Devendra Sharma

North Indian nautanki

Nautanki is a North Indian folk musical theater form.  Until the advent of cinema a few decades ago, it was the most popular form of entertainment in rural North India.  Nautanki performances can take place in any open or closed space available in or around a village or town that can accommodate audiences of hundreds or thousands.  A Nautanki stage is elevated above the ground and is open on three sides.  There is a back drop on the fourth side, usually made of a colorful cloth.  Musicians and percussionists sit on one side of the stage and actor-singers occupy center stage.  The stringed harmonium and the nakkara and dhotak drums are the main musical instruments used in Nautanki performances.

The pleasure of Nautanki lies in the intense melodic exchanges between the two or three performers, comedy interludes, and exciting dances.  Usually Nautankis are based on popular folk themes derived from romantic tales, mythology, biographies of local heroes, and also contemporary social issues.  Earlier, Nautankis usually started late at night; now, however, Nautanki performances also happen during the day or in the early evening to give modern audiences an opportunity to watch performances during a break in their daily routine.

Master artist Devendra Sharma cannot remember a time in his life when he was not learning and performing Nautanki.  Coming from a long line of Nautanki performers, Devendra was taught the form by his father, Pandit Ram Dayal Sharma, one of India‚Äôs most well-known Nautanki performers.  A member of the swami-khera gharana, or school, of Nautanki, Devendra was also rigorously trained by extended family members and fellow gharana artists.  Devendra has given more than five hundred performances to date and directed many films illustrating Indian folk traditions.