h e m indifferent. Beauty lies only in what is familiar: here there
is n o dance, and the balance, symmetry and harmony
constantly present in the nang sbek are completely lacking.
Only to comic filmsis there some response, especiallyw h e n
there are comic situations and m i m e plays a large part.
For the K h m e r cinema, which c a m e into being some
fifteen years ago, the situation is quite different. Starting
immediately after independence, it was at first a copy
of the traditional theatre. Produced by small local c o m panies, the films were m a d e in the open air with very
limited facilities and they depicted either legends of which
the Cambodians are very fond or historical adventures
which took place in the age of Angkor. Played b y K h m e r
actors against the natural landscapes of the country, they
did not offend the local traditions. O n the contrary,
despite their evident mediocrity, the early films were very
successful; the Cambodians were sule to find something
after their taste. And then the cinema was really a n e w
m e d i u m which revived the theatre. It must be said,
however, that the dialogue was very poor but written in


The performing arts in Asia

the language of the people, the costumes were of glowing

colours but ugly and the actors had scarcely adjusted
themselves to this m o d e of expression.
At present, the cinematograph companies are better
organized but, if they wish to fill the theatres, they still
present films with a Cambodian background (legends or
historical films). E v e n Cambodian films of modern tales
are almost always doomed to failure, partly because they
do not please the traditional Cambodian, and partly because young people or the intellectuals prefer films m a d e
in France or the United States of America, that are better
produced and better played. T h e only w a y to attract
audiences, therefore, is to m a k e films which adhere to the
tradition of the nang sbek or the Royal Ballet.
It must not be forgotten that the traditional theatre
has left its impression on the whole artistic culture of
Cambodia: the same characters are sculpted o n the pediments of the monasteries, on the frescoes in the temples,
are the heroes of the local romances, of strip cartoons and
of numerous broadcast adaptations.
Another distinction between the t w o kinds of performance is that the nang sbek preserves its sacred character whereas the cinema remains a secular show. T h e
K h m e r public always feels that it is taking part in a religious drama by sometimes backing up the dancers with
its cries. T h e preliminary propitiatory ceremony dedicates the performance which is going to take place and
everybody participates in this dedication. T h e atmosphere
is the same as that which must formerly have reigned
during the performance of miracle plays on the parvis of
a cathedral, with additionally that impression of forming
a whole (the leather puppets, the dancers, the fire, the
public) with what is almost a ceremony. This dedication
of the performance which relates the adventures of gods
in w h o m everybody still believes (and which consequently
goes beyond the idea of a performance) fulfils its complete
purpose during periods of flood or epidemics. But even in
the ordinary performances, the K h m e r k n o w that there
is a sort of protection over them during the whole period



The Cambodian nang sbek and its audience


ofthe show. From the purely plastic point ofview the nang
sbek is extremely impressive owing to its dimensions, its
enormous brazier with its leaping flames, as well as the
percussion music of the orchestra and the long silhouettes
swaying to the rhythm of music. It is entirely different
from the cinema where the screen is beyond the reach of
the audience, where there is no idea of prayer and, on the
whole, all mystery has been supplanted by a much more
prosaic technique.
It is clear in fact that the Asians have not transposed
their traditional art of the shadow theatre into modern
cinema technique. The shadows retain their peculiar
characteristics, especially that of being the earthly representation of the gods (in Cambodia and Thailand) or
of the shades of ancestors (in Indonesia).
As regards the articulated shadow theatre the ayang,
the religious side leaves room for the comic side of the
repertoire. The dolls hidden behind the screen enjoy
themselves to the full: the characters play the part of
clowns and improvise on current topics. This is the only
kind of performance in which the artistes venture to make
fun of the Establishment, the great ones of the kingdom
and the priesthood. T o some extent they play the role of
our cabaret singers, helped by the degree of anonymity
which the use of leather dolls allows. The success of these
small theatres is enormous throughout the country, for
this is an amusement in which tradition does not go
beyond the intention. This theatre, moreover, has been
modernized and besides the traditional puppets we see
aeroplanes or bicycles on which the characters of the old
legends ride happily astride. The effect is continuously
and powerfully comic and goes down well both with the
country people and the dwellers in large towns. But this
is a special case of the shadow theatre which over the
centuries has lost its ritualistic meaning and has become
a modern performance which, as we said,has been given
the title of KhmerCharlie Chaplin.
I would like to conclude by stressing that in general
the shadow theatre, which has the advantage of a very


The performing acts in Asia

special technique, seems unable to emerge in a different

form which would be the climax of its evolution. In effect,
for instance,the cinema has no connexion with the shadow
theatre even if a certain technical analogy between them
can be found-a thing which personally I d o not feel at
all. Neither does it seem that one of these t w o arts could
influence the other in any way. T h e y diger too m u c h both
intrinsically and functionally.
An essentially Asian art and a n artistic heritage of
great distinction,the shadow theatre is incapable of being
transformed or hybridized without immediately losing its


Performing arts
in Indonesia
Milena Salvini

Of all the forms of art, it is in the theatre and the dance

that the Indonesian civilization finds its best expression.
As in m a n y Asian countries, the performing arts in
Indonesia are intimately identified with daily life in its
individual and collective expression.
At the origin of the dance, and of all dramatic expression in Indonesia, are found the principal myths
forming the weft of the distant past of mankind: the solar
and lunar myths associated with the cyclical divisions
and subdivisions of the Universe, the eternal conflict of
the Good-Evilduality, and chiefly the worship of ancestors
through which the link with the primordial enigma is recreated. Interlaced in a tightly w o v e n network, they
constitute the primitive Indonesian source from which the
art of the theatre, in the beginning a magical ceremony,
c a m e into being and branched out; its various branches
remain closely related one to another.

Vujung shadow theatre

T h e shadow play, wajang kulit or wajang purwa, predominates in the whole history of Indonesian culture, of which



The performing arts in Asia

it reflects the prevailing spiritualand philosophical values.

Various origins have been ascribed to the wajang. According to some it was derived from the Indian shadow theatre
(chaya nataka); according to others it was imported from
China. After much controversy, it has been recognized
that the word wajang (from wajang bajangan meaning

shadow play) is really of Indonesian origin and that this

art is probably the most characteristic expression of
Javanese culture.
The present form of the shadow theatre suggests
that a change m a y have taken place in several stages both
on the artistic and the philosophical plane, since early
forms of worship devoted to the memory of ancestors
(close to the magic ceremony of the cavesdescribed by
Plato?). In Indonesian traditional theatre,pure reality is
the image of mythical reality. The performer enters into
reallife by identifying himself with a mythical ancestor
and the mythology which he embodies. So wajang symbolized the spirits ofthe dead,ancestors or heroes,venerated or dreaded. It seems reasonably certain that the wajang
was subsequently an initiatory rite, then a religious cerem o n y associated with certain practices such as exorcism,
conjuration or propitiation, as it still is nowadays, mainly
in Bali. It is in Java, however, that this art has become
most complete and its philosophical content preserved.
The didactic element in this art is clear. The message delivered by the prophetic voice of the dalang,
the puppeteer, is always received attentively by the
AlI forms of traditional theatre are called wajang,
even when speaking of the danced theatre (wajang orang
or wajang wong),the masked theatre (wajang topeng),or
the doll theatre (wajang golek or wajang tengul), which
do not involve any kind of projection; in this case the
shadows are personifiedby human beings or by dolls.
There is no doubt the theatre in Indonesia,whatever the
form of its performance, had its origin in the primitive
shadow play which was later cmaterializedby fruitful
contact with the culture of India and progressively en-

riched in the course of history by the mighty heroic deeds

which provide substance for its repertory.
The leather puppet plays the principal part; it
makes a living shadow for wajang, lending to it its outline and its behaviour. It is shaped with great art,combining realism with the most elaborate stylization.Whatever
the legendary character that it personifies-god, hero or
demon-its physiognomy gives definite shape to his predominant features. T o the Indonesian people, the puppets
representing Kresna, Ardjuna or Abimanju are keramat,
that is to say sacred,because they symbolize a h u m a n
ideal which cannot be improved upon. The soul of a hero,
divine or demonic, is shown through the form of the head
and the outline of the profile. It appears chiefly in the
lines accentuating the chin, the jaw, the nose and especially in the form of the eyes, the opening of the pupils
and the gaze. There are six different shapes of eyes and
nose each corresponding to a well-definedtype of character. Each character has several aspectsin accordance
with the exact context of each scene; for instance,
Ardjuna in battle, Ardjuna and his wife,Ardjuna as a
youth, will be represented by different puppets with
appreciably different outlines.
The wajang puppets are manipulated by the dalang,
who with them builds up a mythological world of either
realityor semblance(according to whether the spectator
sees the actual figures from the front of the screen or their
shadows from behind the screen). Seated before the screen
(kelir), and the long banana-tree-trunkstage which holds
the puppets, the dalang is sole master of the mythological
universe which he brings to life. His art calls for various
skills: manual dexterity, a great wealth of vocal ability
and, very important, ability to improvise as he performs.
The dalang is more than an ordinary manipulator
of puppets, he is the repository of a family tradition
which he has made his o w n by impressing his o w n individuality upon it. Formerly a shaman, then priest (for
a long time he was called dalang priest), he still is both
and alm an artist w h o knows the laws of music and dance.



The performing arts in Asia


H e possesses almost superhuman energy and physical

strength ; for nine consecutive hours he will combine
action and music in a single rhythm. His voice has a
flexible quality, sometimes delicate, sometimes sharp and
it w
ill change successively from speaking to singing and
from a cry to intoning, imitating each character with such
mastery that the illusion of dialogue is complete. It is
through the lupa,a kind of secondary state akin to frenzy
and trance, that he c o m m u n e s with the universe that he
T h e art of the dalang also depends upon the manner
in which he animates the puppets and gives them the
impulses which he does not appear to control. H e gives
them a slight dancing motion in harmony with the attitude peculiar to each character. T h e dance technique in
the wajang orang comes from the movements of the wajang
kulit puppets (later the dalang, in turn, will draw inspiration from the gestures of the dancers).
Besides the kelir, or screen, which symbolizes the
universe upon which things are reflected, the dalang
works with several accessories. A blentjong, or oil lamp
(in the form of a Garuda bird, very often), is hung in the
centre of the screen. T h e dalang imparts a slight swing
to it from time to time (to give life to the shadows).
Puppets are arranged in hierarchical order, each family
separated from the others, in a chest or case (kotak).T h e
dalang strikes small tappers to emphasize and punctuate
dialogue, to animate battle scenes, and to imitate the
sound of wind or thunder. A m o n g the m a n y puppets, the
kajon or gunungan is a large palette in the form of a tree
or leaf and m a d e of the same material as the other puppets.
It is decorated with designs representing flowers, mythical
animals, a tree and often also a door.
This accessory has m a n y meanings; it is associated
with Mount Meru, with the Tree of Life, and again with
the Gateway to Knowledge. Generally it is used to indicate the beginning and the end of each scene, but it
often happens that it is used during the action to symbolize wind, water, a tree or a forest, or again a mountain.

_ _ ~ ~ _ _

Performing arts in Indonesia



Of all the puppets, the Panakawan, clown characters, close to the Vidusaka of Sanskrit theatre, are the
most popular ; there are three, four, or two of them, according to the region. They appear in the central comic
interlude and their entry is always hailed with laughter
and enthusiasm. The Panakawan are divine by nature;
they are half-way between gods and humans and their
simplicity of mind bestows a supernaturalpower on them.
The Panakawan are a specifically Javanese creation;
they personify the early men, the fathersof mankind.
Through them, the dalang speaks to the hearts of the
people. They are faithful allies of the Pandawa heroes of
Their comic interlude signifies more than simple
relaxation; it occurs in fact after the crucial time of the
night: the gara-gara (or chaos) itself is preceded by the
dalangs sermon. This sermon is a synthesis of the philosophical content of the story performed,which the dalang
adapts to the social context of the moment. H e calls m e n
to wisdom by reminding them of the fundamental principles of all ethics. The message of the dalang, however,
is given between midnight and 1 oclock in the morning
(at the time when attention is most difficult to maintain)
and only the least sleepy are there to receive it. Then the
dalang re-creates the primordial chaos, the whirling silhouette of the kajon appearing on the screen, symbolizing
the great cosmic wind.
The musical accompaniment is provided by the
gamelan,the traditional Javanese and Balinese orchestra.
The word gamelan comes from gamel,meaning hammer;
the majority of the gamelans instruments are in fact
metalophones of bronze which are %truck.
Adaptations in K a w i (ancient Javanese) of the
Indian epics were made to serve the arts ofwajang shadow
theatre. It is difficult to decide whether Indias two great
epics were transcribed into K a w i and then, gradually,
adapted to Javanese traditions until they entered the
repertory of wajang purwa, or whether the latter was
designed especially for the representation of these epics.


The performing arts in Asia

However that m a y be, it seems that from the beginning

the stories taken from the Indian Mahabharata were more
popular than those from the Ramayana. Through the
numerous interpolations of episodes from Javanese history, the Javanized-epic the Mahabharata became a sort
of Cnationarsagato the Indonesians. The R a m a y a m is
also popular. These two epics have sunk deeply into the
thought and imagination of Indonesians and their various
adaptations have always supplied material for the repertory of the wajang; more particularly the Baratajuda and
the Ardjunawiwaha. In numerous lakon, or plays, Mahabharata and Ramayana charactersare even combined !The
heroes of the Mahabharata have served as models for other
characters, already legendary, in Indo-Javanese history.
Episodes from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are
found incorporated in the Pandji story which is the classic
Javanese epic poem taken from ancient chronicles. Javanese kings themselves were supposedly the direct descendants of the Pandawas.
If the idea is accepted that the wajang formerly accompanied initiation ceremonies, each fight in a play
appears as a stage of inward development. The second
fight,the most sanguinary, symbolizes the struggle with
the most intimate enemy. In the minds of some Javanese,
and in particular the Jogjanese, the metaphysical aspect
of the wajang is predominant. The art is primarily the
vehicle for a philosophy from which the aesthetic laws
are derived. In this sense, the art is the concrete form of
this notion. Through the medium of a revered man, the
dalang, it lays down precepts and sets examples. This
explains its powerful action on the mind of the crowds
and the educational role which it has played throughout
history. The wajang was used in various forms by kings
and politicians who m a d e it the instrument of their

Performing arts in Indonesia


T h e Indonesian theatre clearly bears the stamp of Indian
traditions, though recast in another mould. T h e dance
also has borrowed from India, but indications of this are
m u c h more blurred. Stone retains the imprint, the body
assimilates it, and the seeds that India planted in Indonesian soil have given other flowers.
Indonesian dance (Javanese or Balinese) and Indian
dance are based o n different laws. T h e essential difference
lies in the play of balance and the combination of movements. T h e gestures of the Indian female dancer (of
southern India in particular) are m a d e within a geometric
universe resting on a central axis. T h e Javanese
female dancer, o n the other hand, goes to and fro from
one foot to the other in a subtle gliding m o v e m e n t which
seems in search of stability. T h e movements are rarely
in agreement; right and left are engaged in endless
T h e play of the hands and the fingers (mudra or
hasta) is of great importance in Indonesia as in India, but
it is interesting to observe the different usage m a d e of
this technique. In India, the mudras are codified in a
series of ideograms, and the words of a p o e m can be accurately expressed through them. In Indonesia they have
no precise meaning and seem entirely free to describe
curves or spirals in space, but the freedom is wholly relative because the forms spring from certain key-gestures
on which they are built up. T h e mudras are very eloquent,
nevertheless, and they speak to the imagination rather
than to the mind.
As far as the Balinese are concerned, all performing
arts spring from the dance, and the dance itself w a s
created by the gods. Each Balinese village has its o w n
modes of expression. S o m e are k n o w n for their masks,
others for their musical instruments, others again for
their sculpture or their painting. For the Balinese knows
no barriers in artistic creation and he will express himself
just as well in dance, music or w o o d carving. B u t above





The performing arts in Asia

all, each village has its dances. The Balinese are never
tired of improvising or of inventing n e w styles.
In Bali, a dance comes to life mainly through the
artist w h o invents it or performs it. H e seals it with his
o w n personality and that m a y influence the style of a
whole region.But it sometimes happens that a dance does
not survive its creator if some disciple is not there to carry
it on or if, quite simply, the interest of the public fades
away. This was the case of the kebyar. The kebyar was a
sittingdancefrom the south of Bali.Under the influence
of a remarkable dancer, Mario, this dance became very
popular about twenty years ago. Various kinds of kebyar
appeared in different regions in Bali and they are found
today adapted to other styles,but the original kebyar has
practically disappeared.
The Balinese associate dance with every circumstance, religious or secular: a wedding, a birth, a teethfiling ceremony, a cremation. Funeral rites, in particular,
are an occasion for great rejoicing. To say nothing of all
the religious ceremonies each of which is accompanied by
a particular performance, family festivities are also
excuses for the Balinese to enjoy themselves. The trancedances of the sanghyang dedari are associated with exorcism rites, and trance is always part of the barong dancedrama. In the dramatic ritual of the barong (a sort of
mythical animal of the same nature as the lion) magic and
religion are side by side. The barong resists the destructive
forces of rangda (witch-widow).For the Balinese,however,
Good never triumphs over Evil: they coexist in balance.
This performance usually takes its source from the Tjalonarang cycle, a legendary narrative ascribed to the
reign of King Airlangga.
The Balinese masked dances, topeng, are of very
ancient origin. They were probably partly imported from
Java. Both in their treatment and the masks themselves,
however,they show strictly Balinese characteristics. Here
also, the essential difference between Java and Bali is
visible. The aristocratic side of Javanese art is glimpsed in
the masks where h u m a n emotions are scarcely suggested,

Performing arts in Indonesia


whereas emotion in the Balinese topeng masks seems

to well up directly. Even the Ceylonese masks, though
rather extravagant in the distortions of the visage, do not
offer as much subtlety in their mimicry. Like all Balinese
performances, topeng takes place in the open air and at
the end of a religious festival.The stage is laid out on the
bare ground in a long rectangular space bounded at one
end by the kotak and at the other by the gamelan. T h e
audience crowds together on each side of the stage and
behind the orchestra. The majority of the plots are taken
from the Balinese chronicles that relate the history of
various dynasties.
In the tradition of the Balinese,the gambuh is very
ancient. In effect the gambuh contains the germs of the
principal styles which later developed individually. It was
the source of the legong, the topeng,the ardja and m a n y
dances. Although the actor-dancersspeak and sometimes
sing, this performance is rather a dramatic dance than a
play. Movement is the mainstay of the action, the dramatic play and the oratory. The scenes are composed of
pure dances, narrative dances, short dramatic ballets and
mimed performances broken by spoken sequences. Music
has a special function in the gambuh. The entrance of
each important character is announced by a melody
assigned to him and by an introductory dance executed
by a servant or follower. The dance and the music set
the dramatic atmosphere. The art was supported by
Brahman families and stays associated with religious
ceremonies. Although it is rarely performed nowadays it
is still well preserved.
The ketjak, 'monkey dance', was formerly part of a
magic ceremony, the sanghyang, which was intended to
make contact with the gods through the medium of a
young girl in a trance. The aim of the ceremony was to
ward off epidemics and drive away evil spirits. The state
of trance was brought about by the throbbing music of
the gamelan soeara, a vocal chorus which reproduced the
varied sounds of the gamelan by imitating cries of animals.
This male chorus would sit in several circles round the


The performing arts in Asia

young girl. The litany-likerepetition of certain syllables

at different levels of intensity gradually put her into a
state of unconsciousness.
The ketjak has been taken from this rite and adapted
to the Ramayana. The male chorus here symbolizes the
armies of A n o m a n forming a rampart against the forces
of Rawana. The m e n (about two hundred) are grouped in
wide circles,in the centre of which the action takes place.
They accompany its progress with a symphony of swinging
movements ofthe arms,head and body, all the time chanting the word 'ketjak' with various stresses and intonations. The various rhythmic combinations shared among
different parts of the group sustain the spoken or sung
words of the narrator. R a m a and Sita are performed in
feminine legong dance style; Rawana and the other characters use a more dramatic dance style. The superimposition ofthe animal,h u m a n and divine worlds,each appearing with their respective modes of expression, is conjured
up very clearly. The performance is lighted by several
wicks of a high, branched oil lamp, placed in the middle
of the stage. Ketjak is an interesting adaptation of traditional forms with a n e w conception.

New trends in the performing arts

Independence was accompanied by a renaissance of the
performing arts. This renaissance has been shown by
the appearances of n e w conceptions. The oil lamp of the
Javanese wajang has been replaced by electric light. The
plastic severity of the wajang orang choreography,reproducing the linear movements of the wajang kulit puppets, has made room for the utilization in relief of scenic
space.The wajang orang troupes of Solo and Djakarta are
n o w turning modern scenography to account, as well as
lighting effects and other contrivances.
Acting also has been subjected to the influence of
the contemporary theatre and the cinema;it is developing
towards realism and expressionism. Spoken dialogue is

Performing arts in Indonesia


taking a more important place in modern dramatic expression and even in classical forms where it is sometimes
introduced. The evolution of the modern world has given
birth to n e w requirements within every class. If it proves
necessary to restore the classic forms in the present social
context, there is nevertheless a reasonable balance to be
observed in taking this step. Both the modernists and the
traditionalists are aware of the scope of this problem
which calls into question the original significance of artistic creation.
The television service in Djakarta sends out daily
programmes. These are composed of dramatic, musical
and educationaltransmissions,and European-stylevariety
shows. The experimental field there is still largely unexplored for financial reasons. Shadow theatre performances
are sometimes retransmitted; they are also programmed
weekly on the radio.
Contemporary choreographic research is attempting
n e w creations starting from classic and folklore styles,
integration of European classical and modern techniques
in experimental research,and training ofn e w artists starting from a syntheticknowledge ofthe dances of Indonesia.
Independence has awakened an international movement
which is by definition a unifying movement. The Bahasa
Indonesia has solved the problem of linguistic diversity.
O n e dance of national expression meets a similar political
need today. An attempt is being made to found a synthetic language of movement by blending together the
expression of each minority. That will be the danced
counterpart of the Bahasa Indonesia.
For the future, nevertheless, it seems necessary to
preserve a harmonious growth of all the performing arts
and if possible to maintain them in their great natural
variety, for they will have to meet the unpredictable
requirements of a society in formation.
Because of wajangs long tradition and well-known
structure, it is particularly suited to adaptation to contemporary requirements. The wajang Pantja Sila was
created in 1945 after the proclamation of Pantia Sila and


The performing arts in Asia


was intended to transmit its ideology and its philosophy

to the people. It takes the form of a shadow play in which
the principal characters symbolize the %ve principles of
Pantja Sila :belief in God, nationalism,humanitarianism,
democracy and social justice. The themes depicted relate
the events which followed independence.
Wajang suluh (suluhmeans light or fire) was created
in 1947 by the Information Department to make clear the
problems of modern Indonesia. Its function was to enlighten and inform the people. Its subjects illustrate
present-daysocial life since independence by retracing the
stages of industrial development. They depict rural life
in popular language which is simple and direct. Wajang
Adam Marifat was created in 1940 in the region of North
Jogjakarta especially to transmit the word of Islam. The
puppets used are those of the wajang kulit. Wajang wajhu,
illustrating themes from the Bible, was created in 1959
by the Catholic Party to spread the Christian faith.

The cinema
The first filmsin Indonesia were patronized by the Chinese
minority, and then by the Dutch. This period also marked
the introduction, from Malaya, of stambul, a kind of
musical comedy in Oriental and European style in which
fairyland and reality,fantasy and melodrama,were blended, the whole bearing the stamp of sentimentality and
facile romanticism. The early Javanese cinematographic
productions, directly inspired by stambul,were not appreciated by the highbrows. After that, the subjects adopted
were taken more from everyday life. They reflect mainly
the post-1910period in which new trends departing from
the traditional social customs were already appearing.
From 1952 onwards, a movement to promote modern
European theatre brought more literary themes to the
screen. The films produced in 1954 depict the revolution
and the subsequent period. In a satirical manner they
describe the life of the rural communities grappling with

Performing arts in Indonesia


the n e w social laws and officials. T h e influence of Western

music and of espionage films was felt about 1955. Under
pressure from the European and American cinema, censorship became less strict and h u m a n problems were more
freely described.
T h e majority of the Indonesian films,however, bear
the stamp of the Indian cinema whose enormous production makes for easy export. A whole succession of films
o n political ideology was m a d e in 1963 and 1965. F r o m
1965 onwards, cinematographic production was more directly linked with the nationalist movement. It was helped
by the fact that the public was turning a w a y from foreign
films, which caused a number of cinemas to close. Since
those last years the films produced are staging typically
Indonesian scenarios taken from romanticized versions of
ancient or recent historical episodes. T h e first colour
films date from 1967. T h e Council for National Film Production was founded in 1968 with the task of choosing
from a m o n g the m a n y scenarios submitted to it those
with the best technical qualities. It is composed of a jury
which is reappointed each year.
All production is controlled by the Ministry of
Information but financed by private enterprise, with the
exception of documentary films. In Indonesia at present
there are about ten large private firms which produce
one or t w o films a year each. T h e smaller firms are more
numerous but less active. T h e total annual production
does not exceed fifty films. Indonesian films are n o w
exported to Malaysia.
T h e majority of the films distributed on the market
come from abroad. Of the films imported, India accounts
for the highest percentage, then China, America and lastly
Europe. There are about 500 cinemas in the whole of
Indonesia, mostly in the large towns. Mobile film shows
are organized for the small rural localities,but the viuage
people are still somewhat reserved in regard to such performances. T h e impact of the cinema is considerable,
however, mainly in the large towns and the university
centres. T w o kinds of audience are clearly distinguishable:

The performing arts in Asia


an intellectual lite and a majority composed of ordinary

people. For the latter, however, the cinema cannot be an
everyday relaxation because the price of the seats is still
too high. T h e folk-theatre remains the most accessible for
them. T h e directors and producers, as well as the artists,
generally c o m e from the islands outside Java, more particularly from Sumatra. (Perhaps that is the result of the
powerful Javanese theatre traditions?) Since 1951 a n u m ber of student fellowship holders have been sent to Russia,
America and France for technical training. Lack of capital,
however, perhaps more than the shortage of technicians,
is an obstacle to the development of the cinema. S o m e
experiments based on the traditional forms have been
made. For instance, a wajang orang performance was
filmed using different places to m a k e the scenes exterior
to the principal action. In this sense, the cinema seems
to be a means to extend the compass of the stage. Other
attempts have also been m a d e to associate the cinema
with the development of wajang but they are still in the
experimental stage.

Until now, Indonesias closest spiritual affinity has been
chiefly with the Asian countries. N o w for the first time,
owing to the development of the modern world, it will
be possible to establish closer relationships with the West,
and on a level digerent from that of the past. T h e cultural
values of the West will contribute to the development of
Indonesian arts through the introduction of improved
techniques. Adapted to the art conceptions of the Indonesian people, these will help to renew their creative
thought by offering n e w opportunities for expression.
Similarly, the arts of the West, which are n o w tending
towards Asian traditions, will draw n e w enthusiasm from
these contacts. It seems essential, therefore, that this
exchange should take place on the same level of understanding.

Performing arts in Indonesia


T h e financial difficulties which Indonesia must cope

with today are hindering technical and industrial progress, and consequently the development of the means of
expression which are bound up with it such as the cinema
and television. Exchanges in the sphere of the arts are
also limited, at least with Western countries, and as a
result, except for a few isolated groups of specialists, the
Indonesian masses are acquainted only with the lighter
aspects of Western culture. It seems necessary to remedy
this state of things so that future relations (likely to
intensify with the expansion of tourism) are always
effected in a harmonious exchange of values.
Allowing Indonesian theatre m e n to study Western
performing arts on the spot will give t h e m a n opportunity
to enter more deeply into the meaning of these techniques,
the utilization of which is essential. Consequently, they
will be able subsequently to adapt these methods to different traditions without the risk of diminishing the authenticity of the latter. I shall quote in this connexion
an extract from the interesting survey by Professor Tran
V a n Khe, which appeared in a recent issue of the Unesco
Courier :1 strongly believe in preserving musical traditions but preservation is not the s a m e as conservatism
or stagnation. I a m all for progress, but progress does
not necessarily m e a n westernization.
It seems increasingly necessary to preserve the national character of every tradition at a time w h e n international cultural exchange, on a greater scale than
formerly, requires the individual participation of each
In this respect the role of the performing arts will
preponderate in the relations between Indonesia and the
other powers, because more than any other art they reflect the soul of its people.


Theatre in Thailand

R. Brandon

Lakon jatri is the oldest form of Thai theatre. Its origins

almost certainly lie in animistic rituals. Jatri means sorcerer, and lakon jari performers have always been
thought to possess magic power. Dances are part of spirit
offerings or serve as prologues to various animistic ceremonies in Thailand. There are m a n y such dances. Lakon
jatri is one which evolved into dramatic form, after absorbing first Indian dance and later Buddhist subject
matter. Up until recent years, the play which lakon jatri
troupes most often performed was the Buddhist Jataka
tale Manora.
A typical early 2akon jatri folk-troupe consisted of
three actors, plus singers and musicians. Only m e n were
allowed to perform, probably for religious reasons. O n e
actor played heroic male roles, one played female roles,
and the third played clown, ogre and animal roles. T h e
clown was often masked. Musical accompaniment was
simple: flute, several drums (including the pear-shaped
hand d r u m originally used only by lakon jatri troupes)
1. Adapted from James R. Brandon, Theatre in Southeast Asia,
Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1967, by permission of the publisher.

- ~- _

Theatre in Thailand

~ _



and small bell-cymbals. T h e h o m e of Zakon jatri was the

southern peninsula of Thailand, especially the area around
N a k o n Sri Tammarat. This is the only place where troupes
exist today.
During the Ayudhya dynasty, probably in the fourteenth century, lakon jatri underwent gradual development into a popular art form that came to be called Zakon
nok. Nok (outsideor southern) is the word Thai use to
indicate the southern provinces of Thailand, hence drama
from the southern provinces. In Zakon nok, performance
ceased to be a religious act, the number of actors increased,
n e w stories were dramatized and the orchestra was enlarged to include more melody-carrying instruments.
Perhaps most important, dance was subordinated to the
requirements of action. Popular audiences demanded fast
action, colloquial language, lots of rough joking and not
too m u c h boring dance. After the First World W a r lakon
nok gradually died out; there are no troupes in existence
today, although the style of performance is carried on by
Thai National Theatre.
T h e date traditionally given for the beginning of
Thai classical dance is 1431, w h e n the Thai captured
Angkor and kidnapped the K h m e r royal dance troupe.
M a n y kinds of classical dance are distinguished by the
Thai themselves, but female and male dance-drama are
the t w o main theatrical forms. T h e major type of female
dance is Zakon nui, generally believed to be a contraction
of lakon nang nui, or drama of w o m e n of the palace.
In the centuries-long and very complex development of
Zakon nui, three major steps are apparent. First, w h e n the
Thai took over Khmer-style dance they altered it. They
reduced the number of figures used; they changed the
meanings of dance figures; they created an alphabetof
dance that, in modified form, is used in Thailand, Laos
and Cambodia today. Second, court writers turned to
lakon nok for dramatic inspiration. Lakon nok stories
were rewritten in elegant verse. Its rough style of movement was replaced by the languorous, gentle style favoured at court. And third, Zakon nai crystallized into its


The performing arts in Asia


present form in the eighteenth century w h e n Javanese

Pandji stories came to be staged as court dance-drama.
T h e Thai call the Pandji cycle Inao. M a n y other plays
have been written for lakon nui performance, but none
has ever equalled its popularity.
With lakon nui reserved for the royal harem, other
forms of court theatre were performed by m e n only.
Nang yai (shadow drama) and khon (masked-pantomime)
are the most important. Both dramatized episodes from
the Ramayana and it is believed the latter developed from
the former. Nang yai, meaning large puppet, is basically
the same as Cambodian nang sbek. It is possible that an
early form of shadow puppet was taken from Java to
Cambodia by King Jayavarman II in 802, w h e n he
established the K h m e r empire at Angkor, and that the
Thai subsequently learned of the puppets from the Khmer.
T h e first reference to nang yai in Thai records occurs in
1458, or just twenty-seven years after the Thai sack of
Probably khon masked-pantomime evolved out of
nang yai. It is reported that a performance of khon was
given in 1515 in which dancers copied the movements
m a d e by nang yai puppeteers while manipulating the
great puppets over their heads. T h e dancers wore heavy
make-up which later became formalized into the masks
used in khon today. T h e simple movements of the dancers
were highlighted against the white screen. T h e khon
dancer moves in a special sideways fashion, keeping in
profile as m u c h as possible, like the puppets of nang yai.
Although originally presented by an all-male cast, as
female lakon nui became increasingly popular at court,
m a n y elements of female dance-drama were incorporated
into khon. Lakon nai singing was added. H u m a n figures
and gods ceased to wear masks (now only ogres and m o n keys wear masks). Perhaps most significant, female lakon
nui dancers began taking roles alongside male dancers.
At first only Sita and other female roles were danced by
girls, but n o w it is not u n c o m m o n to see a girl dancing
the part of R a m a or his brother L a k s m a m a as well.

Theatre in Thailand


T h e kings of Thailand were avid patrons of lakon

nui, khon and nang yai. Not only did they maintain
troupes at royal expense and stage magnificent court performances, but they encouraged members o the court to
write and wrote plays themselves. W h e n , in 1932,a constitutional monarchy was promulgated a Department of
Fine Arts was created within the n e w government which
took over the function of teaching and staging public performances of khon and lakon nui and, less often, of lakon
jatri and lakon nok. Unfortunately, there is little interest
in nang yai; it is neither taught nor performed today.
A t the turn of the century lakon nok began to be
replaced by a n e w popular theatre genre, called likay.
T h e word likay is a corruption of digar, the n a m e of a
religious chant of the Shiite sect of Islam. It is said that
during King Chulalongkorns reign (1868-1910)
Malays of
the Shiite sect living in Bangkok sang the chant to invoke
the blessings of Allah on behalf of the king. T h e chant was
lively and rhythmic and caught the fancy of the Thai.
Popular troupes in Bangkok adopted the chant and its
name, corrupting it to likay in the process, in an effort to
capitalize on the current digar fad. T h e digar was chanted
behind closed curtains (a custom maintained today) before performance, but likay plays themselves o w e nothing
to digar or to Islam. They have always been pure Thai
in story, in music and in dance.
In the 1920s and 1930s likay developed into a kind
of vulgarized court drama under the influence and tutelage of ex-palace dancers w h o turned to the professional
theatre to earn a living Professional likay actors assiduously studied with court artists. For the first time actresses
appeared with actors on the stage. Court plays like Inao,
Sang Thong and even parts of the Ramayana were staged
as likay. Likay is still the most widely performed theatre
genre in Thailand, but its popularity is not as great as it
was a generation ago and its artistic level is not high.
In the five southern provinces of Thailand which
border Malaysia, several types of shadow play are popular.
Opaque puppet figures, in the style of Javanese wajang



The performing arts in Asia

kulit and patterned after khon dancers, are used by

wajang melayu and wajang siam troupes respectively.
These troupes are often visitors from the Malaysian side
of the border. They perform in the Malayan language, as
the population of southern Thailand is composed of 80per
cent Moslem Malays. A third type of shadow theatre is
nang talung. Nang means leather, and talung is an abbreviation of Pattalung,a southern city where the shadow
play has long been popular. Nang taZung puppets differ
from every other type of shadow puppet in South-East
Asia in that they are translucent and rather small, so
similar to Chinese shadow puppets, in fact, that I a m
inclined to believe that in one way or another they were
inspired by Chinese shadow theatre.
A doll-puppet theatre used to be fairly well known
in central Thailand. Troupes of twenty or more puppet
manipulators, singers and musicians were common. These
were folk-troupesthat performed at fairs, temple festivals
and for any occasion calling for entertainment. Dolls,
painted and costumed like lakon nui and khon dancers,
enacted a wide variety of plays, including episodes from
the Ramayana. Today there is a single folk-troupe in
Thailand. Most of the troupe members are old, and Thai
puppet theatre probably will not survive their death.
Thailand and Malaysia are the two countries outside
of China where Chinese opera is important. Though the
size of the Chinese-speaking population of Malaysia is
roughly double that of Thailand (4 million compared to
2 million), there are more Chinese opera troupes in Thailand than in Malaysia. The opera was brought into Thailand by immigrants coming from various parts of southern
China, so that we find four or five important forms of
Chinese opera corresponding to the languages of the immigrants. Teochiu-language opera is most commonly
seen (a reflection of the fact that this is the largest Chinese-languagegroup in Thailand). It is notable that performances are not only given for Thai of Chinese descent,
but often at Buddhist festivals and at district fairs where
the audience represents a cross-sectionof the Thai people.


Theatre in Thailand



The Thai cinema is still in the developing stage. At

most a handful of feature-length films are produced
yearly by Thai companies, while some 400 foreign films
are imported and distributed each year. The foreignness
of these imported films is diluted, however, by dubbing
in the Thai dialoguelive for each showing.A team,usually
of one actor and one actress, goes with a film around the
country,often for a month or more. They become exceptionally skilled at giving a familar Thai interpretation to
Western characters and Western actions.The most talented
build large personal followings, who, they say, are as
likely to attend the cinema to hear their favourite Thai
actors as to see the film.
In conclusion, it can be said that Thailand presents
an example of an Asian country which, though not large,
has created strong theatre traditions out of a multitude
of cultural influences. Historically w e can see h o w Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Khmer, Chinese and Western civilizations have affected the dance-drama,shadow
theatre and popular plays as well; yet today these theatre
forms are part of Thai life, expressions of Thai culture.
W h e n Thai actors perform Western movies according
to Thai tastes and expectations,is this not merely the
continuation of the Thai tradition of assimilation in
the performing arts, adapted to the n e w medium of the
cinema ?


Traditional theatre
in Viet-Nam
Tran V a n K h e

In Viet-Nam the traditional theatre is called hat tuong or

hat boi. Hat means to sing. T h e etymology of the word
boi is controversial. A t all events, the hat tuong, a term
used mainly in the north of Viet-Nam, indicates a form
of theatre which w a s formerly performed at the courts of
the kings or emperors of the old Viet country. T h e word
hat boi, used by the inhabitants of southern Viet-Nam,
indicates a type of theatre which had its origin in the
court theatre but which is tending to become a folktheatre.
T h e Viet-Namese theatre has more than a little in
c o m m o n with the Chinese theatre but it also differs from
it in several ways. T h e similarities are insufficient to allow
us to assert that the Viet-Namese theatre w a s derived
from the Chinese theatre, any more than the differences
permit us to maintain that the Viet-Namese theatre has
no link with the Chinese theatre. In speaking of the Chinese theatre, moreover, w e think mainly of the ching hsi,
the sung theatre of Peking, and the points of comparison
in this article have been drawn from the ching hsi.
To be completely objective, w e must recognize that
the Viet-Namese hat tuong or hat boi has been influenced
by the Chinese theatre, but it has not sought to copy that


- .
- Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam


pattern slavishly. It has been able to retain and develop

its o w n originality, to adapt the text of the plays, the
stage effects and the songs and elocution to the taste of
its public. Let us try to go back to its beginnings and to
follow its development in a quick historical survey and
to see the reaction of the Viet-Namese public to these
recent innovations.
According to certain authors, in approximately the
twelfth century and under the Ly dynasty, a Chinese
Taoist initiated the Viet-Namese into the Chinese theatre
art. In the history of the Viet country, the n a m e is recorded of an actor in the Y u a n army, Li Y u a n Ki (Ly Nguyen
Cat in Viet-Namese) who, captured by the soldiers of
General Tran Hung Dao, saved his life by teaching the
Viet-Namese the songs and dances of the Chinese theatre.
T h e play Tay Vuong Mau (Si W a n g M o u , the Queen of
the West), performed at the court by Li Y u a n Ki and his
troupe composed of Viet-Namese actors, w a s very m u c h
appreciated. In the first month of the third year Dai Tri
(1360), King Tran D u T o n (1341-69) c o m m a n d e d the
princes, dukes and princesses to give theatre performances
in competition.T h e king judged them and rewarded those
w h o gave the best. It appears from these historical documents that the traditional Chinese theatre was introduced into the old Viet country about the end of the
thirteenth century, and the first companies of this theatre,
which was intended for kings and court dignitaries, were
formed early in the fourteenth century.
Other authors are more cautious about the Chinese
origin of the traditional theatre. Mich Quang, in particular, throws doubt upon the Chinese origin of the hat
tuong on the grounds of differences between the costumes,
make-up, theatre properties, songs and dances of the t w o
theatres. It is very probable that a theatre of Viet-Namese
tradition existed independently of the theatre of Chinese
tradition and that it continues to this day in the hat che0
(folk-theatre of northern Viet-Nam) the origin of which
is lost in the mists of time. It is undeniable, however,
that the hut tuong bears the stamp of the Chinese theatre.




T h e performing arts in Asia

In this sphere as in m a n y others, the Viet-Namese people

have been able to assimilate notions learned from the
Chinese and thus to create an original art, a true combination of foreign contributions and of elements of their
o w n art heritage.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century, performances of hut tuong were still given simply to entertain the
court, to enliven banquets and even in connexion with
sacrifices.In 1437,during a ceremony in the royal temples,
King L e Thai Tong abolished theatrical performances and
forbade the playing of music. Historical documents examined recently show that the hat tuong was in favour not
only with the court but also among the people during
the last period of the L e dynasty (eighteenth century).
The hat tuong developed chiefly at the Nguyen court in
the south,while in the north the hat a duo (song of female
singers) was taken up by the Trinh lords. The emperors
of the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945)were interested in the
traditional theatre, as were their ancestors the Nguyen
lords.Under the reign of Nimh M a n h (182040),the master
of ballet and singing in the official troupe was a Chinese
actor of the n a m e of K a n g Kong Heou (Cang Cung Hau).
The Emperor Tu D u c (1847-83) invited scholars to collaborate with him in writing n e w plays. T h e Emperor
Thanh Thai (1889-1909)was extremelyfond ofthe theatre
and did not hesitate himself to take a part in a play.
Under the Nguyen dynasty, especially in the reign of Tu
Duc, more than 300 actors and actresses were recruited
from among the best in the whole country, and plays requiring a large number of actors were produced. Authors
such as D a o T a n wrote plays which were considered masterpieces. With regard to the inner meaning and the form
of the plays, and the technique and the costumes of the
actors, the hut tuong tended to become a little closer to
the Chinese theatre.

Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam



between hat tuong and
Chinese ching hsi

foreign spectator is immediately struck by the great

resemblance between the Viet-Namese hat tuong and the
Chinese ching hsi.
For instance, as regards the stage and the properties, there is the same stage devoid of scenery, decorated
with a single piece ofplain fabric or material as backcloth;
the properties also are few. In the hat tuong as in the ching
hsi, the table and a few stools m a y serve as furniture just
as well in the dwelling of a court dignitary as in a poor
students cell. A tablecloth embroidered with dragons
spread over the table indicates that the scene takes place
in the throne room. A stool placed on the table makes
mountains shoot up. The riding whip represents a steed
and the oar a boat. T w o strips of white cloth held vertically on each side of the actor and bearing the pattern
of a wheel, represent the royal chariot.Add to the objects
mentioned above some wooden weapons painted black,
red and silver, some many-coloured flags, a piece of material wrapped round some bamboo sticks representing a
missive (a private letter or a royal message), a carafe and
some small wooden or china cups,and you have nearly all
the properties of the hat tuong and the Chinese ching hsi.
As to the actors and their parts, the characters
belong to all the classes of the old Viet-Namese or Chinese
society: kings, queens, princes, princesses, civil and military mandarins, citizens, scholars, peasants, servants,
soldiers,brigands, and also some immortals, goddesses of
Chinese or Viet-Namese mythology.
In the Viet-Namese theatre there is a clear distinction between the parts of the good m e n (trung)and the
bad m e n (ninh).In the Chinese theatre there is a great
variety of female parts: ching i, a modest and virtuous
young w o m a n ; hua tan, roguish and given to flirtation;
kuei men tan, a young unmarried girl. In general, and


The performing arts in Asia

apart from a few variations, the same types of part are

found in both theatres.
Examining make-up and costumes, it will be seen
that if the painted faces are looked at in detail, they are
not the same in the two theatres, Viet-Namese and Chinese. But the symbolic meaning of certain colours on the
other hand is nearly identical: red for the good and loyal
characters; white (or grey in the Viet-Namese theatre)
for traitors; green for demons; black for the straight and
honest parts. In the Viet-Namese theatre, use is rarely
m a d e of blue, yellow and brown, symbolizing respectively
courage, intelligence and obstinacy in the Chinese theatre.
A beard with three or five tufts indicates the loyal part;
a sparse beard, fairly short and in the form of a Newgate
frill, a traitors part; a bushy beard, a violent character.
A face painted white with black and red streaks indicates
the non-Chinese origin or the violent character of a
T h e costumes also differ in detail: the soles of the
Viet-Namese boots are rounded and not flat and rectangular like those of the Chinese theatre. B u t the costumes
and hair-dressinghave been designed with the same idea:
broad silk tunics decorated with dragons with five claws
embroidered with gold thread for kings, phoenixes e m broidered with gold or silver thread for queens; heavy
chasubles spangled with tinsel with little flags on the back
for warriors. Peasants, servants and soldiers wear cotton
jackets without embroidery. Students wear a black or
dark blue cap while court dignitaries wear head-gear
decorated with gems and provided with t w o lateral wings.
T h e head-gear of generals, knights or warriors is decorated with pheasant feathers. Certain conventions in materials and colours are found in both theatres :light yellow
silk for kings, black cotton for impetuous or unpredictable
characters, grey for old persons, etc.
In both theatres, gestures and attitudes are stylized
and conventional. S o m e are identical, like the manner of
tasting a cup of tea or liquor, the gesture of wiping away
tears, the setting-off of a horse marked by striking the

Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam


boot with a riding whip, the crossing of weapons between t w o combatants. Others are specifically VietNamese or Chinese. In the Viet-Namese theatre, it is impossible to distinguish hundreds of sleeve movements,
hand play and steps, as in the Chinese theatre. But the
walk, the w a y of opening a fan, of stroking the beard
peculiar to a traitors part are very well exploited in the
Viet-Namese theatre. Also very characteristic is the
manner of moving sideways without lifting the feet, movements facilitated by the rounded shape of the soles of the
Viet-Namese buskins, to express suffering or deep emotion.
For themes of plays, the history of China, especially
the period of the Three Fighting Kingdoms (third century
A.D.), Chinese mythology, even the Chinese romance Tay
Du (Pilgrimage to the West) with the King of the M o n keys, have provided Chinese and Viet-Namese authors
with material for their works. T h e texts of Viet-Namese
plays contain m a n y Sino-Viet-Namese words understood
solely by scholars. T h e plays have approximately the
same ending: the good are rewarded, the wicked punished,
the kings restored to their thrones though they are for a
time threatened by traitors, w h o are often killed at the
end by the loyal subjects.
Ifthe t w o theatres are examined in detail, numerous
differences appear, more particularly in the inner meaning
and form of the plays, the songs and the music.

Differences between hat tuong

and Chinese theatre
In plays, subjects drawn from the history of Viet-Nam
or from certain Viet-Namese romances are not rare. W e
mention a m o n g others :Trung NuVuong (The T w o Trung
Queens) by P h a n Doi Chau on the exploits of the
Trung sisters fighting against the Chinese invaders (40-44
A.D.); Duong Ve Lam Soh, glorifying the fight of the VietNamese people against the Ming, under the leadership of
a peasant patriot L e Loi, founder of the later L e dynasty




The performing arts in Asia


(fifteenth century); and Luc Van Tien, a romance in

verse of Nguyen Din Chieu.
Although loyalty to the sovereign formed the theme
of plays in the Viet-Namese theatre, the fine parts were
given to loyal subjects, often of humble birth. At the end
of tuong thay (history) plays, the crown princes, pursued
by traitors but protected by the people, ascend the throne,
reward the loyal subjects and punish the felons.
The language of the principal characters is that of
aristocrats. The servants and clowns, when they speak
among themselves, use the language of the people. Although in the tuong pho, the text is largely written in the
Sino-Viet-Nameselanguage, in tuong thau and especially
tuong do domestic plays, m u c h room is left for the national
The musical repertory is very different in the two
theatres: there are of course speeches (noi loi in the VietNamese theatre,pai in the Chinese theatre) and songs. In
the Chinese theatre, the songs are in two principal styles:
hsi pi and erh huang. The pang tse m a y also be mentioned.
They are absolutely different from the hat khach, hat n u m
of the Viet-Namese theatre.
The passages called kouo men (literallytogo through
the door), played as interludes, and the pieces calledya ti
(literally elegant A utes) intended to accompany pantomimes or a particular stage effect in the Chinese theatre,
do not exist in the Viet-Namese theatre where on the
other hand a large number of pieces for percussion are
found such as: Khai troung or Trong duong dau (overture)
before the beginning of the play; D a m bang or Bai chien
for battle scenes.

Reform and change

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a tendency
to reform the hat tuong was shown by the appearance
of the hat boi pha cai luong genres (traditional theatre
mixed with the so-called reformed theatre) in southern

- .
Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam


Viet-Nam, the hat bo X u a n nu (traditionaltheatre, X u a n

nu style :springlikeyoung girl) in central Viet-Nam, and
the hat tuong Saigon (traditional theatre, Saigon style) in
northern Viet-Nam. In fact, the reform consisted mainly
in imitating the play, gestures and make-up of the Chinese
actors, in introducing pieces of relaxation music into the
traditional repertory, and in using the scenery and curtain
as in the Western theatre. T h e production has even been
seen of traditional plays taken from a fashionable novel
such as Toi Cua Ai (Whose Fault?) and Ai Len Pho Cat
( W h o is Going up to P h o Cat?). In the countryside, h o w ever, the public always calls for the traditional plays.
Immediately after the revolution of August 1945,
and during the W a r of Resistance, the hat tuong in the
north and the hat boi in the south went through a period
of decline. In some provinces, the hat tuong companies
tried without success to perform plays for spoken theatre
instead of the traditional theatre. F r o m 1952 onwards,
by order of the Government of the Democratic Republic
of Viet-Nam, it was decided to restore the traditional
theatre. Plays taken from the ancient or contemporary
history of Viet-Nam appeared. W e mention a m o n g others
Trung Nu Vuong (The T w o Trung Queens),Dung Ve L a m
Son (The R o a d Back to L a m Son, the place where the
struggle began against the Ming invaders in the fifteenth
century), D a u Tranh Giam To (Fight for the Reduction
of F a r m Rents), Chi Ngo (ChiN g o the Fighter). Each hat
tuong performance was attended by thousands of spectators, and m a n y young people were trained in the hat
tuong section of the National School of Dramatic Art.
In southern Viet-Nam, the traditional theatre is
dying out. A single company gives performances in Saigon
which are poorly attended. In Dinh Dinh,the cradle ofthe
hat boi, there are about fifteen village troupes. Recently in
Saigon, the Association for the Encouragement of Theatre
Studies and of Traditional Singing (Hoi khuyen Ze CO
CU) organized several hat boi performances for an audience
of connoisseurs and students. In the south, however, the
so-called reformed theatre (hat cai Zuong) has almost


The performing arts in Asia

completely replaced the traditional theatre.A t the present

time the young people are turning towards the n e w music
(tun nhuo) or the variety and dance music of Western
countries, and they are completely ignorant of the subtleties of song and speech in the traditional theatre. The
task of educating the public is just as urgent as that of
preserving and handing d o w n the art of the theatre. In
northern Viet-Nam, all the forms of theatre are taught in
the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art. Research
groups are collecting documents on the hut tuong,hut cheo,
hat cui Zuong, hut bui choi;and together with the study of
a historical or aesthetic nature, experiments are being
m a d e to reform or adapt the theatre to living conditions
of the present day.
T h e public is sympathetic towards efforts m a d e to
find a n e w and original formula for the traditional theatre,
which continues to develop in the north. Only the return
of peace and the reunification of Viet-Nam, or at least
the re-establishmentof cultural relations between the t w o
parts of Viet-Nam, will m a k e it possible to give n e w
energy to the work of restoring and developing the traditional theatre.

Popular theatre
and dance in Ceylon
M. J. Perera

There is n o evidence that theatre was a popular art
form in ancient Ceylon. In a country which possesses an
unbroken tradition in literature, poetry, painting and
sculpture, the absence of a tradition in the field of the
performing arts has some special significance. T h e great
sub-continent of India provided inspiration in the field of
literature from the earliest times. Sanskrit poetics provided
Sinhalese poetic norms; even Sinhalese prose styles were
influenced by mediaeval Indian works. T h e classical Sanskrit dramatists-Kalidasa, Magha, Bhavabhuti, etc.and their works were not only known but were even used
as models. Kalidasas n a m e is associated in legend with
a poet-king of Ceylon n a m e d Humaradasa (seventh century) w h o is reputed to be the author of the famous Sanskrit p o e m Janaki Harana. In this legend, Kalidasa is said
to have been murdered by a courtesan in Ceylon and the
king in his inconsolable grief at the death of his friend
had immolated himself in the funeral pyre. This is m e n tioned here not because the legend itself is important but
to raise the question: why, if Kalidasa himself was so
well k n o w n in Ceylon, did not drama, at least as a literary


T h e performing arts in Asia

form, develop during classical times or, taking a much

broader span of time, from the second to the seventeenth
century, or even during the rather decadent but theatrically active period of the seventeenth and eighteenth
The popular explanation of this literary void, and
probably the correct one,is that Sinhalese literary activity
was generated during almost its entire long career covering
many centuries in a monastic and religious environment,
until a secularization took place after the .seventeenth
century. Authors of all extant work were either Buddhist
monks or laymen deeply steeped in the Buddhist traditions and teachings;Buddhist discipline did not encourage
ritual as a form ofreligious activity or secular performances
which were vulgar entertainment in their evaluation.
Even as late as the early twentieth century, children were
taught that seeing performances of nadagam and kolam,
remember, is a primary cause of depravity. In such a
social environment, w e have to concede that theatrical
performances could not have taken healthy root.
Sinhalese culture, however, did not develop along
Buddhist traditions alone. It had a parallel and popular
aspect,too. There existed a powerful popular development
of a folk-religion which thrived side by side and very
often intermingled with the Buddhist way of living. It
was not inconsistent for a good Buddhist to resort to folkrituals and observances when the need arose. This folkculture recognized a host of male and female deities and
demons of great power exercising benefic and malefic influences in the scheme of life of every individual. Their
aid could be invoked by one so inclined for the well-being
or ruin of another through the intermediary of priest
(kapurah)with the deities or an exorcist or black magic
worker (kattadiyu)with the demons. These activities built
round them a vast range of ritualistic performances and
it is in these that w e can see primitive dramatic form
taking shape. Legend takes these rituals back to vrey
remote times but the performances as seen today are not
earlier than the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Such

Popular theatre and dance in Ceylon


dramatic interludes are found in m a n y of the more elaborate rituals like Kohomba Kankariya, G a m m a d u w a and
Rata Yakuma.
Connected rather obliquely with these performances,
were folk-plays of a very primitive type associated with
harvesting ceremonies, and propitiation of the good goddess Pattini. Regarding them, Sarathchandra in his book
Sinhalese Folk D r a m a says: The drama is only a byproduct of activities seriously directed towards the sustenance of the entire life of the community, namely, the
propitiation of gods and demons, and the performance of
magical rites which are calculated to prevent disease,
ward off evil, bring plentiful crops and confer general
prosperity on the village. In the rural villages of the
interior, mainly in the central zones, a popular performance was the enacting of the story of Sokari, a long rambling story of the adventures of an Indian emigrant, his
young wife and his servant.
Along with primitive, rustic Sokari,w e have to consider a more developed dramatic form known as kolam.
T h e word kolam,with a derogatory connotation, has been
prevalent at least since the sixteenth century, and referred
to any type of burlesque or a passing show. Bahuru kolam,
appearing in a poetic work for that period, refers to m a n y
forms and m a n y faces and will apply quite appropriately
to a masked dance where a single person portrays m a n y
roles wearing different masks. Kolum is the enactment by
masked performers of a story in the form of a play, through
the m e d i u m of song and spoken dialogue, the latter being,
for the most part, impromptu. T h e origin of kolam is
obscure but there are some similarities in the characters
and methods of representation prevalent in the masked
Dahu Ata Sanniya exorcistic ritual. A feature which adds
weight to this theory is that these t w o types of performances, the ritualistic and the entertainment, have been
developed in the same geographical areas of Ceylon.
F r o m a simple presentation of a series of characterdancers, kolam developed into the relation of a few simple
stories, t w o of which have been drawn from the Buddhist


The performing arts in Asia

folklore of the country. They must have been very popular

stories, being available in the repertoire of folk-poetry for
a long time. They taught the people moral lessons and
would have therefore been acceptable to any audience.
M a n a m e deals with the consequences of fickleness of
w o m e n while Sanda Kinduru depicts the virtues of steadfast faithfulness.
T h e next traditional period brings us to fairly m o d ern times. In the early sixteenth century, the Portuguese
invaded Ceylon and occupied the coastal areas mainly in
the west and north, introducing the R o m a n Catholic religion into the areas they occupied and proselytizing it with
ruthless vigour. Dramatic performances of Christian origin were gradually introduced in these areas as a propaganda medium. These performances had their origin in
southern India and spread into Ceylon through Jaffna and
gradually moved south along the coastal belt and established themselves from Chilaw downwards. Singing spread
from the precincts of the church to the secular areas for
functional purposes such as weddings and other festivals.
These performances became operatic in character, melodramatic in stage technique and, naturally, displayed
strong Tamil influence. T h e performances were given generally in the open air with the audience on three sides.
Thus arose the nadagam.
It is clear, even from this very brief survey, that
there is no real theatrical material, except in nadagam,
from which conventional drama could develop. But they
contain ingredients that are suitable for adaptation and
this has been done.
Nadagam performances had died out as serious entertainment by the turn of the last century. Kolam existed
at not more than three or four centres struggling for
existence and depending mainly on festival occasions
connected with temples or devales. A more relevant form
of drama as pure social entertainment came into being
starting from about the latter part of the last century,
inspired by Parsee musicals from northern India and by
amateur English theatricals. This was the nurti, which

Popular theatre and dance in Ceylon


held sway mainly in the capital city of Colombo for about

fifty years until it gradually declined under the combined
influences of ineflicient management, poor playwriting,
lack of discipline a m o n g acting groups and finally the
advent of the motion picture. B u t it is important to note
that this period gave rise, for the first time in Ceylon, to
a professional theatre and after the collapse of the nurti
this achievement has not been repeated even u p to the
present day.
Each of the above-mentioned dramatic forms ceased
to have popular appeal and more or less became defunct,
and as a continuous process there is little reliance on the
part of the successor on the predecessor, O n e c o m m o n
factor, however, can be identified and that is the appearance of music and songs as an integral part of the entertainment even w h e n it does not help in the development
of the drama. In the modern period w h e n a few playwrights modelled their plays on traditional drama they
kept this link unbroken.
A complete break with the past occurred during
the third decade of the present century w h e n Westerneducated amateur groups sought inspiration f d y from the
Western theatre and started adapting popular Western
plays or writing n e w plays based on that technique. In
keeping with this development, a n e w dramatist appeared
during this period w h o wrote and produced a few plays
of this type and then apparently dissatisfied with the lack
of mass appeal of the imported material, blazed a n e w
trail. This playwright-producer was Ediriweera Sarathchandra, then a lecturer at the University of Ceylon. For
some time he had been searching for more local background and for a play which could be linked to tradition
but could still produce a good drama. H e went back to
the nadagam for this purpose and produced the epochmaking play M a n a m e in 1956.This was the greatest event
in the annals of Sinhalese theatre for a long time and the
impact of it was tremendous. It was produced with actors
drawn from a m o n g the university students. H e drastically
revised the stock characters of the nadagam, retaining


The performing arts in Asia

only those needed for the main dramatic presentation. T h e

Presenter (pethe gura) taken from the nadagam became
an important figure in setting the scene for each episode.
A full-fledgedchorus took u p the refrains of the characters
as they sang on the stage. Music was supplied by a group
of full-time musicians. With these refinements this n e w
play of great dramatic intensity, based o n the simple
kolam story M a n a m e without changing the characters or
the story intrinsically, provided an entirely satisfying,
colourful and tuneful drama. T h e play began its career
with indifferent audiences because it opened to the small
sophisticated audience w h o at that time were the chief
patrons of Sinhalese drama, but soon, w h e n the play was
taken before the mass of the people, its popularity was
This was the first conscious effort to evolve something lasting and worth while from traditional material
and its popularity was evidence of two facts: first, properly handled by a competent dramatist, the traditional
material could lend itself to good drama; second, the
people were prepared to applaud this variety of play as
something of their own, going back to something of indigenous cultural value.
Sarathchandras M a n a m e contained lyrics of great
beauty and this was of special appeal to the audience. T h e
conventional movements of the characters on the stage
and the lilting dialogue became attractive in their very
simplicity and brevity. Good sincere acting also contributed, of course. It m a y be said that the very great popularity itself of M a n a m e was the cause of the undoing of
its technique. A host of imitators followed without conspicuous success, until Sarathchandra himself wrote another play more brilliant than even M a n a m e o n a very
serious theme, with university students as actors again.
This was Sinhabahu, staged for the first time in 1961.
Based o n the legend of the origins of the Sinhala race, he
wrote a moving drama in which the lion father w h o
obtained a royal princess for his wife and the son and
daughter born to them got involved in very serious genuine

Popular theatre and dance in Ceylon


. .


emotional conflicts. This play was as successful as its

predecessor and these two plays stand unique in this

Sarathchandra also wrote and produced two delightfuldramasusing conventions adapted fromkolam.Rattaram
(Gold) and Elova Gihin Melova Awa (I W e n t to the World
Beyond and Came Back). Both used Sinhalese folk tales
and some characters wore masks. Drums were used very
effectively in the production. H
is play VeZZuvahum, a
hilarious comedy in which he employed males to act even
the female parts, was based on Sokari traditions. Thus,
at least one dramatist has consciously gone back to traditional sources for inspiration in his efforts to find a satisfying style for Sinhalese drama and to develop it. Another
successful play was Sanda Kinduru. It was warmly appealing because it used traditional dances and folk poetry
and the story was from a well known folk play in the
kolam tradition. H e was thoroughly conversant with the
traditions and knew their strength as well as weakness.
H e had full command over the language,music and even
the experimental characters. Others w h o did not have
these facilities and faculties failed.
Some techniques of these plays, the chorus, the
Presenter, the orchestra, and doing away with all stage
sets and props, have come to stay in m a n y present-day

The dance
Theatrical performances include ballet and opera. Ceylon
possesses two types of dances which, though not organized
for the stage, are theatrical. The more sophisticated and
better developed of these two is the Kandyan dance and
the other is the L o w Country dance. As can be understood
from the names given to the two dance forms,the former
was confined mainly to the Kandyan areas and the latter
to the L o w Country areas and here too, mainly to the
coastal belt of the south-west.Both have been preserved


The performing arts in Asia

as intrinsic parts of the performances in connexion with

the ceremonies intended to propitiate the various gods and
goddesses mentioned earlier. B u t certain items of the
K a n d y a n dance are not connected with the rituals and
have considerable entertainment value. These occur at
present mainly in processions-whether religious or secular. During the period of the K a n d y a n kings, these
dances had developed as serious entertainment of the
court and of the feudal aristocracy. T h e Low Country
dance, o n the other hand, remained closely associated
with ritual until very recent times. Sporadic efforts were
m a d e to introduce, o n the stage, selected dances from the
vast repertoire of items included in the K a n d y a n and L o w
Country dance forms but not to evolve a sustained theatrical presentation using the forms. Ballet in Ceylon first
took over bodily the kathakali dance forms of southern
India and s o m e folk-dances from Bengal because local
students w h o seriously turned to dancing had studied in
India and brought these dances to Ceylon. W h e n the
Government of Ceylon opened the Government College of
Fine Arts, with a school for the study of K a n d y a n dancing,
and indigenous dance became a subject in m a n y schools
after 1948, n e w life c a m e to K a n d y a n dancing. M a n y
years later enthusiasts succeeded in introducing Low
Country dances as a subject in the College of Fine Arts
School of Dancing, conferring a greater degree of respectability o n the local dance. It was only a matter of time
for those who were teaching Indian dance forms in Ceylon
to change their allegiance from Indian to Ceylonese dance.
Ballet using K a n d y a n and L o w Country dances suitably
adapted for the stage began to be produced. P r e m a K u m a r
produced a n u m b e r of ballets in the nineteen-forties and
fifties. T h e n c a m e Chitrasena whose Karadiya set a n e w
standard for this type of performance. A s ballet had even
less traditional backing in Ceylon than drama, the artist
has a great deal of freedom to innovate and hence it w a s
not surprising that the recent productions have a mixture
of techniques borrowed from kathakali, manipuri, Indian
folk-dances, Ceylons K a n d y a n and L o w Country dances


Popular theatre and dance in Ceylon

_ _ _ _ ~ . . .


and even movements adapted from Western classical

Ballet, however, is still not a frequently seen theatrical activity because of the very limited number of persons w h o can handle the art form sufficiently well and
also perhaps because of the greater effort needed to produce them. But the few productions of quality which have
appeared during the last ten years have been very popular.
An entirely novel effort which used only traditional dance
form with great effect, backed by a libretto drawing full
inspiration from Sinhalese folk-music, was Makuloluwas
Depano,which had a very successful run.
T h e fact that drama, ballet and opera, based on
tradition, have been very popular w h e n produced well
makes one feel that the audiences are ever ready to accept
them as something of their own. But the unfortunate thing
is that so few have been able to handle the material c o m petently. Hence it is not surprising that plays-within the
last few years-have tended to follow stage patterns which
are universal. S o m e have written and produced original
plays while many have adapted famous plays of Europe
and America.


Western and Asian

influences on modern
Indian theatre
S o m Benegal

The East bowd low before the blast,

In patient, deep disdain.
She let the legions thunder past,
A n d plunged in thought again.

Any study of Western and Asian influences on the Indian
theatre movement will have meaning only if there is some
perspective of the social, political and cultural forces that
have shaped the Indian milieu. T o talk even of contemporary Indian reality one must of necessity go back into
s o m e time for a clear understanding.
T h e West wind, which blows in eastward with everincreasing cyclonic force, sweeps everything before it till
it is spent somewhere in the mid-Pacific. T h e East wind
has been too feeble to counter it, m u c h less to be able to
roll it back. This goes back to as early as the eighteenth
century w h e n the Western powers first m a d e their determined, conquering entry into Asia. Matthew Arnolds
optimistic view of a disdainful East unaffected by legions
m a y be true only of a certain enduring philosophical content which lies deeply buried in the Asian psyche and
which on occasion tries to assert itself. But on the whole,

Western and Asian influences on modern Indian theatre


on the social, political, cultural and technological levels,

the powerful Western presence has been traumatic, disturbing and confusing to the Asian peoples.
It is not as if India had not known conquest before,
Indeed, in her long and durable history invasion, incursion,conquestwere like daily bread. The Iranians,Greeks,
Parthians, Bactrians, Scythians, Kushans, Huns and
Turks had come. But they had all been either repelled or
the ocean that was India had simply absorbed them. Even
the Mogul Empire, whose foundations were laid in 1526
and lasted nearly three centuries, and whose writ ran almost over the entire country, was not alien for long. The
Mogul rulers soon lost contact with the land of their forbears and they became as Indian as any native of the soil.
A synthesis of the invading and invaded cultures flowered
during this rgime.
But when after a brief but chequered inter-European
rivalry in the eighteenth century,the British finally eliminated the other contenders and subdued India and set
up their empire, the alien rule that was ushered in was
alien in every respect. The British in nearly two hundred
years never struck roots in the soil of their conquest. On
the contrary, they maintained with great determination
an unbridgeable gulf between themselves and the Indian
people in tradition, outlook and living. Perhaps,it could
never be otherwise. Apart from racial reasons and the
totally dissimilar,even hostile, foundations of their pbilosophical, ethical and moral view of life,the British never
came to settle but to have and to hold.
W h e n cultures collide,the result can be a harmonious
blending and synthesis and enrichment through mutual
exchange, or a fierce antagonism to be resolved only when
one has overwhelmed the other, or it can be an uneasy
coexistence sometimes quiescent, sometimes turbulent.
The collision of European and Indian cultures has the
elements of the latter two.
The British arrival in India coincided with a disintegrating national fabric and the ebullient, forthright
style oftheir occupation was beyond match forthe Indians.


The performing arts in Asia

T h e drastic manner in which they introduced n e w ideas,

n e w education through a new, strange language and n e w
methods of functioning and governance, created profound
psychological disturbances in India. T h e egocentric superiority with which the British imposed themselves on
India and the deliberate alienation which they practised
could only reduce the confrontation of European and
Indian cultures to a n unequal struggle in which the Indian
became a borrower or imitator. While it could be said that
the large masses of the Indian people in the countryside
were only influenced on the outer periphery of their lives
culturally, the townsfolk and the intelligentsia were subjected to enormous pressure and temptation. But the
deep-seated philosophical and social base of the Indian
w a y of life could not wholly be displaced by this n e w
extrovert technological civilization which w a s battering
at the doors of Indian perception. T h e result, on the whole,
was hybrid culture, egregious in m a n y respects because
neither side could c o m e to terms with the other. T h e
liberationofIndia in 1947 has m a d e the Indo-Europeanconfrontationless self-consciousbut n e w factorshave emerged,
particularly runaway technological development in the
West and the fantastic growth and strident aggressiveness
of Western mass media, to m a k e the Indian even more
unsure of himself in his present milieu.
Nothing exemplifiesthe bizarre, the cruel, the comic
and the paradoxical in the confrontation of W e s t and
East better than the field of theatre. W h e n the W e s t first
c a m e decisivelyto India,the great Sanskrit classicaltheatre
w a s long past its heyday. Indeed it was in the last
stages of moribundity. It had been replaced in s o m e form
by a theatre of the temple, a kind of religious theatre
which later took to pageantry in the streets, and a folktheatre which flourished with considerable vigour; it still
persists tenaciously.
As British rule consolidated itself in India, the
Indians after s o m e resistance reconciled themselves, for
s o m e time at any rate, to their overlordship and tried to
understand and assimilate the ways of the n e w rulers.

Western and Asian influences on modern Indian theatre


European ideas began to percolate into the Indian consciousness. The robust European theatre was a strong
attraction.The Shakespearian theatre had elements which
were familiar to the Indian. M a n y of its conventions like
the use of imagery, poetry, free flow of time and space,
narrative chorus, the grand gesture, soliloquy and aside
were concepts extolled and inculcated in the great classical treatises of Sanskrit drama. A t this point, at least,
there could be a concord. Not surprisingly, the hold of
Shakespeare has been firm and emphatic over the centuries. This is not to suggest,however, that Shakespeare
as such is widely popular. Indeed the impact of Shakespeare exemplifies the bizarre situation which results from
a fusion of irreconcilable cultures. The worst aspects of
the dominating culture tend to manifest themselves in the
hybrid. Shakespeare became the unabashed source for
m a n y plays which went through such sea changes that
the bard would have been horrified at the transmogrification of his work. This burlesque Shakespeare altered in
locale and nomenclature and injected with irrelevance was
performed with a gusto of melodrama, rhetoric, farce,
song and hyperbole. The style had a profound impress on
the Indian theatre and persists to this day with great
vigour. It has compounded itself into the Indian cinema
where it promises to endure for ages to come.
Not unnaturally such a powerful influence would
affect not merely the acting style but the writing also.
M a n y playwrights attempting original plays have, consciously or unconsciously, fallen into Shakespearian dramatic construction and characterization. It is curious,
however, that there has rarely been a true translation of
Shakespeare in an acceptable literary form. The only attempt on any serious scale seems to have been made as
late as 1956 and 1959 when Harivansh Rai Bachchan
translated Macbeth and Othello in Hindi verse. Nor in all
these years is there any evidence that a Shakespearian
play (other than by amateur companies in English) has
been produced in the serious manner in which it should.
The sole exception is a splendid interpretation in the




The performing arts in Asia

E.Alkazi, a very gifted theatre personality, of

King Leur in Urdu. This impeccable production was shorn
of all the dress that had gone in the name of Shakespeare
on the Indian stage before.
Another imperishable Western influence on the
Indian theatre has been the proscenium arch and painted
scenery born of the Italian renaissance. Indian classical
tradition is totally against both. In the Nutyasastru, that
voluminous work which embodies in the minutest detail
all the physical, theoretical and conceptual ideas of traditional Indian drama, very precise descriptions are given
of three kinds of playhouses :the oblong, the square and
the triangular. There is, however, in all the prolific ruins
scattered around India, no sign of a theatre or playhouse
as such. However, from the structure and content of
Indian drama, it is obvious that there could never have
been a separation of audience and players in the emphatic
divide which the proscenium arch creates. Theatre in the
round seems the most likely form to have been used.
Folk-drama which has the firmest continuity in tradition
to this day uses theatre in the round. The absence of
realism in representation, the use of the poetic image
rather than an actual construction,the fluidity of movement in space and time on stage clearly preclude the use
of sets or a front curtain. Painted scenery would also be
incongruous in such circumstances. Hence the ubiquitous proscenium stage and, even in this day and age,
painted scenery bespeaks the total surrender to Western
A third significantinfluence from the West has been
the cinema. The cinematic form in its crudest sense of
an assembly of continuous short episodes overtook the
Indian play. Although such jerky changes are impractical
on a stage, they have been employed regularly in India.
At one point, things seemed to get out of hand when a
revolving stage was installed in a Calcutta theatre. A bewildering number of episodic scenic changes threatened to
make plays look like drawn-out films. Even dramatists
began to write scenarios rather than plays. Much to
sixties by

Western and Asian influences on modern Indian theatre

. - ~.


everyones relief, the novelty wore off.T h e prohibitive

cost of constructing and maintaining revolves mercifully precluded mass duplication in theatres around the
Another execrable device from the West which has
gripped the Indian theatre is the microphone and a m plified sound system. This is increasingly used indiscriminately, incongruously and in utter disregard of sound
distortion. Thus, it is not u n c o m m o n for an actor upstage to sound louder than one downstage. And w h e n an
actor moves across the stage, a strange rise and fall in the
volume of his voice results as he shifts in relation to the
microphone. A more serious consequence of the dependence o n amplification is the neglect of the actors training
in voice projection. W h e r e amplification is not available
both actor and audibility are lost. Another unfortunate
consequence is the architects neglect of acoustical considerations in theatre building.
T h e Grand Guignol style, the proscenium theatre,
the cinema and the amplifier m a y , then, be said to be the
four profound but baleful imports which have persisted
over time and still affect modern Indian theatre. This is
not to argue, however, that Western influence has not also
brought in m u c h that is positive, stimulating and good.
Despite the once-removed contact through the English language (indeed twice-removed since the Indian has
to m a k e an initial jump from his mother-tongue to English), the European, rather than the Englishman, has m a d e
a more profound impact on the Indian intellectual. Strindberg, Ibsen, Molire, Anatole France, R o m a i n Rolland,
Victor Hugo, Dumas, Zola, Goethe, Marx, Chekhov,
Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevski, Gorki and Sartre
are a m o n g the m a n y European writers and thinkers to
w h o m the Indian intelligentsia have turned.
For m a n y years, Strindberg, Ibsen and Chekhov
were strong contenders for style. Their examination of the
h u m a n condition and of society battling to establish class
and personal equilibrium presented in such majestic style
proved irresistible to the Indians w h o themselves were


The performing arts in Asia

beset by the same problems. To this day, these three playwrights are frequently performed either in the original or in
Molire has also been popular because his droll and
mordant satire on pretentious society eminently suited
similar action against the decadent Indian ruling class and
upper bourgeoisie. T h e great Marathi playwright Atre, w h o
died recently, for example, was not only an avowed
admirer of Molire but had completely mastered his art.
T h e reflection of Molibre is strong in his finest plays.
T h e Russian Revolution has had a greater impact
o n the Indian mind than is generally conceded and the
Moscow Art Theatre movement greatly stimulated Indian
theatre workers. Precisely h o w this manifested itself is
difficult to say unless it be that the styles of some of
Indias greatest actors and directors m a y have some identity with the work of this group. T h e Indian Peoples
Theatre movement which flourished during the war years
m a y have found inspiration from the progressive theatre
movements of the West. Along the same plane, the ideas
and work of Brecht have also profoundly interested the
more serious element of the Indian theatre movement.
S o m e significant experiments have been m a d e especially
by Habeeb Tanvir. S o m e of the work of the actor-producer-author, Utpal Dutt, shows strong affinities to the
general progressive leftist movement.
After the w a r and Indias independence, rising expectations have given a vigorous direction to the Indian
theatre movement. Though the Indian theatre struggles
most lamentably in the teeth of hostility, indifference and
lack of support, it has taken a remarkable world-view.
There is to be seen an inner conflict raging with the desire
on the one hand to revitalize a genuine Indian theatre
founded o n its o w n logical tradition, to find sustenance
in Indian heritage while tackling the contemporary reality,
and on the other hand, of trying to take in the bewildering
advance of the Western theatre m o v e m e n t without being
altogether overwhelmed. For a while, this ambivalence led
either to inaction or to grotesquerie. There were some w h o



Western and Asian influences on modern Indian theatre


unquestioningly tried to follow whatever direction the

Western movement took regardless of the absence in India
of the compulsions and needs which took that movement
where it did. Every turn of the avant-garde movement
found its adherents and imitators.Ionesco,Beckett, Albee,
Osborne, Pinter, Weiss and other practitioners of the
theatre of the absurd, cruelty or anger appeared as themselves or in various guises. There was even a happening
and an attempt at underground theatre without raison
dtre. S o m e of these must be attributed either to overenthusiasm or childishness. T h e more serious-minded,
however, stuck to a steadier course, searching carefully
even within the avant-garde m o v e m e n t for that which had
content and meaning and some significant relevance to
their Indian audiences.
Perhaps maturity comes to a nation, as to an individual, in eighteen years. After a long period of frustration, searching and probing, several playwrights, like
Badal Sircar, M o h a n Rakesh, A d y a Rangacharya, D h a ramvir Bharati, Girish Karnad and Lakshminarayan Lal,
have given Indian producers their first real chance to work
on something truly Indian and contemporary. If these
playwrights have at all been influenced by the West, it
can strangely be not by their most modern counterparts
but by persons like Pirandello,Sartre, Anouilh, Giraudoux
and Lorca. Is it perhaps a sign of national disillusionment
that some of the best Indian playwrights should forsake an
optimistic view of life, for which there is ample justification, and take to Pirandellos philosophy of hopelessness
or Sartres existentialism?This is not to suggest that these
playwrights have consciously accepted either the philosophy or the dramatic structure of Pirandello and Sartre as
their model but that an affinity has been noted by some
B e that as it may, plays like Baki Itihas, and Adhe
Adhure have been acclaimed as milestones in which, to
quote the critic, Frank Thakurdas, the playwright speaks
in a language immediate and familiar and compels us to


The performing arts in Asia

W h e n it comes to the question of Asian influence on

the Indian theatre, m u c h less the modern Indian theatre,
the picture is one of desolation. Despite a fervent Asian
consciousness, India has had little of cultural contacts
with the countries of the East of any significance in recent
times. Ancient Indian contacts were generally one-way
from India outward. There has been no feedback. In
some ways, the tradition of the Indian classical theatre
remains intact in some of the Asian countries like Indonesia and Cambodia. T h e Indian w h o has lost touch with
his o w n tradition will find the living example of what it
was in these countries. In the Japanese music and dance
form gigaku, some masks had Indian features, while in
the bugaku the sub-division k n o w n as saho-no-mai is
k n o w n to have originated from India.
T h e Indians have had little opportunity, either
through travel or through the means of mass media, of
being exposed in any w a y to the theatre of Asia. T h e
presentation as late as in 1966 of an Indonesian ballet,
Ramayana, and a Japanese performance of kyogen during
the East-West Theatre Seminar and Festival in N e w
Delhi were the first limited but serious experiences for
Indian audiences. They excited the greatest interest and a
genuine desire arose for further contacts and study. T h e
National School of D r a m a in Delhi places considerable
stress o n Asian theatre forms. Mrinalini Sarabhai, internationally known as a dancer, in her academy in A h m e d a bad has attempted a noh play in Gujerati. But these are
but feeble wisps in the wind which m a y not m a k e any
impact in the theatre movement as a whole.
T h e general trend w h e n it comes to revitalizing or
reviving a tradition-based Indian theatre is to look into
Indian heritage at its source for inspiration, rather than
where it flourishes best. Nor, in the context of the conditioned reflex of the Indian intellectual to look Westward
for anything new, has it been possible to devote any attention to Asia. This is perhaps further compounded by the
illusory belief that the West stands for progress and that
one victim of colonialism has little to offer another. Per-

Western and Asian influences on modern Indian theatre


haps also the lack of an effective language of communication between the Asian countries is another inhibiting
Thinking Indians of course deplore this state of
affairs and, in truth, the expectation of the East-West
seminar was that at least a beginning could be m a d e to
reverse this unfortunate process. It was felt that an Asian
identity of emotional and philosophical outlook beyond
national boundaries and political systems existed which
could best manifest itself in cultural contact.
Thus while for years Asia has looked out Westward,
it has rarely looked at itself or within itself. T h e seeds of a
stirring are n o w there. There is need for theatre peoples at
all levels in Asian countries to establish contacts between
themselves to see, to study, to ponder, to understand
and in that process, to bring forth a n e w and enduring
synthesis. T h e need is limitless,the opportunity is limited.


Japan: theatres response

to a changing society

R. Brandon

So m u c h has been written about Japanese theatre; it

would be superfluousand presumptuous to try to describe
the arts of noh, the puppet theatre, kabuki and modern
drama in this short space. B u t inasmuch as the major
concern before the Round-Tableconference is to promote
and encourage artistic creation in contemporary society
through increasing awareness of the n e w conditions under
which culture is disseminated, it m a y be of interest to
briefly note the ways in which Japanese theatre artists
in the past, and today, have done and are doing just this.
For some 1,200 years theatre has expressed contemporary
society in Japan, and as society has changed, the theatre
has changed with it (or it m a y also be that a changing
theatre caused changes in society). At the same time that
the theatre changed and n e w forms came into existence,
it is notable that most of the older forms were not thereby
simply abandoned and discarded as the unwanted residue
of misguided ideals past their time; because these forms
retained significance for some segments of society, and
because their intrinsic artistic value was acknowledged,
though they might no longer be widely popular they
continued to be staged. Both sides of the coin, change and
preservation, are clearly evident in Japanese life and art.

- _.



Japan: theatres response to a changing society


Because so much attention is given to the preservation of

Japanese traditions in the arts, I shall focus here only on
some of the most significant changes which have occurred,
and on their relation to the changing society of which they
were a part.
The earliest professional performers in Japan were
jugglers, acrobats, puppeteers, street dancers and musicians from China,w h o arrived by way of Korea,and hence
actually brought to the islands performances of both
countries. From as early as the seventh century the popularity of these very foreignstage arts in Japan is attested
to in numerous written accounts. These were the sangaku,
or miscellaneousperformances, which in time came to be
part of almost every kind of Japanese celebration, from
Buddhist temple festivals to imperial court entertainments and village rice-planting ceremonies. Desiring to
emulate the p o m p and authority of the Chinese court,
Japanese emperors sent emissaries to China, not merely
to absorb Buddhism and literature and government, but
to learn court dances and music as well. By the eleventh
century, the Japanese court was supporting troupes of
several hundred dancers and musicians, and training
schools as well, so that the Chinese court music (gagaku)
and court dance (bugaku) could contribute to the harmonious reign of the Japanese sovereign,just as music and
dance was expected to in China. Of course, the Chinese
music of gagaku sounded strange to Japanese ears (as
did the Mongolian, Indian, Korean and Viet-Namese
tunes which the Chinese in previous centuries had incorporated into it), and so they changed it to suit Japanese
tastes; we dont k n o w just h o w they changed it, but
change it they did. Court music and dance died out in
China, but they can still be seen performed, at the
Imperial Palace or the new National Theatre in Tokyo,
the product of Japanese court adaption of a mainland
performing art.
In the fourteenth century the elegant, indolent life
of the Heian imperial court (794-1185),of which bugaku
was a part, was replaced by a rule of aggressive samurai


The performing arts in Asia

warriors. The harmony of the spheres, the slow, symmetrical, non-theatrical dance movements of bugaku
bored these self-madem e n and they turned, for more lively
entertainment, to troupes of sarugaku players that had
grown, over the centuries, out of the stage antics of the
old sangaku performers. Sarugaku, literally monkey
music, probably refers to a grimacing performer, leaping
about to music, a good indication, in any case, of its
popular rather than aristocratic origin. Sarugaku troupes
sang and danced and did short sketches, and they probably kept some of the old acrobatics and juggling in their
variety shows as well. Troupes performed mostly for Buddhist or Shinto festivals; they provided the entertainment
to bring in crowds of people, w h o of course were expected
to give donations to the temple or shrine, and the religious
orders, in turn, paid the performers. T h e connexion of
sarugaku with religion was a kind of marriage of convenience, at least at first. In time, however, the profoundly pessimistic Buddhist philosophy that material things
are an illusion and life a thing of impermanence, impregnated to the very core the plays of sarugaku. This doctrine,
too, appealed to the samurai rulers of the fourteenth,
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and, especially since the
plays took as subject-matterlives of important rulers and
court ladies in Japanese history, sarugaku came to be
highly regarded by the warrior class. Buddhist philosophy
and glorification of temporal rulers were held in balance.
T h e plays incorporated such contemporary and lively
music as the kuse: compared to old-fashioned,slow-motion
bugaku, here was an exciting and up-to-date theatre a
warrior could appreciate.
This was the form of sarugaku, which by the fourteenth century came to be called sarugaku-noh,and later
simply noh. Sarugaku-noh was plebeian, still performed
outdoors at village fairs for crowds of farmers and travellers, w h e n the great performer Zeami Motokiyo (13631443)was invited to live with the shogun Yoshimitsu, the
warrior-ruler, at the court in Kyoto. N o w , under the influence of court tastes, noh became increasingly refined.

Japan: theatres response to a changing society


But compared to the exquisitely precious performance

which noh is today, Zeamis noh w a s practically vulgar in
its activeness. Records show us that if a programme of
five noh plays that Zeami performed were staged today,
the twentieth-century performance would last twice as
long. So what began as a plebeian show has become, after
six centuries of gradual but never-ending refinement to
suit the increasingly sophisticated and delicate tastes of
an aristocraticruling class,perhaps the most subtle theatre
art in the world and the most difficult for the average
audience to appreciate.
Beginning in the sixteenth century, a n u m b e r of
momentous changes occurred in Japanese society. After
bloody wars of succession all of Japan w a s unified under
a peace that w a s to last for three and a half centuries:
cities rapidly grew until T o k y o w a s the largest in the
world. While the samurai ruled, the t o w n merchant increasingly gained control over the economy. T h e seventeenth and eighteenth centuries s a w a great flourishing of
totally n e w arts like the ukiyoe wood-block print, the
simple three-line haiku poem, the picaresque novel, and
in the theatre, the puppet play and kabuki, all of which
appealed to merchants of the t o w n and were supported
by them. No longer did theatre troupes play before a
shrine or a temple, for a festival, or at the h o m e of a n
aristocrat at his c o m m a n d : public theatres were built in
the midst of the cities, as m a n y as seven or eight clustered
together into a bustling, brawling entertainment district.
Theatres were open every day, all day; a penny could buy
a cheap seat. Kabuki grew out of popular street dances;
and the puppet theatre (usually called bunraku now) used
a n e w foreign three-stringedinstrument, the shamisen,and
a series of technical inventions which m a d e the puppets
m o v e in remarkably realistic fashion (with moving eyes,
eyebrows, mouth, and fingers individually jointed at the
knuckles like the h u m a n hand), to attract the middle and
lower classes to the theatre. And they thronged to the
theatre, tens of thousands every day, in part to enjoy the
social excitement of participating in the act of theatre-



The performing arts in Asia

going itself. Free of government restrictions in the theatre

quarter, even the humblest person was part of this new
stream of Japanese life.
For the first time in Japan, thc c o m m o n person
could see his o w n life mirrored in the plays set upon the
puppet and kabuki stages. Of course,history plays, about
aristocrats, were part of the playbill, but the latter part
of every days performance was devoted to new plays that
dramatized the latest newsworthy events of Kyoto and
Osaka. For example, in 1703 a sensational double suicide
of two young lovers in Sonezaki, a suburb of Osaka, was
made the subject of a kabuki play just seven days later.
Theatres vied for audiences by staging the same current
stories: as earIy as 1683, there was simultaneous staging
of the same love suicide at all three of Osakas three
as licensed kabuki houses.Later in the nineteenth century,
problems in the feudal society of Japan mounted without
solution,kabuki plays depicted the lives and violent deaths
of gangsters and thieves, again staging events which had
special relevance to the contemporary urban audience.
The government feared theatre would corrupt the
morals of the audience, and regulations at m a n y times
during the E d o period (1600-1867) directed kubuki and
puppet producers not to stage contemporary events (especially those concerning the samurai class). The most
famous of all plays of this period, The Forty-seven Loyal
Retainers (Chushingura),is an example of an actual event
which was staged soon after its occurrence and in which
the names of characters had to be disguised to satisfy the
legal requirement, though this was transparent to every
member of the audience: the shocking event of 1702,
in which forty-seven retainers of the Lord of A k o took
revenge on the m a n responsible and then in turn committed mass suicide, became on the stage a play about
forty-sevenretainers of the Lord of Hoki of the fifteenth
century, w h o avenged their master and committed mass
suicide. The audience was vitally interested in this contemporary happening, and government regulation could
not prevent people from seeing on the stage what they

