Old stories in new garb: The Urdu masnavī in the age of theater
Panel:Adaptations of South Asian Narratives Across Time and Space
The second half of the nineteenth century saw the dramatic expansion of theater and theater-related print in South Asia. In particular, Parsi theatrical companies based in Bombay became extremely successful and created a new genre of theatrical performance that combined Western-style stage, venue, ticketing and play structure along with Indian performative forms, stories, and genres. My talk will focus on the adaptation and re-interpretation of old and well-known stories from the Urdu masnavī genre for the theater stage. These include such stories as the one about the tragic love of Laila and Majnun, which was adapted to the theater and later to the cinema screen at least a dozen times in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century. The performance of stories from the Urdu masnavī corpus enabled the theatrical companies to claim the prestige and high value attached to works identified with high literary Urdu or Persian and draw an audience that was already familiar with these stories. A closer analysis of the play scripts, however, reveals that the title of the Urdu or Persianate story often served as a rather loose framework for a new work that mixed several literary forms, registers and poetic idioms. This talk will focus on the creation of a new theatrical genre through these adaptations, considering continuity and change from the Urdu masnavi.