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Liberty, Licence & Literature!

It is quite evident everywhere that no political party wholeheartedly supports the Freedom of Art and the Artists. Hence, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (December 11, 1918 – August 3, 2008) had said: “The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies, not to support false actions! It is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie! For in the struggle with lies, art has always triumphed and shall always triumph! Visibly, irrefutably for all! Lies can prevail against much in this world, but never against art.” Of course, Solzhenitsyn’s words still inspire people (especially the creative persons) to struggle against the Political Repression worldwide.


According to Solzhenitsyn, his compatriot and eminent Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski (January 17, 1863 – August 7, 1938), was harassed by the then Soviet Authorities for his outspoken character. Stanislavski, the founder of the Moscow Art Theatre, was arrested by the Soviet Police on August 29, 1918. However, the Police released him the next day. Stanislavski had to travel to Europe and the US with his troupe in order to raise money when the Soviet Government stopped providing financial support to theatres in 1921.


Vsevolod Emilyevich Meyerhold (February 9, 1874 – February 2, 1940), whom Stanislavski had identified as his successor while on his deathbed, was also harassed by the Soviet Authorities! Meyerhold, the pioneer of using biomechanics in theatre, was tortured after his detention in 1939. He was also forced to confess in written form that he was a member of the British and Japanese Intelligence Services. Meyerhold had to stand in front of a firing squad in 1940. It may be noted that both Stanislavski and Meyerhold were members of the Bolshevik Party. It’s not just these two or Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (February 10, 1890 – May 30, 1960), but famous poets Anna Andreyevna Gorenko (better known by her pen name Anna Akhmatova (June 23, 1889 – March 5, 1966)) and Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (January 14, 1891 – December 27, 1938) were also imprisoned for composing the ‘Stalin Epigram‘ in 1934. In a nutshell, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (December 18, 1878 – March 5, 1953) created an atmosphere of unprecedented fear in the early 1930s, prompting most of the creative personalities to accept the Party’s authoritarianism (Dictatorship of the Proletariat?)!


At the same time, many important developments had started taking place in the World of Russian Art and Literature in the 1930s! Famous novels, such as ‘The Life of Klim Samgin’, ‘Virgin Soil Upturned’, ‘The Last Day of the Udegs’, were published during that period of time. A much excited Maxim Gorky (March 28, 1868 – June 18, 1936) reportedly said: “It should not be forgotten that it took Russian Bourgeois Literature nearly a hundred years, reckoning from the end of the 18th Century, to take up a commanding position in life and influence it in some measure. Soviet Revolutionary Literature has achieved that influence in the space of 15 years.” (Source: Soviet Socialist Realism, C Vaughan James, London, 1973) Even after the 1930s, several great Russian novels were published.


Of course, some authors had spines, as they did not follow Stalin’s diktat blindly! As far as Soviet Art, Literature, Drama, Film and Science are concerned, the period from 1930 to 1952 is still considered as a Golden Age. Interestingly, Stanislavski’s most productive and creative period was 1924-38 (during Stalin’s regime). The Soviet Authorities had honoured him with several awards. Stalin reportedly watched ‘The Days of the Turbins‘ – a four-act play by Mikhail Bulgakov, and directed by Stanislavski – around 15 times! It may be noted that Solzhenitsyn – an outspoken critic of Communism who helped raise global awareness of Human Rights Abuses, the Gulag Concentration Camp System and Political Repression in the Soviet Union – had spent his time in gulag possibly for criticising Stalin. He was devoted to his Orthodox Christian faith before becoming an Atheist. He was a dissident and a noble laureate. On the other hand, Stanislavski was the teacher of Meyerhold, Yevgeny Bagrationovich Vakhtangov (February 13, 1883 – May 29, 1922) and Mikhail Aleksandrovich ‘Michael’ Chekhov (August 29, 1891 – September 30, 1955), a nephew of Anton Chekhov (January 29, 1860 – July 15, 1904).


Even in a so-called Democratic and Elected Authoritarian systems, the Ruling Class often tries to control the thought process of creative personalities or the intelligentsia. The Ruling Class wants to create its own group of artists, writers and intellectuals through various tactics, including offering favours. According to Italian Philosopher Antonio Francesco Gramsci (January 22, 1891 – April 27, 1937), these are Traditional Intellectuals, who help the existing system survive! The question arises here: Why do the creative personalities and intellectuals allow themselves to be used by the rulers? That is why Gramsci had stressed on the importance of Organic Intellectuals, who do not simply describe Social Life in accordance with Scientific Rules, but instead articulate, through the Language of Culture, the Feelings and Experiences, which the masses could not express for themselves.


Perhaps, this is the right time for the Indian theatre personalities and other creative persons to make the right decision, keeping in mind the Ruling Party’s authoritarian nature behind democratic masks. The Indian theatre has created a glorious chapter of history in the last five decades by opposing feudal values, caste system, and age-old unscientific practices. Today, the Indian theatre needs help, mainly because of the growing popularity of television serials, as the spectators are constantly watching the strength of miraculous or super-natural power. One can only hope that the audience of theatre shall soon be able to make a huge splash in the path of Rational Philosophy, and theatre artists should be able to ignore the diktat of the Ruling Class.

When it comes to impact of theatre on the society, then it includes Entertainment and other kinds of factors. Theatre is the collaborative form of Fine Art that uses live performance to present experience of the imagined or real events as a mirror of the society. For the artists and the audience, theatre serves its purpose as an emotional experience without the permanency of the emotional source. There is no barrier between the audience and the playing space. The intensity of the emotion affects the audience.

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