Japan :theatres response to a changing society


cared about. In a no less significant way, the kabuki actor

was a part of the life of the times, for the actors behaviour, taste in dress and attitudes were widely emulated
by the audience. T h e actor therefore both created audience expectations and responded to them.
W h e n the full impact of Western culture struck Japanese society at the end of the nineteenth century, kabuki
actors and writers tried to absorb into their traditional
style of performance these n e w ideas and ways of life.
As they had done for centuries, they tried to put contemporary life on the kabuki stage. But trams and telephones
proved totally incompatible with kabukis elaborately
conceived patterns of non-realistic movement and style
of elocution, and though actors such as Sadanji, the
first kabuki actor to visit Europe (in 1907), and Kikugoro V cut their hair Western style and wore suits instead
of kimonos on stage, the social change which had occurred
was already too great to be bridged. So actors and
actresses (for the first time in t w o and a half centuries)
created a n e w stage form distinct from kabuki. This was
shimpa, or new school, a style relatively realistic and
strongly influenced by the West, a theatre for a society
caught u p in the d.esperate gamble to modernize fast
enough to escape the fate of Western political domination,
but not so complete as to destroy the traditional fabric
of Japanese society. Shimpa was, and is today, a reflection
of this clear duality between Western and Japanese ways;
most of the plays of the repertory concern ordinary,
middle-class Japanese facing family and business problems of the years following the turn of the century.
Pure Western theatre can be said to have begun
w h e n Shoyo Tsubouchi, the indefatigable translator of all
of Shakespeares plays, established the Literary Society
in Tokyo, in 1906. Other groups quickly followed and
soon all the latest Western dramatic and theatrical
meant realism and naturalism-were
tried,by staging,first,translations o f m o d e m Western plays
and, in time, n e w plays written by Japanese playwrights
according to Aristotelian rules of dramaturgy. Like


T h e performing art8 in Asia

Western theatre ofthe period,ideology, social conflictand

h u m a n characterization were stressed. Shingeki, or new
theatre, as it was called, was literaryas was Western
drama, and its audience consisted of intellectuals,by and
large, as in the West. Though the shingeki audience was
therefore very small,and always has been small,it nevertheless served the requirements ofthe extremely influential
educated lite who, in the over-allview, were the agents
of the eventual and almost complete assimilation of
Western, modern technology into Japanese society.
But the technological achievement of Japan is n o w
an accomplished fact and just as Japanese industry
scarcely needs to import from the West technical methods,
but is rapidly creating its own uniquely Japanese technology, so, in the same way, shingeki is seen by m a n y
contemporary intellectuals,especially college students,as
a borrowed technique, no longer necessary. A s one approach to this situation, w e see some film directors, like
Akira Kurosawa, re-create a Western story in Japanese
terms, as he did in his Castle of the Spiders Web,a thoroughly Japanese Macbeth. Other artists seek to reinterpret familiar Japanese stories according to contemporary
views. The M e n Who Tread on the Tigers Tail (1940),also
directed by Kurosawa, presented in the cinema a very
human, unheroic interpretation of one of the great kabuki
plays of feudal loyalty, The Subscription List (Kanjincho).
A masterpiece of the puppet drama, Chikamatsus Love
Suicides at Sonezaki (1703)was stunningly reinterpreted
only recently by the young director Masahiro Shinoda in
ilm of the same title. It explicitly showed the vulgarly
physical love ofthe young couple,as Chikamatsus romantic play did not, and it commented on the theme of the
couples wretched death, through sinister and wholly unconventional group movements of the black-robed stage
assistants of kabuki and the puppet play.
The strongest reaction against shingeki has come,
however, not from the traditionalists, as one might suspect, but from young theatre people w h o want to cast off
unreservedly the trappings of Western literary drama. A

Japan:theatres response to a changing society


~statement, almost a manifesto, by Kaitaro Tsuno takes

u p most of the October 1969 issue of Concerned Theatre
Japan. Tsuno writes, in part :

shingeki has become an historical entity. .. a traditionof the

new. We do not see European drama as some golden fruit.. ..
W e are already tasting the rotten, discolored flesh of that
fruit. Japans youngest playwrights maintain a small theatre
group, and their dramatic adventures have continued in
basement rooms, Buddhist temples, in coffeeshops, beneath
elevated superhighways, and in crude tents set up in Shinto
shrines. They repudiate the rules of orthodox dramaturgy,
the proscenium stage which divides the theatre in two, and
the technology of realism; they further reject spiritless audiences raked up out of m a m m o t h organizations.

Representative of the new playwright-actor-director

Tsuno speaks for is Juro Kara, whose travelling Situation
Theatre works out of a truck and performs almost anywhere-in small basement rooms and even in tents. The
scathing and vehement improvisations of Shuichi Terajimas Peanut Gallery troupe have created something of
a sensation in both Japan and in Germany, where his
group toured in 1967.
It m a y be more accurate to say these n e w theatre
artists are not so m u c h specifically Japanese as they are
part of the international theatre of the young w h o see a
performance as a participatory experience, a communication enveloping actor and spectator (and hopefully
eliminating the usual barriers between them), a direct
social action, valued not for its ideological message per se,
nor for its cognitive or rational statement about society,
nor indeed for its beauty of form, but or the momentary,
but intensely real, h u m a n contact which, hopefully, can
occur when the artificial conventions of theatre, Western
or Asian, n o longer apply.
At the present, bugaku, noh, kabuki, puppet plays,
shimpa,shingeki and theatre so young it has n o real n a m e
coexist and are performed on the stages of Japan. Each
c a m e into being to fulfil a newly felt need for dramatic


The performing arts in Asia

expression by some segment of Japanese society,at some

time in history, and thereby to clarify and express the
new ideals of the audience drawn from those segments of
society. The continuing existence of these half-dozen
theatre forms (and others I have not mentioned) points
to a pluralism of Japanese culture which I believe is not
sufficiently recognized.

Part Three

Theatre, cinema and

other mass media


Introduction to

Part Three

Long ago, theatre in Western countries ceased to be based

o n popular or mass acceptance, and its audience today
consists, for the most part, of the urban, intellectual,
relatively well-to-do.In contrast to radio, television and
cinema, which truly have mass audiences, Western theatre
is an art of the minority. But in most Asian countries,
folk, popular and even classic theatre troupes perform to
enormous audiences, and the theatrical art remains what
it only once was in Europe and America-an art of wide
popularity, a mass media. Although w e can only speak
in the most general terms on a subject of such vast scope,
before considering cinema in specific Asian countries, it
m a y be helpful to compare some of the inherent differences
between the mass media of theatre, cinema, radio and

Public and private media

Because theatre and the motion picture are public media,
they are in direct competition with each other for the
financial support, loyalty and time of the audience. Often
theatre and cinema buildings are side by side; their hours



The performing arta in Asia

of performance tend to be the same. Both appeal to the

person lout on the town, who is seeking relaxation and
diversion. And regardless of financial considerations, it
seems undeniable that they w o o the allegiance of the
spectator under similar psychological circumstances.
Radio and television,on the other hand, are private media
in the sense that they are listened to or watched in the
h o m e (or in small groups at a restaurant, club or other
convenient public place). There is the possibility that
constant radio or television listening will reduce the
amount of theatre-going of a person, but the difference
between the public and the private nature of the two
reduces somewhat, at least,the possibility of direct competition for the audiences time. A person can enjoy both,
each at different times and under different circumstances.
In large metropolitan centres, such as Tokyo, Singapore,
Bombay, Saigon or Bangkok, the competition of the
motion picture is the greatest, and this decreases as one
moves from provincial citiesand townsintothecountryside.
Films m a y never be seen in remote villages, and here the
local theatre troupe flourishes,as yet with no competition
for audience attention.

The consequences of technology

The theatre can be called a directmeans of mass communication:communication occurs as a single,indivisible
act, with the audience responding directly to the live
performance before them. The motion-pictureaudience is
at %wo removes: the film is first m a d e and then later
projected at a totally different time and place. Radio and
television audiences are at three removes from the original performance: first a programme ia produced, then
it is transmitted electronically, and third it is received on
a radio or television set. The theatre-viewer needs only
his eyes and ears; nothing special is required of him,The
same is true of the cinema; it is the exhibitor w h o provides the rather simple technology of projector and screen.

Introduction to Part Three



~ _ _

But the media of radio and television require the audience

to furnish its o w n electronic receiving equipment in order
to hear or see a programme. Radio sets are not inordinately
expensive, yet in m a n y remote areas even the n e w transistor radios are not common. Television receivers are
costly devices and few people can afford to buy them.
Only in Japan is there wide ownership by the public.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in Asia,
by governments and by private companies, building radio
and television studios, often quite elaborate, and powerful
transmitting equipment. Programmes are produced and
transmitted, but the effect, especially with television, is
less than anticipated because of lack of receiving sets.
Today (again excepting Japan), the television audience is
mostly urban and mostly of the educated, upper-middle
Because the cinema and also television programmes
can be so easily recorded, and then shipped to any destination in the world for transmission or projection, the
possibility exists for enormously powerful cultural impact
on the importing nations by the exporting nations. India,
China and Japan, as the following articles so clearly show,
each m a k e several hundred motion pictures each year;
although foreign films enter these three Asian countries,
their local production is so large as to offset the cultural
influence of imported films.But other countries in Asia
m a k e few films while at the same time they import hundreds each year not only from India, China and Japan,
but from the West, most of these from the United States.
In the small Asian country, then, the cinema has a distinctly foreign odour. T h e theatre, o n the other hand, is
a very nationalmedium, for the overwhelming majority
of the tens of thousands of theatre troupes performing in
Asia at the present time Bring to their audiences familiar
stories from their o w n culture. T h e theatre genres which
they stage are the unique products of the local culture
and they reflect fundamental values and ideals of their
culture. Except for the occasional brief trip of an Asian
troupe to another country for cultural exchange, theatre



The performing arts in Asia

performances are almost always designed for an audience

sharing the s a m e background, language and religion as
the troupe itself.
In the years to come, there will be a continuing
exchange between the theatre, cinema, radio and television in Asian countries. W e must hope that the impact
of modern technology will be beneficial and not harmful
to live theatre, and that the cinema and the television
will recognize the theatre as a unique and invaluable
source of material for films and programmes which can
genuinely express the national culture.


Screen adaptations
of Indian literature

Andr Malraux has written: Behind each artist stands

the cathedral, the library and the museum. Behind each
form is originally another form.. ..Every form is a conquest
-a taking over, an incorporation,a further developmentof another previously existing form, whose traces it bears.
Indisputably, behind cinema, stands literature
whose traces (or, are they scars?) it bears since its inception. No sooner do w e ponder over their specific properties than differentiating characteristics of the film and
the literature begin to emerge in sharp focus. George
Bluestone, in his admirable book Novels into Films avers
that where the moving picture comes to us directly
through perceptions, language must be filtered through
the screen of conceptual apprehension. And the conceptual
process, though allied to and often taking its point of
departure from the percept, represents a different m o d e
of experience, a different w a y of apprehending the universe. Virginia Woolf, contrasting the novel and film, as
early as in 1926 arrived at the remarkably perceptive
conclusion that eye and brain are torn asunder ruthlessly
as they try vainly to work in couples,1 and added that
1. In Movies and Reality, New Republic.


The performing arts in Asia

the results of conversion from linguistic visual images are

disastrous to both. The difference is too great to overcome.
More recently,Ingmar Bergman declared:Filmhas
nothing to do with literature;the character and substance
of the two art forms are usually in conflict. Incompatible
though they are by the very nature of their particular
properties,yet a relationship has existed between the two
from the time that Sarah Bernhardt lent her prestige to
the first-everfeature film,Queen Elizabeth, in 1911. Since
then, Kalidasa, Shakespeare, Goethe, Molire, Maupassant, Tagore, Tolstoy, all have been grist to the film mill.
The very first Indian film, Raja Harishohandia,
made in 1913,was based on a story from Pauranic or Indian
mythological literature.Then came films based on the epics
-the Ramayana and Mahabharata.Both the Pauranic and
the Epic literature are known throughout the length and
breadth of India,from the rich m a n living in his mansion
to the poor peasant in his hovel. During the silent days,
it helped a great deal to re-createon the screen storiesthat
were widely known to the people.There was anotherreason
too, though a latent one: this celebration of Indias
glorious past was an implied criticism of the alien power
that ruled India, and which has brought so much misery
to its people.
Besides, the Indian has always felt close to and
fascinated by his mythology. A little while ago when someone asked Satyajit R a y if he really wanted to film the
Mahabharata,the distinguished film-makerreplied :Yes,
I do . is a theme that endures, a theme of war and
peace, tyranny and struggle. Also it is worth while to look
at ones roots.
F r o m the classic age of Sanskrit drama some sixteen
centuries ago to the present times, poets, playwrights,
sculptors and film-makershave looked at these roots with
growing fascination and drawn sustenance from them.
More important,the epics have set the ethical and social
mores of a whole nation. Yet these are no religious books
in the sense that the Bible and the Koran are. M u c h less
are they the preserves of the priest and the brahmin. The




Screen adaptations of Indian literature


wandering minstrels sing them in village squares to large,

avid crowds w h o have heard them umpteen times before.
The first decade of the Indian cinema was almost
entirely given over to mythological stories from the two
epics. As well as their perennial popularity, the Indian
film-makerwas quick to discover an inexhaustible mine
of dramatic material in the epics that could be adapted
to suit any audience. For instance, in the heyday of the
serial (To be continued next week) when The Perils of
Pauline helped Hollywood make its millions, the Indian
film-makertoo followed suit-although on his o w n terms.
H e discovered enough action, the keynote of the serial,
in the epics, particularly the Ramayana.
With the advent of sound, cinema became even
more dependent on literature-the novel and theplay,particularly the latter. Playwrights from the theatre moved
into film studios and grafted new, even alien features
to an essentially visual art. Here w e moved back into
what Ren Clair called the canned theatre. One result
was the loss of cinematic style, and another, the remarkable narrative fluidity acquired during the final era of
silent movies. Be that as it may, literature was in complete control of the cinema. This in a way gave it a certain
sense of respectability.After all, to the bulk of the intelligentsia, w h o were never quite convinced of the validity
of film as an art, Shakespeare or Molire were any day
preferable to the acrobatics of Miss Pearl White.
In India well-known stage writers were hired to
write for films. In the first flush of talkies, as if drunk
with the discovery of its own voice, the mute shadow
hardly ever stopped talking. The language that poured
forth was florid, rhetorical. The modern Indian theatre
stemmed directly from the West nearly a century and half
ago. The merchants of the East India Company and
officials of the British Crown brought the contemporary
European theatre with them and held it as a model before
the educated Indian audience. As the Bengali film critic
Chidananda Dasgupta says :WhenRaja R a m Mohan R o y
and other Sanskrit scholars paved the way for education,


he performing arts in Asia

the education they fought for was a Western education

in the humanities and the sciences. The nineteenthcentury Bengali was exhorted by his leaders of thought to
speak in English, think in English, dream in English.
Not surprising then that much of what was being
written at the time was deeply influenced by European
writing.Agha Hashar Kashmiri, who in the early days of
talkieswas the most sought-afterplaywright (almost all
his plays were made into successful films) adapted Shakespeares Merchant of Venice into Di1 Farosh, Measure for
Measure into Shaheed-E-Nar and King Leur into Safed
Khoon. Similarly, Tolstoys Resurrection, Victor Hugos
Les Misrables and Hernani and several other Western
classics were adapted for the Indian screen.
Gradually, the film-makers turned their attention
to popular literary figures like Bankim Chandra Chatterji,
Sarat Chandra Chatterji and Munshi Premchand. But in
most cases, the writers were not active participants.
Premchand, though, worked for a brief while with a
Bombay film company but found the process so frustrating
that he never once gave it a serious thought. It was only
after his death that some of his novels were filmed. During
his lifetime not m a n y of Rabindranath Tagores novels or
stories were adapted for the screen. This was partly due
to the poets reluctance to allow his works to be filmed,
and partly also because unlike some other writers, Tagore
did not easily lend himself to screen adaptation,his work
is less inhibited and full of fine shades and subtle nuances.
It puts a premium on the film-makersintellect and imagination.
Bengali films have always enjoyed a certain reputation for the high level of their content. As now, so in the
thirties, soon after the advent of sound, the N e w Theatre
Group of directors-Devaki Bose (Sapera,based on a novel
by Kazi Nazurul Islam), P. C. Barua (Devdas, Manzil,
both Sarat Chandra Chatterjis novels), Phani Mazumdar
(KapalKundala, adapted from a novel by Bankim Chandra Chatterji) and Kartik Chandra Chatterji (ChhotaBhai,
a novel by Sarat Chandra Chatterji)-made films ofnovels

Screen adaptations of Indian literature


and stories widely k n o w n in Bengal. Their popularity thus

was well-assured.These films were not particularly marked by any brilliance of adaptation. While they retained
m u c h of the rich,emotional content of the original material,
they also packed them with predictable dicht% and popular
music. P.C. Baruas films,however, were a happy exception. A m a n of cultivated taste and familiar with Western
film-making trends and technique,Barua, in his film,gave
off sparks of pure cinema. E v e n his very first film, Devdas
(1935), created something of a sensation w h e n first released. It was a simple love story of a tradition-bound boy
and his childhood playmate w h o could not marry owing
to sharp class distinctions in the rigid social structure. It
was far from a faithful rendering of the original. H e cut
out what was unessential to his purpose. H e retained
what he felt would enhance the storys emotional impact. Yet in spirit, his fidelity to the original was unquestioned.
His film Mukti remains one of the earliest significant screen adaptations of a novel. Barua drew freely
upon Sarat Chandras vast storehouse of emotional riches,
and to what he drew he added something of his own-that
something which distinguishes an original work from a
mere faithful rendering.
During the last decade and earlier, several of
Tagores novels and short stories have been adapted for
the screen. Tapan Sinha, a Bengali film-maker of considerable talent, has particularly specialized in Tagore.
It m a y justly be said that Sinhas creative inspiration is
derived mostly from Tagores stories. His first Tagore
film Kabuliwallu-the story of a n Afghan street vendor
whose nostalgia for his homeland and his daughter are
aroused by a small Indian girl-proved
popular. But the critics severely attacked it for its tearjerking treatment. Clearly the film-maker had his better
is next film,Kshuditu
eye fixed on the box-office. H
Pashun (Hungry Stones). also a Tagore story, though a
distinct improvement on his previous one, still did not
satisfy the more discerning critics. It was, however, with


The performing arts in Asia

Atithi (shown at the Venice Film Festival) that Tapan

Sinha finally gained acceptance.
Based on one of Tagores early short stories, it tells
of a boy still in his teens,whose fascination with the sights
and sounds of the world draws him out of the narrow
confines of his village. In his wanderlust, he comes across
all kinds of people, acrobats, wandering minstrels, rich
people w h o have built their own kinds of shells for themselves. Nothing can hold the boy for too long and he moves
on propelled by some inner compulsion. Admittedly, the
film-maker was only translating what the writer had
already observed and felt. And,if it is true that reality is
not a fixed, unalterable entity and it undergoes a metamorphosis in the very process of shifting it from the printed page to the animated image, then the film failed to
add any new dimension of understanding. It tried to recreate a reality which had ceased to exist.
But perhaps the whole process is frustrating from
the very start. It seems like an unseemly alliance-between literature and cinema.But n o w and then a m a n does
come up w h o with his o w n power of perception and
creative splendour turns a literary masterpiece into a
cinematic masterpiece. This happened when Satyajit R a y
came up with his widely known film of Bibhuti Bhushan
Bannerjis Puther Punchuli. Rays interest in the book was
sparked off when he was asked to provide illustrations
for a new edition. (Perhaps I m a y mention that before
coming over to films, R a y was an art director with an
advertising company.) It was while doing this that he was
struck by the filmic quality of some of its episodes. R a y
said: Ichose Puther Punchuli for the qualities that made
it a great book: its humanism, its lyricism, and its ring
of truth. I knew I would have to do a lot of pruning and
reshaping. ..but at the same time I felt that to cast the
thing into a mould of cut and dried narrative would be
wrong. The script had to retain some of the rambling
quality of the novel, because that in itself contained a
clue to the feel of authenticity-;life in a poor Bengali
village does ramble.

Screen adaptations of Indian literature


Bred in the city, R a y w a s enchanted by the n e w

flavour and texture of rural life. H e said: It m a d e you
want to observe and probe, to catch revealing details, the
telling gestures, the particular terms of speech. You wanted to fathom the mysteries of atmosphere. Does it consist in the sight, or in the sounds? How to catch the subtle
difference between d a w n and dusk, or convey the grey
humid stillness that precedes the first monsoon shower?
T h e magic of Puther Punchuli lies precisely in the exploration of these details.
R a y has also m a d e films from Tagores storiessignificantly Three Daughters and Churudata. These are
films which have given us n e w insight into life and h u m a n
frailty. A s often happens in the case of a creative artist,
it is not the whole book, every situation, each character,
which sparks off his interest or fires his imagination. It
can be just a single statement or one revelation. H e m a y
use this revelation as the core of his work, discarding the
rest or moulding it according to his lights.
Ingmar Bergman says that &the irrational dimension of a literary work, the germ of its existence, is often
untranslatable into visual terms, and it in turn destroys
the special irrational dimension of the film. If, despite
this, w e wish to translate something literary into film
terms, w e must m a k e a n infinite n u m b e r of complicated
adjustments. . ..
It is over the hero, precisely, that the writer gets
incensed. And understandably enough, he m a y accuse the
film-maker of butchering his work, doing a w a y with its
profundity and making a hash of a literary masterpiece.
Margaret Kennedy in her essay The Mechanized Muse
contends: In a great work of art, nothing is irrelevant.
To cut any part of it is to damage the whole. In a great
work of art the m e d i u m is so wedded to the subject that
it becomes impossible to think of t h e m apart. To take the
writing out of a great novel is to run a risk of emptying
out the baby with the bath. T h e situation, she suggested,
could be remedied by allowing the writer to have greater
control over his material.


