The Delhi Ibsen Festival organised by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in collaboration with the Dramatic Art and Design Academy (DADA) takes a fresh look at the plays of Henrik Ibsen. DADA’s Nissar Allana talks about the importance of the playwright to Indian theatre through the ages.

Why a festival of Henrik Ibsen plays now?

Nissar Allana (NA): Henrik Ibsen has always been important for theatre in India. Modern theatre came to India in the mid- to late 19th century. The new tradition of urbanism that began with the British setting up fort towns in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay ushered in a new ethos in painting, and the arts, which included theatre too. This intermingling of the two traditions gave rise to an operatic sangeet-drama genre of theatre in places such as Maharashtra.

Ibsen died in 1906, and it was in the 1930s that Indian theatre came under two forms of influence:

One, the realism of playwrights such as Ibsen, Chekov and Strindberg.

The playwright Henrik Ibsen

This influence remained pronounced till the 1960s, when Indian theatre began looking at indigenous folk traditions for inspiration albeit from a very modern point perspective.

In 2006, a 100 years after his death there began a rereading of Ibsen, and the realization that he is not just about the individual but also about society. His plays are also about such new ideas at the time as socialism and equality. People have begun reinterpreting his plays.

What was the criteria for selecting the plays?

NA: Each of the three Indian directors work in a very different contexts. Anuradha Kapur, who has directed John Gabriel Borkman, works in an urban context; Neelam Mansingh, director of Little Eyeolf, works more in the folk tradition; and Ratan Thiyam, who has directed When We Dead Awaken, blends the Manipuri traditions of martial art and dance. Each of these three commissioned projects have been produced for a new relevance. As are the three other plays, by Norwegian directors, which will re-look at Ibsen from a contemporary perspective.

Any highlights in the festival?

NA: The way a director will approach a play is different from a scholar’s approach. For these productions, I made the director work with the scholars during the rehearsals. I am looking forward to seeing the result of this collaboration.

What is the relative relevance of Indian and non-Indian influences in theatre at this juncture?

NA: This generation of directors (the three Indian directors) has been working with this issue for 20 years now, and so they have a very digested, evolved and mature way of handling diverse influences—of East and West. So their treatment of this Western text will be more organic and integrated. Their lines of communication with a younger generation of directors is also open. The plays will tell us where we stand today.

The Delhi Ibsen Festival will be held from 10-20 December 2008. For invitations and information, contact Dramatic Art and Design Academy at 9818360986, 9818244174, and 9810166643 or email