V Padma (A Mangai)

Arts Research
2017-2018

Grant Period: One year and six months

V Padma aka A Mangai is a Chennai-based scholar and theatre practitioner. She is widely known as one of the prominent women in theatre in India today. She has written, directed and performed in various plays with her group Marupacchi. As a scholar, she has written on Tamil theatre, theatre history, cultural history and a range of other subjects. Besides regularly contributing to regional, national and international journals and magazines, Mangai has a book to her credit titled Acting Up: On Gender and Theatre in India from 1979. As an academic, she has taught English literature, theatre and performing studies at various colleges and universities across India.

The grant will enable Mangai to write a critical history of early twentieth-century Tamil theatre. She will use the writings of Pammal Sammadha Mudaliar as resources to explore the socio-political and cultural landscape of the time. According to Mangai, in India, regional resources on theatre have not been fully and adequately utilised in the construction of histories of Indian theatre practices. Materials in various languages produced at the crossroads of the colonial and postcolonial contexts serve as rich sources for a nuanced understanding of the complexities of modernity and tradition. Pammal Sammadha Mudaliar (1873–1964) is one such major prolific resource person in Tamil. He transformed theatre in Tamil by introducing elements of Parsi theatre, prose, fixed hours of performance, the inclusion of educated middle class men into performance, adapting plays from Sanskrit and Shakespeare and other writers from all over the world. He also ran a company for over 60 years. Apart from being a practitioner, he also wrote extensively on his practice.

Mangai will translate select excerpts of Pammal’s writings with critical annotation and cross-referencing. This will include looking at the documents and other visual material pertaining to sabhas and companies that existed at the turn of the century; as well as materials on the various processes of actors’ training, evolving a script, adaptations, the making of costumes, make-up and sets, and female impersonations. She will explore original plays and their translations during that period. In addition she will look into the ramifications of shifting to new media. Mangai will critique the categorisation of Tamil theatre into rural and urban forms and explore the struggles of the practitioners against the backdrop of anti-colonial and the nascent anti-Brahmanical movements in the region.

In order to provide a de-romanticised history of everyday practitioners, Mangai will tap into the biographies of lesser known practitioners of this genre. Since not many of them are around anymore, she will make efforts to meet their family members, study the available documents and other writings on them in Tamil. She aims to identify at least five practitioners who are mentioned in Pammal’s works and trace their life and work through multiple sources.

The decision of supporting this work is embedded in IFA’s mandate for supporting critical work that challenges dominant narratives by focusing on the marginalised or relatively unexplored areas in the arts in various language contexts. The outcome of this project will be a manuscript for a book. The Grantee’s deliverables to IFA with the final reports will be the manuscript with images and excerpts of translations from the writings of Pammal and interviews conducted in the field. The budget is commensurate with the proposal.

This grant is made possible with support from Titan Company Limited