T h e performing arts in Asia

In India, during the past two decades or so,

prominent literary writers have actively associated themselves with film-making. In Bengal, Tarashankar B a n nerji, Banaphool ; in Bombay, Krishan Chander, Saadat
Hasan Manto, K h w a j a A h m a d Abbas, Rajinder Singh
Bedi and poets of renown like Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi
Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi; and in the
south, R. K. Narayan, Takhazi Sivashankar Pillai. All
these writers and poets m a d e a m a r k on the literary scene
before they lent their prestige to cinema. Khwaja A h m a d
Abbas has been filming his o w n literary works for the past
several years. While his films have a definite social Significance, their cinematic structure has always been somewhat shaky. T h e phenomenon of writers producing and
directing their o w n work, in order to preserve its purity
and authenticity,is something n e w in the Indian cinema.
Whether it would lead to legitimate cinematic creations
is yet to be seen.
In the West, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells,
Aldous Huxley, Arthur Miller, Jean-Paul Sartre and
Andre Malraux have all exerted considerable control over
screen adaptations of their literary works. And yet, paradoxically enough, none of it resulted in memorable movies.
W h e r e lies the malaise?
In Europe and America, there is a growing movement to alienate cinema from literature. It was Franois
Truffaut, who, after seeing A n d God Created Women,
declared that filmstoday no longer need to tell a story-it
is enough that they tell of a first love, that they take place
on a beach, etc.. Although Truffaut has since changed
his position (I find myself longing to see a film with a
well-told story) the idea has caught on. As a result w e
have the nouveau cinma, the underground movies,
movies of pure form and pure feeling. An American
critic, Pauline Kael, feels that as a result of what she calls
creeping Marienbadism, movies are going to pieces and
she chides the art-house audience for accepting lack
of clarity as complexity; clumsiness and confusion as

Screen adaptations of Indian literature


A t the other end of the spectrum is the underground

film-maker. Jonas Mokas believes that as long as the
lucidly minded critics will stay out, with all their form,
content, art, structure, clarity, imp~rtance~,
-everything w
ill be all right.
It is an interesting debate and its echoes have
reached India too. But by and large the Indian film is
purely narrative, depending on well-moulded characters,
plot and situations :hence it leans heavily upon literature.
Ostensibly, one can dispute the slavish dependence of
cinema on literature, and with good and sound reasons
too. Because if cinema has to stand apart as an individual
art with its o w n syntax, grammar and tools of expression,
necessarily it must untie itself from the apron-strings of
Ritwik Ghatak, the well-known Bengali film director, laments the fact that, the relationship between the
cinema and the novel has n o w become a two-way affair.
Literature is cramming in all kinds of cinema clichs and
stock situations which authors think will endear t h e m to
film producers. And films are based on such stuff, thereby
giving a further fillip to such writing. T h e result: the
growth of banality and vulgarity in literature and cinema.
Whether or not literature is on the decline is a moot
point. But curiously enough, despite the film-makers
growing aversion to literature, each year m a n y of the
more significant films are based o n literary works.


The role of the cinema

and radio inthe preservation
and development
of Ceylonese theatre
Milena Salvini

From the moment of its first appearance, the cinema was

well received by the Ceylonese people. The first important
films (produced after independence) were based directly
on the Indian cinema and the nurtiya: a form of variety
performance the popularity of which was to decline with
and in proportion to the progress made in the cinematographic arts. The piecemeal development of the Ceylonese theatre, characterized by the merging of so m a n y
styles, so m a n y returns to its origins, and so m a n y experiments due to foreign influences, permitted (since it was
not rooted in thousand-year-oldtraditions and structures)
revolutionaryforms of expressionlike the cinema to branch
out freely and even to combine with it.
Today, the development of the cinema is going hand
in hand with that of the modern theatre. They are complementary to one another in the sense that,as censorship
applies only to the screen,the theatre allows more freedom
to deal with h u m a n and psychological themes. It could
almost be said that there is an exchange of influences between the cinema and the theatre. European films have
lent their realism to the modern Ceylonese theatre, while
the ancient forms find their prolongation, through the
btructure or choice of literary themes, in the cinema. The


Cinema, radio and the Ceylonese theatre


__ ____


Ceylonese cinema also draws inspiration from the ancient

religious and folklore sources. However that m a y be, the
cinematographic art has given the theatre a n e w lease of
life and certain dramatic works are sometimes happily
transposed into films, as for example the Marriage of
Figaro,which was adapted to the screen in the context of
the Ceylonese community. Inreeent years numerous documentary and experimental films have been produced by
students, w h o are as active in this regard as in the dance
and the theatre. With the exception of a few producers,
like J. L. Peries,whose work is distinguished by its originality,the majority of films bear the stamp of the Indian
cinema, although n o w a very clear bid to escape towards
a more purely Ceylonese form of expression can be observed. The Department of Information is supporting the
production of documentary films which will gradually
form the national archives. A National Film Institute is
being set up. AU other aspects of cinematographic production are backed by privatc companies.
As regards education and information,the radio has
maintained a continuous effort over the last thirty years.
Its activitieswere particularly effectiveinthepreservation
and renaissanceofthe traditionalCeylonese folklore music,
more particularly from the kolam and nadagama. Its
collection ofancient music, patiently assembled,is n o w the
richestexisting in Ceylon.Programmes especially composed
for educational purposes enabled a number of talented
musicians to createnew stylesdrawn from IndianandEuropean sourceS.TheinfluenceofHindustanimusic(introduced
hy the Parsi Theatre) gave rise to interesting experiments
using the vannama after the manner of the Indian ragas.
Work by the radio concerning the theatre has been
no less important.The exploration of folklore sources has
made it possible to rediscover a whole repertory of histories and legends which were readapted to the broadcasting style. The large number of theatre broadcasts n o w
enables numerous authors to make a regular contribution.
The work of dividing up the programmes is done in the
various divisions which appeal to : schoolchildren, the


The performing arta in &ia

middle class, the rural areas, the intellectual lite, and

others. T h e works are chosen and distributed in such a
w a y as to satisfy each particular group of listeners. A
considerable amount of research on the nadagama is being
carried out at present.
T h e development in Ceylonese performing arts which
has taken place since the beginning of the century shows
an increasing interest in Western culture. This interest is
clearly more marked in Ceylon than in India and Indonesia
where the influence ofEurope is more apparent in the use of
its technicalfacilitiesthan in the assimilation ofits thought.
T h e enthusiasm of the younger generation in Ceylon
for European literature and theatre coincides with the
expansion of art education and the coming of the cinema.
This movement assumed substantial proportions after
independence, from 1947 onwards. T h e introduction of
music and dance in the school curriculum helped to revive
the performing arts. Renewed activity followed with
which the Department of Education is directly associated
through the organization of annual competitions between
the various institutions. But the inhence of Western
music and theatre has not smothered the deep currents of
Ceylonese thought whose development can be followed from
the ritual theatreup to the rebirth ofthe nadagamain 1956.
Since 1952 the main art activities have been administered by the Art Council of Ceylon. Divided into
different sections covering dance, Oriental and European
music, theatre, painting, sculpture, cinema, its function
is to supervise the diffusion of culture and the harmonious
development of its different branches at regional levels.
Its action extends both to contemporary research and to
the promotion of the handicraft arts.
Today it is possible to distinguish clearly through
the various trends arriving from India and Europe a
movement to form a classic art combining the dance, the
theatre and music in a single national expression.


The Japanese film

Jean de Baroncelli

T h e Japanese film industry, which was brought to a

complete halt in 1945, started again in 1946 under the
control of the occupation authorities. T h e first productions were extremely mediocre, but the public, with nothing else in the w a y of entertainment, rushed to the newly
rebuilt cinemas.
However, it was only from 1950 onwards that the
Golden A g e began for Japanese films-that is, for the Big
Five companies that dominated the scene (Nikkateu,
Shochiku, Toho, Daiei and Toei). Thanks in part to the
economic miracle, production rose from 215 films in 1950
to 302 in 1953, then to 514 in 1956 and 547 in 1960. At
the same time, attendances rocketed (718 million spectators in 1950,1,127 million in 1958), with a fantastic increase
in the number of cinemas (2,641 in 1950, 7,072 in 1958).
F r o m 1959, attendances began to fall as fast as they had
risen (1,127 million spectators in 1959,360 million in 1965,
345 million in 1966) and,under conditions to be examined
later, production likewise collapsed (265 films in 1966).
Today, the Big Five are colossi with feet of clay.
Three of them have for some years past been running at
a loss and o w e their survival purely to income from sources
other than iilms.






The performing arts in Asia


In Japan, as elsewhere, while sport (particularly

baseball, which draws huge crowds) and the motor-car
exodus in the evenings have done much to bring down
attendances, enemy number one is television.
Television, whose beginnings in Japan go back to
1953, has experienced an extraordinary boom. In 1968 it
was reckoned that by the end of the year there would be
a set in 90 per cent of Japanese homes, that is, about
22 million. In Tokyo, viewers have a choice of seven
channels,whose programmes begin very early in the morning and sometimes go on until after midnight. Four of
these channels broadcast programmes in colour, generally
concerned with sport, music-hall shows or traditional
plays. Note that the television news-reel broadcast at
7 p.m. by NHK1 is also in colour.
It is estimated that at peak viewing hours, for
example the Saturday evening music-hall show from
NHK,21 million Japanese are to be found in front of their
sets. On Sunday, average viewing time is said to be over
eight hours.

Economic factors
That economic factors have contributed to the decline is
true enough, but it is open to question whether the big
companies have in every case taken proper action to cope
with the situation.
1. NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation) controls a television channel of so-called general
programmes and another of educationalprogrammes. NHK
is a public corporation, neither governmental nor commercial,
with statutes laid d o w n by law. T h e two NHK channels cover
h o s t 95 per cent of Japanese territory. T h e corporation is
financed b y means of a tax of 330 yen (U.S.$l = 360 yen)
paid b y viewers per month and per home, whatever the number of sets. T h e other five channels are privately owned. In
1965, the television advertising budget totalled approximately
100 million yen.

Since 1958,production costs have increasedby 20per

cent. A film in black and white n o w costs $150,000 to
$200,000.1Of that sum, 45 per cent is swallowed up in
overheads, with only 30 per cent for the actors and the
director. At the beginning of the crisis,the big companies,
rather than reduce these astronomical overheads, preferred to amortize them by speeding up production. The
result of this was the inflation of 1960 and 1961 (more
than 500 films), an inflation all the more absurd in that
it took place to the detriment of quality and brought the
public more quickly to saturation point.
The brake was applied in 1962 (375 films). In the
meantime the price of tickets had shot up, box-office
takings continued to increase for a few months, reaching
their peak in 1963 with 77,000million yen. But this was
no more than a last flicker. The battle of costs, as the big
companies went into it, was bound to be lost.

The point

of view of young directors

For most critics and young directors the crisis cannot be

overcome either by the star system or by co-production.
In their opinion, the Japanese film industry is at present
in the trough of the wave. The Golden Age has gone and
gone for ever. To a certain extent, this is an excellent

There is no crisis of the Japanese film industry;
there is a crisis for the big companies, which is a very
different matter, I was told by Kirio Urayama, the director of Cupola,w h o is connected with Nikkatsu. The big
companies have been unable to adapt themselves to the
n e w situation,they are crushed under the weight of their
enormous administrative machinery, both financially and
in the choice of subjects. Their brains trusts are, in fact,
1. Roshomon, which was made, it is true, in 1950, before the
economic boom and devaluation, cost only 15 million yen,
that is, $42,000.


T h e performing arts in Asia

working for a public standard of which they have a false

idea. Tastes have changed in ten years. T h e young no
longer enjoy lachrymose stories of heroes chained to their
fate. W h a t they want are films which reflect their problems, their preoccupations, a certain n e w approach to
life, etc.
To keep its public loyal in the face of competition
from foreign films and, whenever possible, to gain a foothold in foreign markets, the Japanese film industry should
therefore,in the opinion of U r a y a m a and his friends,break
with existing methods of production and, as far as ideas
are concerned, stick closer to real conditions in Japan.
That risk is considerable, for it is not enough to m a k e a
film;it then has to be distributed. Yet it is the Big Five
which run almost all the distribution circuits, and that
means that w h e n anyone wants to get back the m o n e y he
has invested, he i5 then at their mercy.

The difficulty of being Japanese

If the young directors are so anxious to be independent,
that is because they are convinced that they have something n e w to say. Whatever their admiration for Mizoguchi, O z u and Kurosawa, they have no intention of following in their footsteps. There can be n o question for
them of making jidai geki,l nor are they tempted to yield
to the fashion for the melodramas and adventures which
are making the fortune of some of their colleagues. W h a t
they want is to express in their o w n w a y some of the
problems which haunt them, and all of which are concerned, morally as well as intellectually and artistically, with
the difficulty of being Japanese nowadays.
T h e generation to which they belong was on the
threshold of adolescence on that 15 August 1945 when
1. Ji&;

geki are historical films set in the distant past, whereas

gendai geki are modern films. Nowadays, jid0i account for
hardly 15 per cent of Japanese production.

The Japanese film industry


their parents, rigid with respect and stupefaction, learned

from the emperors o w n lips of the capitulation of Japan.
W h a t that capitulation signified for Japan went far
beyond the humiliation of military defeat. A whole world
collapsed, an age-old world whose deep-lying structures
had not been affected b y Western influences despite the
reforms of the Meiji period. In a few months, what had
been the political, social, moral, family and religious
structure of Japan was swept away.
T h e consequences of the shock are still being felt;
for although in the last twenty years it has turned its back
on m a n y of its rites and myths, although it has passionately Westernized itself, the old Japan is not for that reason
dead. Not only have the Japanese not forgotten that they
are Japanese but, under the influence of the foreign
implant, they have become aware of what might be called
their specificity. It follows that their problem is not to
choose between tradition and modernism, but rather to
fit into the contemporary world while remaining faithful
to a certain manner of thinking, feeling, acting and reacting that is peculiar to them.
Such is the many-sided problem which constitutes
the deep-lying theme of films by the young directors. T h e
height of their ambition is to put on record a historical
evolution and at the same time a n unchanging spiritual
presence. As one of them told me: W e belong neither to
our o w n past nor to the present of others. That is w h y w e
want, through the cinema,to define ourselves as Japanese of

A serious feeling of disquiet

T h e rebirth of the Japanese film industry seems to belong
to the still-distant future, and the most that can be said
of its present situation is that it continues to be most
alarming. T h e last few years have been disastrous from
every point of view: the quantity of films produced;
their quality; box-office takings (foreign Xms have
brought in 10 per cent more than national ones).



The performing arts in Asia


Perhaps more symptomatic than these figures is the

silence to which three such men as Masaki Kobayashi,
K o n Ichikawa and Akira Kurosawa have been condemned.
T h e first was completely ruined by his Kaidan, and there
is little likelihood of his returning to films. In spite of the
prodigious success of his Tokyo Olympic Games (seen by
one-fifth of the population of Japan), the second has been
unable to find any more suitable work. T h e third has left
for the United States, and w h e n a film-maker of the class
of Kurosawa decides to m a k e films outside his o w n country, the explanation is that the m o o d prevailing in that
country is one of serious disquiet.
T h e freelances, as they are called in Japan, include
film-makersof genuine talent, such as Satsuo Y a m a m o t o
(whose film The Great White Tower was judged by the
Critics Association the best film of 1966); Nagisa Oshima
(35 years old, with seven films to his credit, possessor of a
vigorous personality which is particularly noticeable in
Cruel Youth, The Catch and Violence at Noon, his last
production); Kosaburo Yoshimura (who m a d e The Chain
of Heart, which was eighth in the critics choice) ;Yoshishige Yoshida (director of the highly estimable Story
Written on Water).
To these directors must naturally be added Teshigawara, w h o m a d e The W o m a n of the Dunes; Kaneto
Shindo; S u s u m u Hani; and Shohei Imamura. All have
fought, or are still fighting, for that freedom to create,
failing which the Japanese film industry is liable to limit
its production more and more-as has happened in recent
years-to films about gangsters or hooligans, melodramas
for women, or tales of monsters like Godzilla, or else
Cinemagoers will, of course, have to support these
freelances. According to some observers, the first signs of
a change of taste on the part of the better-informed-and
the younger and more exacting-public have begun to
appear. W e can only rejoice, because in Japan as elsewhere, while it sometimes makes mistakes, it is none the
less the public that is always right.

The Japanese film industry


Appendix: Literary works as a source of

inspiration for Japanese films
A very large number of Japanese U m s are inspired by national
or foreign, classical or modern, literature.By w a y of example,
mention might be made of Akira Kurosawas adaptations
for the screen of Dostoevskis The Idiot, Gorkis The Lower
Depths and Shakespeares Macbeth. In all these films Kuroaawa adapted the original masterpiece in such a w a y a5 to fit
it into a Japanese context. The borrowings from Western
literature are, however, exceptional and in most cases the
director of Rashomon (adapted from a novel b y Ryunosuke
Akutagawa) has drawn upon the literature of his o w n country. The same applies to Kenichi Mizoguchi, most of whose
masterpieces (Ugetsu Monogatari, Sansho the Bailif, A Tale
of Chikmnatsu, New Tales of the Taira Clan,etc.) are adapted
from literature.This fidelity to a literary work is particularly
commendable in the case of Hiroshi Teshigawara,whose three
6lms The Pigall,The W o m a n of the Dunes and Face of Another
were takenfromthenovels ofKoboAbe,theauthor collaborating
closely in each instancewith thedirector in writing the scenario.
T o quote another example of the effect on one another
of literature and ams,the Nobel Prize winner for literature,
Yasunari Kawabata, has had most of his works adapted
for the screen. For instance, The Dancer of Izu was filmed
in three different versions (the best-known being that of
Heinosuke Gosho in 1933), and more recently The Snow
Country, Story of Three Sisters, One Thousand Cranes, and
Of the Sun and the Moon have been turned into films.Another
Japanese writer, Junichiro Tanizaki, has frequently inspired
Japanese directors, and for that matter was personally connected with flms in the silent days, making several of them
himself. Ka$, by Kon Ichikawa, is taken from one of his
books. M a n y others could be added to these names, such as
Yukio Mishima, whose novels The Conflagration and Longing
for Love have been adapted in turn by Ichikawa and Kurahara
respectively, and w h o has himself produced, made and acted
in a film called Yukoku (The Ritual of Love and Death). Or
again, Tsutomu Minakami and Yasushi houe, to mention
only the most celebrated of these writers.
The plastic arts have always exercised a predominant
influence on the cinema in Japan. For m a n y Japanese,


The performing arts in Asia

paintings on rolls, as they already existed a thousand years

ago, were precursors of cinematographic art. Pictorial references are legion in the films of Mizoguchi, as in those of
Kurosawa and Teshigawara. Ozu insists on all art objects
shown in his films being genuine, and Mizoguchi always
called upon specialists to design the costumes for his historical films or to reconstruct any ritual ceremonies which might
occur in them. Much the same care can be found in Kobayashi,
Yoshimura, Gosh0 and Naruse.
The film-makersof the new generation obviously have
other things to think about. Most of them deliberately neglect
these formal traditions, not only because their elders have
been influenced by the West, but also and principally, because
their attention is taken up by the defects of the modern
world. In the case of directors like Nagisa Oshima (Night
and Fog in Japan, Violence at Noon, A Treatise on Japanese
Bawdy Songs, Hanging, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief),
Shinsuke Ogawa (The Japanese Liberation Front), Shohei
Imamura (Pigs and Warships, The Insect Woman, Unholy
Desire, The Pornographer, The Profound Desire of the Gods),
Tadashi Imai (WeAre Born, But. .., Story of Echigo), the
substance is more important than the form, and the tendency
of their films is towards a violent denunciation of society.
All, however, are aware that they are Japanese and
that it is by following their own ways, which continue to be
secretly linked to an age-old culture, that they must conduct
their revolt.


Japanese film exhibits

Kashiko Kawakita

As one means of promoting export of films, and greater

understandingof them, the Japanese Film Producers Association has sponsored,with the assistance of the Ministry
of Trade, film fairs and film exhibits in various foreign
countries since 1956. In addition, Unijapan Film and the
Japan Film Library Council have begun retrospective
package shows and collections of individual works which
are non-commercial.
In 1957 fifteen films were shown during a one-week
period by the British Film Institute in London. T h e films
were : Rashomon (Kurosawa), Ugetsu Monogatari (Mizoguchi), A Tale of Chikamatsu (Mizoguchi), The Gate of Hell
(Kinugasa), The Vild Goose (Toyoda), Tokyo Story (Ozu),
The Lower Depths (Kurosawa), The Throne of Blood (Kurosawa), You Were Like a Daisy (Kinoshita), Ikiru (Kurosawa), Four Chimneys (Gosho),Seven Samurai (Kurosawa),
Darkness at D a w n (Imai), Burmese Harp (Ichikawa) and
Rice (Imai). T h e event had a strong impact, for m a n y in the
audience had only seen one or t w o Japanese films before
this. At this time Mizoguchi (who had already passed away),
1. This article is condensed from a report given by Mrs. Kawakita
at the Round Table on Cinema, held in Frankfurt am Main.


