Creating a space for drama

Dr Nissar Allana, an acclaimed scenographer or set designer, speaks of the changing scenario in Indian theatre. Here is what he talked about at the 3-day workshop ‘Understanding Theatre’ organised by Lalit Kala Kendra, University of Pune and national School of Drama…

Dr Nissar Allana’s work can actually be defined by mere space. He has excelled in the world of Indian theatre as an acclaimed scenographer or stage designer. It is a cursory mention of the talented gentleman who has learned his art from the Schaubuhne Am Halleschen Ufer, Berlin and trained under Karl-Ernst Hermann and Peter Stein. Of course, he has being teaching at institutes like National School of Drama (NSD) and The Dramatic Art & Design Academy (DADA), of which he’s the director. And his wife is Amal Allana, an acclaimed theatre director, scenic and costume designer, present chairperson of NSD and daughter of the theatre legend Ebrahim Alkazi. He was in Pune to talk about scenography at the three-day session, ‘Understanding Theatre’, organised jointly by Lalit Kala Kendra, University of Pune and NSD.
Dr Nissar Allana_lead (1)As the audience, scenography is an unfamiliar term for us. “To put it in another word, you look at an object and see an image. When you talk about a building, it is an architectural space. It is real space but you cannot show that actual architectural space. Then, you have digital space in life and there is visual space. Theatrical space is a mix of visual, architectural, actual and digital space. A dynamic space can sustain the play. The designer has to work with the play’s director and work in a way which enables them to know with the space.”
One wonders if the Indian theatre scene has developed in terms of scenography. He feels theatre and Indian history has a connection. “But true set design begins with the influence of the British. For example, the Marathi theatre began with the Sangeet nataks where painted backgrounds were used. These were scenic background and it all started in around 1880 with names like the Kirloskar Natak Company.”
Allana attributes to the fact that earlier Indian drama did not touch realism in terms of space. “In the 60s, there was a post colonial phase where they wanted to go back to the roots i.e. classical drama, but we have fewer classical styles like Kathakali and Koodiyattam. Unfortunately, an actor-based theatre also developed. We never developed or evolved any set design or scenography of our own. Few had some influence early on like Baburao Painter and so on, but they disappeared.”
Allana rues over the fact that there is no real design tradition or teachers to train those interested. “How would people learn? Now, new things are coming in and young people are learning post colonial teachings from everywhere. This is bringing in new idioms and we are sustaining them too.”
NagamandalaAllana has worked the maximum with his wife on her plays. It has been 41 years of togetherness and Allana feels that every day is still crazy. “I still explore things. I work with my own ideas and she works with her own language. When we speak together about these ideas and language, we try to find new solution. I believe space dictates performance and structure. Acting, for example, cannot remain the same if the space changes.” Happily, he speaks about young people around evolving, right from the use of lighting to how they can create scenario. He gives example of Kerala where names like Sankar Venkateswaran and Vineeth Sreenivasan.
Allana cannot work with NSD full-time as the set design syllabus is basic. “Also if I have to teach at NSD more, I need to spend more time which is difficult. But National Institute of Design and NSD has told me to help them with complete set design department. The syllabus is more evolved at DADA.” Some changes are happening slowly at DADA too. He has ideas of bringing art directors from the film and television to teach about how they work in these fields.
When is he coming with a play or any of his works to Pune to mesmerise us? Allana requests for three to four years time period. His academy is still developing and travelling does take substantial time. We will wait for that glorious moment.
Play Photo Credit: