Natyasastra indeed stands as a reflection of what our cinema is and ought to be, and it is from there that we can draw practical inspiration for aesthetics and creatives pertaining to cinema.
With Information & Broadcasting Ministry appointing noted filmmaker Shyam Benegal to head a committee on censor board reforms, a holistic framework with respect to certification of films is being planned that will also take note of the best practices in various parts of the world, especially where the film industry is given sufficient and adequate space for creative and aesthetic expressions. While we are running to draw inspiration from the best cinematic practices across the world, surprisingly, no effort is being undertaken to revive the ancient knowledge of creative performing arts and related aesthetics that have formed long part of our tradition.
Natyasastra, an ancient Bharateeya treatise on the performing arts inclusive of theater, dance and music was written during the period between 200 BCE and 200 CE by Sage Bharata. As the name suggests, it’s made of two Sanskrit words ‘Natya’, meaning theatre, scenic action or more specifically drama, and ‘Shastra’, pertaining to holy writ dedicated to a particular field of knowledge.
The entire recital of the shastra occurs through a dialogue between Bharat and sages, where in the muni makes an inquiry into the origin of drama and related techniques and components involving speech, word, body-language, gesture, costuming, décor and the moods. It is said that Brahma created drama so that the knowledge of the Vedas becomes accessible to all. He combined the four essential elements of theatre—pathya, gana, abhinaya and rasa with the Vedic rituals.
Bharata, in Natyasastra says that the relationship between the structure of the drama, its plot, bhava and rasa should be seen like a tree. “Just as a tree grows from a seed and flowers and fruits… So the, emotional experiences (rasa) are the source (root) of all the modes of expressions (bhava). The Bhavas, in turn, are transformed to rasa.”(Natyasastra: 6-38) Bharata in one of the episodes in Natyasastra, has cautioned the community of artists not to overreach themselves, in arrogance, just because the art had bestowed upon them a special position in the society. The art that empowered them, he counsels, derives its strength from the society; and the artists, therefore, have a special responsibility to cultivate discipline, self-restraint and humility (Natyasastra 36: 29 – 38). The World renowned Polish Indologist, Prof M Krzyszt of Byrski who has also translated Natyasastra into polish language once said that “Much like the Bollywood films today, which are harshly judged as the opium of the masses, Sanskrit theatre in the lines of Natyasastra gives people the strength to face life.”
The most pertinent part of Natyasastra is perhaps the theory of rasa. As quoted in the article ‘‘Rasaes thetics’’ by Richard Schechner, the Natyasastra states: “Rasa is the cumulative result of vibhava (stimulus), anubhava (involuntary reaction), and vyabhikari bhava (voluntary reaction). For example, just as when various condiments and sauces and herbs and other materials are mixed, a taste is experienced … Because it is enjoyably tasted, it is called rasa … sensitive spectators, after enjoying the various emotions expressed by the actors through words, gestures, and feelings feel pleasure. This feeling by the spectators is here explained as the rasa of natya.”
Eight moods and corresponding principle emotions Shringara (Love depicting beauty & devotion); Hasya (joy-humour); Adbhuta (wonder-mystery); Shanta (peace-calmness); Raudra (anger-irritation); Veera (courage); Bhayanak (fear); Vibhatsa (disgust); Karuna (sadness-sorrow); Today, when we compare the commentary of Brahma in Natya Shastra, who says “I have prepared this Natyaveda which will exhibit the good luck or ill will and take into account acts and ideas of yours as well as the gods.”
“In it sometimes there is reference to duty (Deewar), sometimes to games (Chak de India), to money (Guru), to peace (Krodhi) and sometimes laughter is found in it (Padosan), sometimes fight(Singham) or love-making (Murder) and sometimes killing of people (Vishwaroopam).”
Natyasastra indeed stands as a reflection of what our cinema is and ought to be, and it is from there that we can draw practical inspiration for aesthetics and creatives pertaining to cinema. Hope the new committee on censor board reforms take a leaf from this ancient wisdom.
Divyansh Dev (The writer is a freelance Journalist)