The performing arts in Asia

Kinugasa and Kurosawa were well known,but Ozu, Imai,

Toyoda, Gosho, Ichikawa and Kinoshita were quite unknown outside Japan.
Ozu particularly was a revelation. In Japan he had
been considered a great master since the silent era. But
his style and attitude of film-making were considered too
Japanesefor foreign audiences. It was Lindsay Anderson,
critic, w h o acknowledged Ozu one of the greatest of all
film directors. Ozu was awarded the first South-land Cup
and the Japanese leamed the lesson that only true nationality has internationality.
In 1963 the Cinmathque Franaise held a grand
showing of 150 Japanese films selected by the Japan Film
Library Council. Eleven of these were Ozu films shown
for the first time in Paris, and again they caused a sensation. A young film critic said: The works of Kurosawa
and Mizoguchi m a y be forgotten, but never Ozus. But
in spite of the enthusiasm for Ozu, his films are seldom
seen in Europe, even in art houses.
In 1966 the Japan Film Library Council organized
a K o n Ichikawa retrospective at the National Film
Theatre in London,consisting of: Mr.Poo,The Millionaire,
The M e n of the North, The Heart, Outcast, Burmese Harp,
Fire Over the Plain, The Conjagration, The Strange Obsession, The Punishment Room, A n Actors Revenge and
Tokyo Olympics. People admired the versatility of Ichikawa. They particularly loved An Actors Revenge, being
seen for the first time in Europe. Ichikawa used dazzling
colour in depicting the drama of a kabuki female impersonator,played brilliantly by Kazuo Hasegawa. Daiei,the
producing company which made the film, had thought it
too special for the foreign market and had not tried to
show it abroad. Being a successin London,this programme
was then shown in Paris,Stockholm,N e w York, Warsaw,
Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels, MOSCOW,
East Berlin,
Sydney, Melbourne, Bergamo, Rome, Lausanne and San
A programme of young directorsworks was organized in 1968 by the Japan Film Library Council. It con-

Japanese film exhibits abroad


s h e d of Cruel Youth (Oshima), The Graveyard of the

Sun (Oshima), The Catch (Oshima), The W o m a n Killer and
the Hell of Oil (Horikawa), Chronicle of Love and Death
(Kurahara), Hiroshima (Mori), The Giant and a Toy
(Masumura), The Islands of Japan (Kumai), She and
He (Hani) and The Pitj'all (Teshigawara). With some
variations, it was shown in Warsaw (1968), and later in
Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Brussels, Moscow, Stockholm,
Paris, London, Rome, Lausanne and in Australia. This
showing helped make Oshima known as a young champion
of the Japanese film.His recent films Death by Hanging,
Diary of a Shinjuku Thief,and The Boy (shown at Cannes,
Venice, N e w York and London in 1968-69) caused quite
a sensation. Oshima was nominated by the British Film
Institute as the film-maker w h o contributed most to
cinema art during 1969.
In February 1969, 'The Seventh Cinema W e e k of
Poitiers' exhibited thirty-two Japanese films,the first
large-scaleshowing of Japanese films held outside capital
cities. This successful showing included works by all the
major directors (Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, Ichikawa,
Toyoda) and new directors, such as Oshima, as well. In
August, eleven films were presented at the Avignon Festival as Young Japanese Film Week. One of them was so
new (Yoshida's Eros Plus Massacre) it had not yet been
released in Japan. Young f
ilm critics of Cahiers du Cinma,
L'Express, Paris Match, Nouvel Observateur, Positq, etc.,
interviewed for hours and days three ofthe young directors
w h o attended (Oshima,Shinoda,and Yoshida). They succeeded in building a bridge of understanding, not only for
theiro w n films,but also fortheir attitude towardlife,people
and society.It is characteristic ofthese young film-makers
that they are independent of the major companies. They
used to belong to one of the five major production companies, but either left or were sacked.
The year 1970 was an important one for Japanese
films abroad. In February, the National Film Theatre
in London began a showing of the complete works of Kurosawa,twenty-twofilms,the first time such an eventhasbeen


The performing arts in Asia

held in any country, including Japan. T h e M u s e u m of

Modern Art in N e w Y o r k staged a retrospectiveof Japanese cinema consisting of 120 films,mostly with English
subtitles. Organized by Donald Richie, an expert on
Japanese film, this was the first retrospective showing
in the United States of America. A showing of ninety
Japanese films (with English and French subtitles) was
organized at Sir George Williams University in Montreal.
These manifestations of Japanese culture will help
promote the export of Japanese films,but perhaps more
important, they w
ill promote interest in Japanese people
and society.


Chinese cinema
Jean de Baroncelli

T h e cinema is under the sway of politics. An ideological

Great Wall separates the Chinese of Communist China
from those of H o n g Kong, the Republic of China and
Singapore. Very few films are produced now in C o m m u nist China; in the other countries m a n y films are produced, but they are stereotyped and lacking in artistic and
cultural interest. T h e standard reached in either case is
very poor, either because of the sectarianism of the leaders
or because the aim of the economic system is the determined pursuit of commercial gain. T h e causes are quite
different, but the result is the same: so far, the cinema is
still remote from the enormously rich culture of China.

The Peoples Republic of China

Before the cultural revolution, about 100 films a year
were produced in the Peoples Republic of China. M a n y
of these films were based on battles fought by the R e d
Army against Chiang Kai-shekstroops. Others were about
figures from history w h o had taken part in the anticolonial wars, such as the famous Lin Tse-hu, the hero
of the opium war. T h e public, moreover, never tired of



The performing arta in Asia

applauding the many adaptations from classical or modern

operas, typically Chinese spectacles,the best examples of
which, in our view, were Loves of Liang Shan-po and Chu
Ying-tai,the latter shown in Paris in 1962.
The cultural revolution put a sudden stop to the
production of such films. The films produced before 1966
were strongly criticized, as were theatre performances,
on the grounds that they depicted the past in too favourable a light or that traces of revisionism were discovered
in them.Their projection in national territory and their
distribution in the countries of South-East Asia, where
they were often well received and successful, were consequently very soon prohibited. Madame Chiang-ching,
the wife of Chairman Mao, was made responsible for subsequent film productions.
Little is known about these new films, but so far
they appear to include nothing but purely ideological
works, official documentaries and film versions of opera
and ballets arranged (or rearranged) to accord with the
modern taste. A m o n g these w e m a y mention The Red
East, a ballet in which classical choreography is allied to
daringly modernized Chinese music; The Red Lantern, an
opera in which the piano, long held to be a reactionary
instrument, regained its proletarian qualities ; The Girl
with White Hair, a remake of a famous opera which had
already been screened in 1950 by W a n g Pin and Shui
H u a ; and Chachia Pang, an opera based on the peoples
Hao-Liang,w h o took the leading part in The Red
Lantern, is an active member of the Communist Party,
and represented the artists at the Ninth Congress. The
leading lady in this opera is Lau Cheung Yee who, though
only 17, is already a most ardent militant. At the last
Canton Fair, she opened a discussion on the cinema with
a speech in which she proclaimed her debt of gratitude to
the thoughts of M a o Tse-tung and denounced the misdeeds of Liu Chao Chi with regard to the arts. These two
artists play a very important role in Chinese theatre and
cinema today.

The Chinese cinema


The n e w cinematographic works are produced by

groups, and do not bear the n a m e of an author. All that
w e k n o w is that M a d a m e Chiang-ching supervises them,
as she supervises all original works for the theatre.
No n e w films have been produced, nor have any
plans for future productions been announced, since the
production of the films w e have mentioned. All that can
be said is that the only accepted sources of inspiration are
the three great periods of the revolutionary struggle (the
Long March, the struggle against the Japanese occupation, and the final contest with Chiang Kai-shek) as well
as the efforts of peasants, workers and soldiers to improve
production in the peoples rural communes.
Only one fiction film was shown at the Canton Fair
-an old film (1955) with different credits. Its theme is
the guerilla campaign against the Japanese occupying
troops. This f
m is shown several times a week on the
Canton television service, and it seems to be the only one
that has survived the floodwaters of the cultural revolution.
Television programmes are very poor, and the same
films are repeated constantly. The main film-producing
agency is the central studio for documentaries and newsreels in Peking. This studio produced three films on the
Ninth Congress, one of which is in colour, a film on the
frontier incidents between the U.S.S.R.and the Peoples
Republic of China, and another on the curing and reeducation of the deaf and dumb, thanks to the thoughts
of M a o Tse-tung,this last film being one of a number of
events dealing with the same theme which are taking
place throughout the country. These films are technically
very weak: the sound is rarely synchronized, and the
brownish colour is like that of the first Agfacolor films
made during the war. A s to news-reels,they show only
parades and meetings of enormous crowds waving the
little red book.
From the point of view of art and culture, it can be
said that the cinema today is non-existentin the Peoples
Republic of China.

The performing arts in Asia


Hong Kong
T h e condemnation of films produced in China before 1966
also applied to Communist films m a d e in H o n g Kong. In
the British colony there is not only a commercial circuit
which handles only red films, but also a studio where
about ten progressive films are m a d e every year. These
films,which a short time ago were shown o n the mainland,
n o w come u p against closed frontiers; a recent film, for
instance, though it seemed likely to please the Peking
government, was not admitted into China.
Apart from these Communist films, which m a y be
regarded as marginal, 300 Chinese films a year were being
m a d e in H o n g K o n g recently. Four-fifths of these are in
Cantonese and are produced in extremely precarious
material conditions (sometimes shooting lasts only three
days) by small firms with little capital, or run on a family
basis, whose activities remind one of the heroic age of the
film-makers.About sixty of the films are in Mandarin. At
least half of the latter are sword films, a type of film
which for the last t w o years has been very popular in the
Far East. T h e sword film is a kind of Chinese western.
It is a cloak-and-daggerstory enacted in a historical context, nearly always with a central theme of revenge. Such
productions are distinguished b y horror, cruelty, violent
action and sometimes also a touch of the miraculous.
Although w o m e n play an important part in them (the
chieftainess is an especially favourite character) these
bloodthirsty stories are absolutely chaste, love being
expressed only in furtive or poetic ways. Not even a kiss
is allowed.
Apart from the sword films, most of the films produced in H o n g K o n g are melodramas and comedies. In
other words, production is governed by purely commercial
considerations, and despite the reputation of some producers (such as D a o Ching and Lao Chen), even the idea
of cinma dauteur is unknown. This lack of concern for
art has not shielded H o n g K o n g from trouble. Since 1967,
box-office receipts have gone d o w n by 40 per cent. This

The Chinese cinema


deterioration in a situation which until then had been

exceptionally sound is due to a sudden rise in the price
of seats (which had not been changed for twenty years
previously) and the Communist demonstrations in 1967.
Another reason, of course, is the growth of television.
Possibly because of the crisis, the wind of contention
-it is still only a light breeze-is beginning to blow on
certain film circles in H o n g Kong. Authors, producers and
actors do not conceal their impatience to be free from the
arbitrary control of the producers. Four banks, 130 cinem a s or theatres, amusement grounds, a printing works
and a publishing house, a studio at Singapore, another
at H o n g K o n g comprising 10 sets and employing 200
people, laboratories, distribution networks, a corps of
producers and stars working under preclusive contractsthese are some of the key-stones of their empire.
Although it is difficult to struggle against such
power, the rebels in H o n g K o n g are dreaming of a kind of
cinema in which the prime concern would not be to m a k e
money, and in which they would have an opportunity to
m a k e something other than sword films.With makeshift
facilities and in semi-secrecy, some of them have even
undertaken the production of a few films after their o w n
heart. Today there is an underground cinema in H o n g
Kong, albeit timid and hesitant. Unfortunately, it seems
unlikely so far that the existence or possible expansion of
this undergroundcinema will lead to an improvement in
the cultural standard of the Chinese cinema. T h e producers (mostly very young people) w h o are trying to m a k e it
successful are passively influenced by their European and
American counterparts. They k n o w only the superficial
aspects of Western culture, and o n the screen this results
in a few idiosyncrasies of form and crude eroticism, which
is a n e w phenomenon in the Chinese cinema.
It is to be hoped, however, that some of these young
directors w h o uphold the principle of cinma dauteur-a
production independent of the big companies-will eventually realize that the only w a y in which they can succeed
is by being true to their national culture.


The performing arts in Asia

Miss Shu Shen, a young w o m a n of 27, recently

showed that this hope w a s not completely illusory. Having
completed her education in California, Miss Shu Shen,
w h o intended to take up writing, and has a n excellent
knowledge of the literature of her country, returned to
H o n g K o n g to produce a film in accordance with her ideas,
which she financed herself. This film,The Arch,was shown
recently in Paris, and w a s very favourably received by
the French critics. In the opinion of Miss Shu Shen, the
Chinese should be a m o n g the best producers in the world,
for the idiom of the film, with its varying tempos and
close-upsfrom time to time, is very close to the pattern of
Chinese poetry. Thus, starting from the plan considered as
a n ideogram and from that inward respirationprovided
by the cutting, film becomes the natural extension of
certain Chinese poems. For the moment, unfortunately,
Miss Shu Shen seems to be the only person in H o n g K o n g
to have realized this and to have tried to put her ideas
into operation.
A few independent directors with European financial
assistance have also tried to leave the beaten track, but
they were soon discouraged, for the Chinese did not feel
at h o m e in these films,although their o w n language was
used and the actors were k n o w n to them. Thus the tremendous cinematographic potential in H o n g K o n g is still
almost unexploited as far as the art of the film is concerned. Despite a past rich in legend, philosophy and
history, the Chinese cinema cannot reach the level of the
worlds great artistic creations, and seems fated to imitate
all that is most unimaginative and most drearily c o m mercial in Hollywood films.

Republic of China
T h e people of the Republic of China are still regular filmgoers. Television is not yet completely established, and its
impact on the public is still negligible. Cinema is like
cinema in H o n g Kong, the only differencesbeing that there

The Chinese cinema

- .- .-


are more independent directors there than in the British

colony and that super-productionson the wide screen and
in colour have completely superseded films in black and
About 100 films a year are produced by the five
studios on the island, all in Mandarin. Here, as on the
other side of the China Sea, the adventure film is the most
popular, together with sumptuous musicals, melodramas
and historical epics. T h e Republic of China is proud of
having produced the champion of champions in the sword
film category, the famous Dragon Inn by the producer
K a n Chuen, which in a few months broke all box-office
records in the area. In so far as it is possible to draw up
a scale of values in film, it would seem that films produced
here are more subtle and more original than those produced in Hong Kong, although this superiority m a y not
be very great.


A study of the Pakistani

Alamgir Kabir

In 1968 Pakistan produced over 100 feature films in three

languages.T e n years earlier, in 1958,the total was only 34.
This spectacular expansion in feature-film production
shows that the cinema is fast becoming a major industry
in Pakistan. Numerically, it has already exceeded the production capacities of m a n y advanced countries.
For Pakistans population of over 100 million the
cinema is the only popular m e d i u m of entertainment.
Until recently various religious and sociological factors
forced the cinema to stay an exclusively urban phenomenon where only 8 per cent of the total population live.
But the situation is changing fast. Overcoming their
age-old prejudice against visual-art media, the cinema is
successfully moving into the rural populace. Films of traditional folk tales have been particularly responsible for this
in East Pakistan. In West Pakistan, considerable improvement in the communication system connecting remote villages with old and n e w urban areas has been
responsible for creating cinemagoers from a m o n g the rural
people. As things are now, it will not be surprising if
Pakistans film industry expands doubly or even more
during the next decade.

study of the Pakistani cinema


A short history of Pakistans

film industry
T h e history of Pakistans Mm industry dates back to the
silent days w h e n Lahore, Pakistans present film capital
and largest film centre, became the third important centre
of film production in the subcontinent (being led by B o m bay and Calcutta). On account of various economic reasons and linguistic problems, Lahore suffered particularly
under the domination of Bombay. E v e n though it had a
monopoly of films in Punjabi, a spoken dialect of the
northern part of the Indus plain k n o w n as the Punjab,
stiff competition from Hindi and Urdu films m a d e in
B o m b a y shrank its market to a minimum. As a result, by
1947 w h e n the subcontinent was granted independence
by the British colonial government, Lahore had m a d e
(with4 studios) only 27 feature films (193547)in Punjabi
and about half that number in other languages.
Independence (14August 1947) brought into existence the n e w State of Pakistan. Overnight Lahore became
the only film production centre of the n e w country consisting of t w o geographical units (East Pakistan and West
Pakistan) separated b y 900miles of Indian territory, with
over 350 cinema houses (of which 120 were in East Pakistan) to be fed with a steady supply of feature films. It
was a tremendous challenge. T h e position was clear. Until
Lahore industry could recuperate from its initial set-backs
stemming from a wholesale migration of Hindu studio and
cinema owners to India, Pakistans filmic requirements
had to be met by imports. There has been a trickle of
counter-migrationof Moslem artists and technicians from
B o m b a y to Lahore.
In East Pakistan, where the majority of the population lives, the main demand was for films in Bengali.
T h e technical k n o w - h o w a m o n g Bengali Moslems in respect of film production was next to nothing yet the
objective conditions demanded a Bengali film-production
centre at Dacca, capital of East Pakistan. T h e beginning
had to be m a d e at Lahore. All the four studios that were



The performing arts in Asia

left behind by their Hindu owners were declared evacuee

property by the government and were allotted to migrant
film-makersw h o left behind their properties in Bombay.
In 1949,Hichkoley became the first-everfilm planned and
produced entirely by Pakistani personnel. Five more films
were completed during the same year. By 1950, twenty
more films were completed and released. Almost all these
films were based on unrealistic themes with blatant commercial aims. Almost all of these failed at the box-office
mainly because similar but better finished films from
Bombay drew a majority of the crowd. Such a reception
is bad for a young industry and, as it became apparent
years later,the government took a secret decision to gradually curb the inflow of Indian films into Pakistan without
abruptly jeopardizing the exhibition industry (Pakistan
needed at least 100 new films a year to keep the cinemas
going). Embargo on the imported Indian films appeared
in various forms. In September 1952,importofIndian films
was totally suspended in West Pakistan. The measure,
though disliked vehementlyby the distributors who thrived
by trading in Bombay productions, resulted in a fast and
spectacular expansion of the industry in West Pakistan.
The number ofstudios and cinema houses increased sharply and,in 1954,Karachi appeared as the second film centre
of Pakistan. Between 1954 and 1956, Pakistan produced,
on average, about seventeen films per year.
Meanwhile, capital was shy to invest in a film
industry in East Pakistan. There were no professional
artistes or technicians. And the distributors,w h o usually
ilm production, were doing quite well distributinvest in f
ing Indian films without any risk whatsoever. Soon it was
clear that only by State enterprise could a film industry
come into being in East Pakistan. In 1957, by an act of
the ProvincialAssembly,the East Pakistan Film Development Corporation was set up. It has now developed into
a modern, well-equipped studio, one of the largest in
Pakistan. So far the studio has turned out 133 full-length
feature films since its inception in 1958, most in Bengali.
The average rate of film production per studio in Pakistan

A study of the Pakistani cinema


is 8,which is higher than in France (7.5), United K i n g d o m

(7.0), United States of America (5.0), India (5.0), Italy
(2.4)and the U.S.S.R.(2.4). T h e total number of cinema
houses is 510.

Reflection of traditional arts and literary

works in the cinema
T h e geographical configuration of Pakistan exerts profound influence o n culture and its growth including
cinema. W e must remember that the history of West
Pakistan is a history of invaders w h o came to plunder the
treasures accumulated in the cities, towns and temples.
T h e part of Bengal that is n o w East Pakistan had a lesser
share of marauding invaders. H e r green, fertile land, six
colourful and fruitful seasons, a n intricate network of
mighty rivers and comparatively peaceful political transition through the centuries helped to evolve there a
resourceful traditional culture. T h e factor that forcefully
modified the growth of traditional arts in all parts of the
subcontinent was the spread of Islam. T h e religion forbade, according to the interpretation of its fanatical adherents, most of the visual and performing arts. Plastic
arts became particular victims because, according to its
conservative interpreters, these were symbolic of idolatry
and hence incompatible with the concept of one-god-oneprophet teaching of Islam. However, Islamic religious interpretationshave always displayed a degree of flexibility,
yielding to traditional rituals and practices more than a
few times. These factors have acted and reacted differently
on the t w o units of Pakistan, warranting separate treatment in this study.

East Pakistan
T h e traditional arts of East Pakistan, though influenced
since early times by the rituals of various religions that


The performing arts in Asia

flourished there, assumed a fairly secular character and

met the artistic needs of the people irrespective of religion
except,ofcourse,fortheplastic arts likepuppetry,sculpture,
terra-cotta figure works and other model works depicting h u m a n and animal figures which remained exclusive
possessions of Hinduism.
T h e performing arts and traditional or folk literature which underlie cinema and which the bulk of the
population enjoy include :
Jutru: This is a form of performing art that is somewhat
similar to the Wests operetta. Its cost of production
is low. A raised wooden platform in the village market will do for a stage. An all-male cast portrays
roles of both sexes and musical interludes are provided by local and Western instruments (bugles,
trumpets, etc.). These are financed either by rich
landlords or businessmen or by subscriptions raised
from the community. In the old days, the feudal
lords were great patrons of the art. Most of the
themes of the repertoire are based on legends and
anecdotes that are partly historical and partly
fictional. T h e story layout is simple. T h e hero or the
heroine wins in the end after evil has got its due.
S o m e of the themes are so popular that they survive
through generations. E v e n the invasion of Westernized urban civilization has not been able to reduce
their popularity a m o n g the villagers (who comprise
about 90 per cent of the population).
Traditional literature: Folklore or fairy tales based mostly
on historical themes with religious overtones.
Both Islam and Hinduism have influenced these
Plastic arts :These are exclusively confined to Hindu and
Buddhist temples and shrines.
So far East Pakistan has produced nearly 140 feature
films, most of which are in Bengali. T h e influence of traditional performing arts and of traditional and modern
literature on East Pakistani films is considerable. Several
significant trends have been noticed so far. In the early

A study of tbe Pakistani cinema


days, i.e. until 1965, the general tendency was to rely on

as dictated by the producers and, hence, could not faithfully reflect the literary trends of the period. The cinema
audience then consisted mainly of urban lower middleclass and urban proletariat who were comparatively
secluded from the traditional jatra or punthi (folklore)
literature that was popular among the rural population.
It must also be kept in mind that religious superstition
against the medium of cinema has been very m u c h alive
in the villages where small-timepriests made the cinema
look like a devilish lure, an incarnate sin. Thus the film
themes were urban-oriented and,being deeply influenced
by Bombays concept of commercial cinema, were far
from realistic in their portrayals. Extreme melodrama
which was an essential element demanded by theproducers
could not be found in contemporary Bengali literature
with its strong social-realistovertone.
Bad film-makingdue to inexperience and unpopular
middle-class themes soon pushed the new industry on a
path leading to extinction. As the crisis mounted directors
racked their brains for themes-themes that would attract
not only the urban audience but also a part of the vast
rural population. The first clue dawned on director Salahuddin. H e thought of picturing, in the simplest possible way, the popular jatra play called Roopban. It was
a golden hunch. The moment the word got round that
Roopban would be shown in a town cinema, there was an
unprecedented rush. Villagers w h o always considered the
cinema a corrupting temptation of the Devil, flocked in
thousands with their families to the towns. Failing to get
tickets they camped outside the cinema halls. W h e n asked
if they did not consider such a craze for cinema as something sinful they replied, quite sincerely: W e have come
to see Roopban, not cinema!
So the magic formula was discovered at last. And,
until 1969, people witnessed a flood of films that were
either based on popular jatra plays, or on folklore and
fairy-tales,and historical themes from the phase of the

The performing arts in Asia


struggle for independence. A whole n e w audience, the

exact number of which is yet to be assessed but certainly
runs into millions, was w o n from the villages. This
phenomenon is probably unique and without precedence
in Asia. Of course, the spate of success brought with it a
great deal of artistic dishonesty. It appeared that for the
new audience from the villages (also the urban proletariat with roots in the villages) the themes alone were
satisfying enough. They cared less about h o w the films
were m a d e and they were m a d e badly. In this frantic rush
for gold, film directors appeared overnight from nowhere
and began to m a k e films that cared little about essential
cinematic elements like continuity, appropriateness of the
costumes, acting (this was extremely stagey and very
m u c h the same as in jatra productions) and film-making
in general. Soon the traditional themes were exhausted.
T h e script-writerswere then engaged to write folk-tales
keeping the basic ingredients that were c o m m o n to them
all. Most of these failed to dupe the audience. But the
new audiences were not to return to their villages once
they had discovered the magical charm that cinema has
in its store. T h e film-makers were then confronted with
the task of inventing a formula that could deliver folk
elements in different garbs.

West Pakistan
A rugged, hostile terrain and repeated invasion by central
Asian conquerors throughout history deterred the growth
of arts and culture in the regions that n o w constitute West
Pakistan. Only in the plains of the river Indus-in Punjab
and Sind-could peaceful eras prevail from time to time
and various forms of art flourish. But as described earlier,
the advent of Islam in the eighth century brought about
fundamental changes and wiped out any art form directly
or indirectly related to idolatry. During the centuries that
followed, except music and some forms of community
dancing, no other form of performing arts could develop.

A study of the Pakistani cinema


Not even jatra-style operetta or stage productions could

be performed. W o m e n were strictly forbidden from participating in the social occasions where m e n other than
direct blood relations were present. T h e m e n were too
busy safeguarding their families in hostile situations to
have time for any elaborate cultural occasion other than
austere recreational dancing. In recent centuries feudal
lords in Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province patronized those forms of performing arts
that contributed directly toward sensuous pleasure. These
included music, songs, and dances by girls.
T h e traditional literature of West Pakistan is rich
in folk-tales and anecdotes and legends of historic origin.
T h e influence oftraditionalArab literatureis also quite pronounced. Most of the love-lores, fantasies and tales of
heroism that are dear to the people of West Pakistan have
the ancient city of Baghdad as their setting. Tales from
The Arabian Nights are also popular and have been used,
time and again, in the cinema. Laila Majnu, Aladdin, Alif
Laila, Ali Baba and Gu1 Bakawali are some of the very
popular themes that seem to possess endless cinematic
Most of the regions of West Pakistan have martial
traditions. T h e people in the North-West Frontier region
and Baluchistan in particular are well k n o w n for their
love of freedom. They always revolted against powers that
tried to subjugate them. This tradition has given rise to
m a n y tales of heroes; heroes w h o became outlaws and
fought and died seeking freedom for their people. These,
naturally, proved popular themes for films.S o m e historical figures like Genghis K h a n and invading Moguls have
also been successfully exploited in the cinema.
Modern literature in West Pakistan belongs almost
entirely to the U r d u language which, though the mother
tongue of an lite comprising only about 3 per cent of the
total population, is the only language in the region with
a modern vocabulary and grammar. All the important
writers and poets of West Pakistan write in Urdu. Writing
in U r d u experienced a tremendous upsurge of creativity


The performing arts in Asia

under the active and direct encouragement of all the

governments that ruled Pakistan since 1947. A considerable number of the writers and poets w h o came into
prominence joined the cinema. Munshi Dil,K.Mohiuddin,
H a k i m A h m a d Shuja, Zia Sarhady, Hasrat Lukhnavi,
Younus Rahi, Arsh Lukhnavi, Imtiaz Ali Taz, Saifuddin
Saif, Riaz Shahid, A h m e d Rahi, A n w a r Kamal, Razia
Butt, Shabab Kairanvi, Danish Dervi, Fayyaz Hashmi,
Salim A h m a d and a number of others have not only contributed scripts, lyrics and dialogue for m a n y important
films m a d e at Lahore and Karachi but some have turned
film-makers themselves. Riaz Shahid, Shabab Kairanvi,
A n w a r K a m a l and Danish Dervi are n o w devoting more
time to film-making than writing.
Although the participation of literary figures in the
cinema of West Pakistan is considerable, instances of
filmic adaptation of popular novels or stories are not
numerous. Badnam (1966),directed by Iqbal Shahzad and
rated as one of the best story-based films ever m a d e in
West Pakistan, was m a d e from a short story by the late
Sadat Hasan Manto, possibly the greatest short-story
writer in Urdu. It asserts that the real tragedy of poverty
is hidden not only in its economic state but also in the
despicable and disastrous lure that gold has in it for the
poor. B a d direction and commercial considerations, h o w ever, reduced the strength of the theme to a minimum.
Recently, a few popular novels-mostly by a young
writer, Razia Bautt-have been adapted for the cinema.
She is n o w one of the most sought-after and prolific
writers of scripts and dialogues for films.T h e reflection of
literature in Pakistani cinema is, thus, quite considerable.
But its cinematic portrayal often m a k e the efforts appear futile. T h e cinema there is n o w locked within rigid
conventions set by the producers for w h o m commerce
means everything. Realism is taboo because all stories
must avoid portraying the miseries of day-to-day life.
T h e slogan is cinema is entertainment, and no more.


in the Philippines


Asian motion-picture industries such as those of Korea,

H o n g K o n g and Taipei m a d e tremendous advances during
the past decade in production and processing and n o w in
movie festivals their films are offering competition to
those of Japan and India.
On the other hand, the newly emergent Philippine
movie industry, hamstrung by taxes, high cost of materials, low budgets, lack of outlets in Manila and competition from certain imported pictures, is n o w floundering
in mediocre westerns,karate-choppingagent films,sex-andviolence-ridden vehicles and other objectionable types
of motion pictures. This trend stems from desperation o n
the part of the producers w h o try to please the paying
public by serving what is their idea of general preference.
This desperation is aggravated by the fact that whenever
these film-makersventure into turning out a movie, they
gamble-win or lose.
Philippine producers are aghast at the astronomical
s u m s foreign film companies expend w h e n they m a k e
movies in the Philippines as compared to the few thousands of pesos on which local movies troupes have to
scrimp. W h e n The Golden Bullet was being shot o n location
in Pasig, Rizal, extras in Muslim attire kept walking back


The performing arts in Asia


and forth while the camera recorded a street scene. Out

of m a n y takes only a tiny portion of the scene would
actually be used for a few seconds on the screen. And out
of 150,000 feet of film exposed for the entire movie, only
10,000 feet would be included in the finished picture. So
while foreign film producers can pour millions of dollars
into the production of one single motion picture and expect
to recover m a n y more millions than they invest through
world distribution, Philippine film-makers are having
headaches making ends meet.

Production costs
In the early sixties, Philippine movie-makers could turn
out a picture for 40,000-50,000 pesos1 and a quickie for
about half the sum. But not today. T h e prohibitive price
of celluloid and other production materials has jacked up
the cost of the black-and-white filmto 140,000 pesos. A
colour movie today requires something in the area of
500,000 pesos. There was a time w h e n most Philippine
films were produced with celluloid furnished b y K o d a k
on credit. But since m a n y companies have not been able
to pay the cost of the film to date and have run u p enorm o u s debts, Kodak n o w refuses to give film on credit.
T h e cheapest celluloid in the local market today is Fuji.
Eastman film prices have gone up. And for colour, the
producer has to pay almost 1,000 pesos per roll.
T h e only chance for a colour film costing half a
million pesos to earn back the expenses and profit a little
is for it to be shown in Philippine communities in Hawaii,
G u a m and the west coast of the United States of America,
and possibly in Asian movie houses in Hong Kong, Taipei,
Singapore, Bangkok and other film capitals. However,
Philippine films are directed only at the Philippine market
so the stories are confined to the Philippine audience and
m a y not be properly appreciated in foreign theatres. Only
1. U.S.$l

= 6.30 pesos.

Cinema in the Philippines


those with universal plots have chances of being purchased

abroad. But h o w can a 200,000pesos Philippine film or
even a colour picture costing 500,000pesos compete with
a $5 million Hollywood technicolor production starring
actors and actresses of international renown? It is not only
the matter ofbudgetbutalsothehasteWithwhichPhilippine
pictures are produced that prejudices their quality.

The pernicious play-date

The manner in which Philippine films are produced within
a month or less is a source of amazement to foreign filmmakers. And this is on a very limited budget too. A movie
is rushed in order to make the play-date in a Manila
theatre. Booking is so tight that most theatres have a
schedule of movie screenings for one year in advance.
Some movie firms in need of an outlet for their picture
have to buy play-time from other companies.
Scenes are haphazardly shot day and night. The
players are taxed to the limit and m a y go without sleep
for two nights merely to finish the picture in time. While
the movie is scheduled to be shown on a Saturday,the last
scene is still being shot on Thursday. T h e fans m a y be
lined up at the box-ofice on Saturday morning for the
opening day while the last reel is still being processed at
the laboratory. And it is only on this first screening that
the movie wiU be reviewed by the censors.
This method of rushing a film in order to catch up
with the play-dateis highly detrimental to quality. It is
indeed amazing h o w these twenty-oneor thirty dayswonders are eventually pieced out to make a motion picture.

Small profits
The gamble starts when the film is released. With the
national and municipal taxes heaped upon local pictures,
the take-home pay of a producer out of the 1.35 peso

The performing arts in Asia


orchestra ticket is about 55 centavos. So depending on

the size of the audience, the screening of the f
ilm within
the first few days in a Manila theatre can determine if the
ill m a k e m o n e y or not. S o m e good films recover
movie w
the production cost during the showing of the movie in
Manila alone. Whatever income is derived from the provincial circuit is clear profit. Manila theatres are usually
the gauge on whether or not a film w
ill click, although at
times there are pictures patronized by the provincial
moviegoers which m a y not be appreciated by Manilans.
There is a total of 800 movie theatres in the Philippines today which show both foreign and Philippine pictures. Only 25 per cent of these are showing exclusively
foreign films. In the Manila and metropolitan area,
65 movie houses exhibit Philippine films while the 50
others screen foreign films or both. F r o m the statistics it
would seem that the Philippine movies dominate. Actually, however, local cinema is encountering competition
more from imported B, C and D pictures capitalizing on
sex and violence than from the few imported quality films.
A Senate bill has been introduced in the legislature which
intends to exclude these low-budgeted,low-class film imports. T h e bill also proposes the utilization of Philippine
talents and technicians by foreign companies making
films in the Philippines.

T h e Philippine movie industry is set back also by lack of
equipment and studios. T h e only film-producingcompany
in the Philippines which owns its o w n studios is S a m p a guita Pictures. T h e rest-LVN, Premier and Lebranwhich with Sampaguita Pictures once formed the Big Four
studios, n o w lease out their equipment and studios to
other film-makers or are utilized as laboratories in the
processing of black-and-white and colour films. Nepomuceno Productions has its o w n studio and modern
equipment and has its films processed in colour in Holly-

Cinema in the Philippines


wood. EPJ Productions occasionally purchases a camera

or t w o and other movie equipment. Remweed, a FilipinoAmerican financed company, is outfitting itself with n e w
film-productiongear. But what about the rest of the movie
firms that are entirely dependent for studios and equipment on the established companies? At times the production of a film or the continuity of a scene is dependent on
the availability of the studio or the equipment.
Of course, there are other needs of the industry
today such as worthy stories, plots and scripts, and the
elimination of the bad old habits, the affectations, and the
unnatural high-flown archaic Tagalog which no one speaks
today anyway. But the major need of the industry still
is capital. Bigger capital can do wonders for the Philippine
cinema. There are factors that discourage the moneyed
individuals from investing their millions in movies, h o w ever. A n d w h e n they do intend to invest, are there any
competent directors, actors, actresses, crewmen available
at the m o m e n t ? All of t h e m perhaps are busy cranking
out more thirty days wonders. There are no n e w directors
nor technicians to take the place of the old. And if there
are, they have acquired the bad habits of their predecessors instead of learning more modern and better methods
through schooling.There are no trainingschools.Film c o m panies rely merely on the experience ofthe crew members.
It is not surprising therefore that the Philippine motionpicture industry that has seen its golden age is in its doldrums while Korea,Taipei and H o n g K o n g are on the ascent.
T h e local industry sorely needs administrative, congressional and financial backing. But it seems that even
the government o5cials w h o should do something to bolster
the cinema are not only apathetic but prefer foreignmovies.
There is a consciousness a m o n g the students and
the youth about the sad progress of the industry. They
are the ones w h o are n o w seriously appraising the motion
pictures and are studying better techniques. B u t their
learning is still in the theoretical stage. Given technical
training these youths m a y some day inject n e w blood into
Philippine cinema that will m a k e it function better.

Part Four

Discussion extracts

Shadow theatre
Saleh Mahdi (Tunisia): Shadow theatre is of particular
interest because it is one form of theatre which is
c o m m o n to Asian and Arab countries. Although it
originated in Asia, the Arabs learned of it from
the Turks, through their karagoz shadow plays. In
Tunisia it is mainly an entertainment for children n o w
and is performed only for the R a m a d a n festival.
Cherif Khaznadar (Syria) :We do not k n o w why it c a m e
by w a y of Turkey, w h e n it could have c o m e just as
easily by w a y of the silk route from China to the
Middle East. It has been a political theatre from
the beginning, but it could be transformed into a
theatre of social views.
Enrico Fulchignoni (Unesco): In Cambodia the spirit of
the deceased is represented by a shadow figure,
which raises the question whether or not there is a
similar religious significance in Middle Eastern
shadow theatre.
Saleh Mahdi (Tunisia): It is popular entertainment and
has no religious significance in Tunisia.


T h e performing arts in Asia

A h m a d Sefrioui (Morocco): Shadow theatre, or box of

mysteries as it is called in Morocco, is disappearing
for lack of artistic value.
Alamgir Kabir (Pakistan): During the period of British
rule, shadow plays were used to express political
criticism. T h e form has largely disappeared now,
but television might revive interest in it.
J. K. Sibunruang (Thailand): T h e large puppets of nang
yai, of northern Thailand, have deep religious significance. T h e southern form of shadow play in
Thailand, nang tabng,has been influenced by Javanese shadow theatre and is based on legends and
stories from that country which have been overlaid
with aspects of Buddhism. A full study of shadow
theatre would be of great value.
Marcel Martin (France): I a m concerned that shadow
theatre seems to be disappearing.
James Brandon (United States): A t least in Indonesia,
shadow plays are still deeply rooted in the spiritual
and cultural life of the people. Shadow theatre
(wajang kulit) is both sophisticated and widely popular. It is usually asserted that shadow theatre of
China, Indonesia, Thailand or India are of the same
origin, but this m a y not be so. There are m a n y differences in form and performance techniques.
Ossia Trilling (United Kingdom): Shadow plays were
widespread in Europe in the Middle Ages. Like the
court jester, the puppeteer was authorized to say
what was forbidden to others. It was a form of free
expression, not subject to censorship.
Louis A w a d (United Arab Republic): T h e Egyptian
shadow play grew as a political criticism of our
foreign rulers in the Middle Ages. T h e karagoz shado w play c a m e from Turkey, and to the Egyptian,
the character of Karagoz symbolized the Ottoman
or Mameluke ruler, whom w e dared criticize only
in this manner. Perhaps our shadow theatre is partly
satirical comedy and partly attached to religious
festivals (Ramadan), for in Greece dramatic art

Discussion extracts


originated in fertility festivals which were obscene

and religious at the same time.
M o h a m a d Aziza (Tunisia):In spite of technical similarities, the goals of shadow theatre in Asia are different
from those in the Arab world.
R. P. Sobolov (U.S.S.R.):T h e shadow theatre can contribute most usefully to animated cartoons of the
cinema, in terms of design and colour. Perhaps
cinema itself was inspired by the shadow theatre.
W e must agree that art always has religious roots.
Narayana M e n o n (India):T h e number of shadow puppet
and marionette forms in Asian countries which exhibit similar characteristics and c o m m o n origins is
very large. Although it has not been possible yet to
fully study them all, m a n y of them n o w could be
compared through the modern technique of videotape recording.

Popular performing arts

KapiIa Vatsyayan (India):W e must distinguish between
genuine popular arts, or folklore, which express the
traditions and culture of a people, and imported
popular arts, which are entertainment and not part
of the culture. T w o points are important regarding
folk-art: it must continue as a living tradition of the
people and it can contribute to other art forms. This
is the case in India.
R. P. Sobolov (U.S.S.R.):T o state it briefly, folk-art is
the oral art of the people. Attempts to transform
folk-artinto modern art can only result in harm, but
folk-art is not only capable of evolution, it can
provide materials for modern forms of art, through
songs, stories, n e w music, for example.


The performing arts in Aaia

Jean Louis Bory (France): Folklore is a trick, a means of

escaping present problems b y turning to history.
Tayeb Saddii (Morocco): Official recognition of folkperformances signifies the setting of a rigid form,
and rigidity means death in art. W e find attachment to folk-spectacles is an obstacle to artistic
creation and progress in countries in the process of
J. K. Sibunruang (Thailand): Contrary to the situation
in some countries, folk-arts are living arts in Thailand, because they are important in the lives of the
people. M a n y religious elements are found in them:
the gods, love stories and epic battles taken from
Hinduism, and calmness and a spirit of tranquillity
from Buddhism. Especially the Rumuyunu epic has
been an influence in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos,
B u r m a and Ceylon. At first foreign, they became
part of our culture.
A h m a d Sefrioui (Morocco): In spite of their primitive
qualities, folk-dances of isolated mountain groups
are very beautiful and deserve to be kept in their
pure state.
M. J. Perera (Ceylon): In Ceylon w e can see in music
m a n y examples of how traditions contribute to
the development of art: popular songs of today
have their roots in music of the countryside. Our
modern plays have been inspired b y simple folk-arts,
Henri Storck (Belgium): W e have the same situation in
the West, in the ballet works of Maurice Bjart
which have been inspired by folklore. Carnivals,
pageants and spectacles, connected with historical
or religious occasions, can he folklore events which
m a k e political criticism.
Saleh Mahdi (Tunisia):Ancient arts are inherited through
traditional oral teaching. If folk-arts are to be preserved, that must be done b y young people. A
countrys unique personality can be maintained by
using folklore in contemporary productions.

Discussion extracts


R. P. Sobolov (U.S.S.R.):
A troupe has been

formed, in
Uzbekistan, of young actors w h o are devoted to
preserving local colour in their productions.
Jalal Khoury (Lebanon) : A folk-dance transferred to a
music hall is no longer folk-art. W e must consider
three possible conditions:folk-artwhich is consumed
by the one w h o produces it; folk-art which has bec o m e an ossified tradition; and folkloric vestiges
remaining in the collective m e m o r y of the people.

Current problems of the theatre

T o m o Tobari (Japan):T h e government-supported National Theatre, completed in 1966, provides a n e w
large theatre for kabuki and a smaller theatre for
puppet drama. Audiences for our modern drama,
based on Western drama, are large. Recently Weste m directors have been engaged to produce modern
plays and musicals, in Japanese, in our theatres in
collaboration with local artistes.
Narayana M e n o n (India): Indian theatre has had a religious basis, but after a period of stagnation during
the nineteenth century, its traditions are being reevaluated and, in some regions at least, n e w theatre
is emerging.
M.J. Perera (Ceylon): After first being influenced by the
theatre of B o m b a y and then Western drama, since
1960 young people have tried to write and produce
national drama. But young people are more attracted to the cinema than to theatre.
Jean Darcante (International Theatre Institute):There
must be change in the theatre. T h e revolt of the
young is nothing more than a profound search for
a modern theatre which will meet the needs of the

The performing arts in Asia


public. Perhaps in the West w e can learn from the

Third World some things, but most important is to
change to a theatre which meets the expectations
of youth in its twenties.
Ossia Trilling (United Kingdom): W e should not eliminate, just for the sake of change, traditional and
important works in the repertory.
Tayeb Saddiki (Morocco): Our theatre is not based on
traditions or o n classics. Our amateurs take theatre
to the people in the streets and in public buildings.
W e ask what is theatre? H o w can w e reach our
audiences ?
Pierre Schaeffer (Office de Radiodiffusion-TlvisionFranaise-ORTF):
A work of art cannot be created
without close association with the people. Theatre
goes through crises, and then the public reclaims it.
Yet, at the same time, w e must respect traditional
and well-developed forms of theatre.
Ali Rai (United Arab Republic):W e have seen kabuki in
Japan and Indian folk-theatre at performances in
N e w Delhi. I find the artistic principles of Asian
theatre and its flexibility close to the Arab spirit.
James Brandon (United States): Most Asian theatre is a
theatre of the spoken word. In the West the drama
of the written word is facing a crisis. W e in the West
can learn from the East the value of non-written,
extemporized theatre.

Cinema and television

Pierre Schaeffer (ORTF):Because modern m a n is scientific and technologically oriented, he has produced
remarkable means of mass communication. T h e
Japanese were the first to produce a moderately

Discussion extracts


priced video-tape recorder. N o w via television it is

possible to rediscover, conserve and transmit
throughout a country folk-performances which
previously could only be seen by local audiences. It
is even possible to exchange such programmes
between East and West.
Cherif Khaznadar (Syria):With the development of radio
and television, there has also arisen the possibility
of creating n e w techniques for artistic expression.
For example, in Japan video cameras replace film
cameras during rehearsals, and this is done in the
theatre, too.
Ossia Trilling (United Kingdom) : It is a mistake to think
of television as just a means of transmission: it is
a special form of artistic expression and it can help
the living theatre. In Iran television finances and
supports a live story-tellingprogramme. In England
television and theatre have a healthy coexistence.
Cecile Guidote (Philippines): T h e cinema faces great
problems in my country. Although most of the public is oriented toward the television and the film,
rather than theatre, the m a n y imported programmes
and films have no national character. But film and
television artists are working with theatre groups
toward the creation of a national theatre.
Alamgir Kabir (Pakistan) :A cinematographic society for
the production of films has been founded and considerable m o n e y invested in it. It promotes popular
films which have artistic value and which treat
political, social and spiritual problems. There are
some 500 members. However, actors and directors
leave the theatre for cinema and television, where
they can succeed with less effort and as a result
theatre is dying.
Saleh Mahdi (Tunisia): It is my opinion that cinema and
television producers are not aware of traditional
theatre that exists in their countries and they do
not sufficiently exploit performances such as shadow
plays, extemporized poetry, folk-songs and dances.


The performing arts in Asia

Alamgir Kabir (Pakistan): Festivals of Asian films, in

Asia, would do m u c h to bring local cinema to the
attention of other countries.
Marcel Martin (France): Asian film festivals are held in
Europe, but regular distribution of Asian films in
the West faces difficult economic and political problems. Festivals in Asia would help, as would the
establishment of film libraries.
KasJiko Kawakita (Japan):T h e publication of the Japanese Film Producers Association, in English, gives
regular information about n e w Asian and Arab films.
Enrico Fulchignoni (Unesco): A s has been pointed out,
some Asian theatre forms are already being replaced
by radio and television. It is important that theatre
troupes travel in Asia and that the members of
these troupes have the opportunity to meet theatre
artistes of other countries.
Abdel Salam Moussa (United Arab Republic) : Professional theatre and good films are presented in conjunction with each other at cultural centres in the
United Arab Republic. There are twenty-two such
centres in cities ; travelling companies visit villages
showing both films and giving stage performances.
Milena Salvini (France): I want to return again to the
need to document, on film and by electronic means,
the traditional performing arts of countries such as
India and Indonesia. There is a crying nced for
archivists in these countries rich in theatre arts,but
resources are greatly lacking. Artists in India and
Indonesia survive by the grace of their o w n superh u m a n efforts.