As already mentioned earlier, it is not always easy to draw a clear borderline between folk (desi) and classical (margi) theatre in India. Both branches of theatre adapt stories from the Puranas, the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, old Sanskrit dramas, and legends. Folk theatre, however, is more flexible in character, and so are modern love stories, and even the plots of popular movies have found their way into its repertoire.
Folk theatre in India is by no means always “vulgar “or “low” in its style. Sometimes intricate classical music is employed, while the theatre director or master of ceremonies, so common in many folk styles, is clearly reminiscent of similar characters in the Sanskrit dramas. Common to both classical and folk theatre are also the stage preliminaries, including prayers and other ritual elements.
Compared with classical forms, however, folk forms rely more on direct contact with the audience, and improvisation. Popular theatre must be entertaining and it must be brought near to the audience by relating it to current events etc. Although the themes may be religious, the plays, at the same time, may have humorous, or even frivolous, connotations.
In India there are, of course, numerous forms of folk theatre. One reason is the abundance of languages and local dialects, most of which have created their own types of folk theatre. Only some of the forms can be touched upon in this, the first edition of this web book.