It is true that from the historical point of view, modern Hindi drama and theatre were introduced by Bharatendu Harishchandra in Varanasi. But what is also undeniable is that the kind of serious, relevant contemporary Hindi theatre which began in the early fifties, quickly taking the shape of a movement, had as its place of origin not any of the Hindi-speaking states, but metropolises like Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi. The rapidly rising, new generation of directors who proved to be the central force of Hindi theatre played a decisive role.
It is an interesting fact that it was the Hindi play and not Hindi theatre that first took up the challenge of originality. Though some indications could be felt in Jagdish Chandra Mathur's Konarka and Lakshmi Narayan Lal's Mada Cactus, it became clearly manifest in Dharamvir Bharati's Andha Yug and Mohan Rakesh's Asharh ka Ek Din, published in 1954 and 1958 respectively.
Andha Yug, considered an achievement in new verse, when staged by Dubey in Bombay in 1962, and then by Alkazi among the ruins of the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi, proved to be not only one of the best plays in Indian drama, but its creative use of various theatrical techniques and breaking free from the confines of the proscenium also paved the way for future open-air presentations with only a symbolic use of stage decor.
These initial and fundamental experiments with stagecraft by Jalan (Anamika, Calcutta), Dubey (Theatre Unit, Bombay) and Alkazi (NSD, Delhi) may well be classified as the formative years of Hindi theatre. Independence, Partition, disillusionment, industrialization, technological development, sociopolitical and economic changes led to the breaking down of joint families.
The increasing middle-class dominance brought about radical changes in the individual - specially in sexual relationships and social values. The constant conflict of the individual with family and society gave rise to feelings of insecurity, anxiety, depression and tension which naturally found vivid expression in the contemporary idiom and dramatic language of various Indian literatures.
By 1967, there had appeared Girish Karnad's Tughlaq in Kannada (1964), Badal Sircar's Evam Indrajit in Bengali (produced, 1965), and Vijay Tendulkar's Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe! in Marathi (produced, 1967). In Hindi, after his earlier historical play Lehron ke Rajhans (revised edition published in 1968), came Rakesh's much talked-about Adhe Adhure (produced, 1969).
Within a few months of each other, the classic non-Hindi plays were translated into Hindi, raising quite a storm when staged, while Rakesh's works were translated into other regional languages and performed by various directors, making waves in Indian theatre circles. Around 1967, therefore, began that new movement which gave Hindi theatre an identity of its own and established it on the national level at par with the rich dramatic traditions of other languages.
It is an interesting coincidence that Anamika Kala Sangam and Adakar in Calcutta, and groups like Dishantar and Abhiyan which enriched Delhi's stage, were formed in the same year. During this period the National School of Drama Repertory Comany also began independent productions and the presentation of Agra Bazar by Habib Tanvir's Naya Theatre, with his Chhattisgarhi artistes, enhanced and shaped folk-theatre traditions in the modern context, which earned him worldwide recognition.
In Delhi, Alkazi's productions, mostly translations of various Indian and foreign plays, became well known for their awesome grandeur, technical competence and production values. Dishantar and Abhiyan vied with one another in identifying and presenting new, meaningful Indian plays with originality. Dishantar's Tughlaq, Khamosh! Adalat Jari Hai and Adhe Adhure directed by Om Shivpuri, Suno Janmejay (by Adya Rangacharya) directed by Mohan Maharishi, Hayavadan directed by B V Karanth, and Trishanku written and directed by B M Shah; Abhiyan's Baki Itihas (Sircar), Panchhi Aise Ate Hain (Tendulkar) and Guinea pig (Mohit Chattopadhyay) directed by Rajinder Nath, and Pagla Ghora (Sicar) directed by T P Jain, were some of the most memorable productions of that time.
From the point of view of originality in dramatic literature, some progress has been made despite adverse circumstances. The loss of Mohan Rakesh, Jagdish Chandra Mathur, Lakshmi Narayan Lal, Shankar Shesh, Sarveshwar Dayal Saksena, Sharad Joshi and Ramesh Bakshi, left a great void in terms of originality in Hindi theatre writing. Mani Madhukar, Kusum Kumar and Mudrarakshasa have gone into self-imposed exile. Still, some activity remains with Bhisham Sahni, Surendra Verma, Asgar Wajahat, Nand Kishor Acharya, Mrinal Pande, Tripurari Sharma and others from both the old and new generations, showing an increasing inclination towards serious drama. The desire for thematic variations and experiments with stage and style have enriched writing to some extent.
Unfortunately, this progress is more in terms of quantity than quality as even today, most of the better-known works are dependent on myths and legends. Older strictures on performance have become quite flexible, yet there have been no imaginative forays into this newfound freedom. The influence of the realistic, classical and folk traditions is becoming greater. Despite all efforts, the future of Hindi theatre in this last decade of the twentieth century remains quite obscure, with difficult challenges ahead.