Aparna Dharwadker

Aparna Dharwadker
Aparna Dharwadker

Aparna Dharwadker is Professor of Theatre and Drama and Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is active in the fields of postcolonial theatre, modern Indian theatre, comparative modern drama and dramatic theory, as well as the literature of the global South Asian diaspora. Her essays and articles have appeared in a wide range of journals and collections, including PMLA, Modern Drama, New Theatre Quarterly, Theatre Journal, Theatre India, Theatre Research International, English Postcoloniality, The Blackwell Companion to Restoration Drama, The Encyclopedia of Asian Theatre, and Representing the Past: Essays in Performance Historiography. Her study of post-independence Indian theatre won the 2006 Joe A. Callaway Prize for the best book on drama or theatre published during 2004-05. She has held fellowships from the NEH, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Folger Library, and the Newberry Library, among others, and has served on the editorial collective of Genre, the Fulbright National Screening Committee for India, and the Gerald Kahan Prize Committee of the American Society for Theatre Research.

Research Project

A Poetics of Modernity: Indian Theatre Theory, 1850 to the Present

The modern urban theatre that has developed in India since the mid-nineteenth century represents a singularly complex intersection of colonial and postcolonial processes with a long-established, multilingual, and multigeneric theatre and performance culture. When it first appeared in colonial metropolises such as Calcutta and Bombay (now Kolkata and Mumbai), the new urban theatre seemed to epitomize the conditions of colonialist dominance. But in practice, the ‘alien’ form was absorbed quickly into the material, social, and ideological structures of an old and literate culture that had possessed theatre for more than two millennia in a plurality of locations, languages, genres, and contexts. Notwithstanding the influences of ‘Westernized modernity’, for more than a century the subjects of theatrical representation have been drawn consistently from Indian myth, history, legend, folklore, and contemporary life; major Indian languages (rather than English) have served as the primary media of original composition; indigenous traditions of music, dance, and spectacle have dominated the styles of presentation; and the creative and theoretical constituents of modernity have been carefully assimilated to classically-derived concepts such as natya (aestheticized performance), sahitya (literature), natak (drama), rangmanch (the stage, or the theatre, more broadly), prekshan (spectatorship), and rasa (aesthetic experience). My research project establishes the comprehensive theoretical foundations of this field of modern practice by bringing together seminal source texts that represent about ten Indian languages (including and especially English), and span a 160-year period. Consisting mainly of the self-reflexive discourse of modern Indian theatre practitioners (playwrights, directors, actors, translators, designers, et al.), these primary documents make visible the interweaving of modernity and tradition, literature and commerce, art and politics, print and performance, the elite and the popular, as well as the intracultural and the transcultural across the colonial/postcolonial divide.

Selected Publications

  • Dharwadker, A., Theatres of Independence: Drama, Theory, and Urban Performance in India Since 1947, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005; New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.  
  • Dharwadker, A., “Introductions,” to Girish Karnad: Collected Plays, vol. 2, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005. 
  • Dharwadker, A., “Diaspora and the Theatre of the Nation,” in Theatre Research International, vol. 28, no. 3, 2003, pp. 303-25.