Yes, the ART of Nautanki. This much abused word is actually a folk art form that has been prevalent in our culture for over a thousand years. And in most other cultures in Asia. A folk art form of the theatre. Usually performed by traveling troupes of actors, it comprised the telling of stories using all the nine Rasaa’s of emotions as described in various ancients texts , including in Yoga. Therefore the word – ‘Nau (nine) tanki’…..
Nautanki would intersperse the telling of a moral tale with a heady mixture of melodrama, songs and comic interludes. Almost Brechtian in nature. Watching the Ramlila every year as a child I remember being moved, afraid, entertained and horrified all at the same time. And each year.
No wonder then that our films are so addicted to this art form and so popular. And another reason why Hollywood finds it so difficult to replace our own films. Which other theatrical, dance or cinematic art form will so seamlessly move from on rasa (emotion and genre’) to another ?
And if you understand the art of the nautanki, you will understand the art of performance in Indian films. Just as the film moves seamlessly from one rasa t oanother – so must the actor be able to do so. In this art form the best actors are those that have the ability to seamlessly move from one emotion to another, even one genr’e of emotion to another, sometimes even in the same scene or even in the same dialogue !
So while the rest of the world may call the performances in our films melodramatic, I see them as a traditional and ancient art form. Like the kathak dancer, who’s face constantly transcends between the nne rasa’s – bringing each one of them into the singularity of human existence.
Seen through the prism of the art form of the Nautanki, you can understand the popularity of Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bacchan, and Sharrukh Khan. They are the modern masters of the ancient folk art of the Nautanki.