by Viviana Iacob
published in Journal of Global Theater History, Bd. 2 Nr. 1 (2017): Translocating Theatre History
History of Cold War culture has moved in the last couple of years from an East versus West bipolar narrative to investigating the phenomenon from a global perspective. There is a resurgent focus on encounters between the Second and the ‘Third’ Worlds, between socialist states and those from the Global South. My paper is a contribution to the discussion about the role played by theatre exchanges in the cultural dialogue between East and South. Its focus is on Romanian and Indian attempts, starting with the mid-1950s, to bridge the distance between the two cultures. I underline the connection between broader programs of developmental assistance and the entrenchment of cultural relations between Romania and India, particularly in the realm of theatre.
I argue that economic rapprochement constituted the igniting premise for mutual discovery. Drawing from the representation of the socialist camp as the “Second World,” my paper will underline the role of Indian progressive intellectuals in the consolidation of theatre exchanges with Romania – a development that can easily be extended to relations across Eastern Europe. Based on the Romanian-Indian encounter, the paper will flesh out two interrelated evolutions in theatre diplomacy between Eastern Europe and the Global South: the importance of individual elective affinities built by way of bilateral relations in facilitating reciprocal adaptation; and, the conversion of personal experience into more systematic programs of theatre exchanges, which mirrored the developmental assistance of state socialist regimes to post-colonial societies.
by Viviana Iacob
at Spectrum of Communism — Symposium at Blinken OSA, Budapest, 16-17 November, 2017.
In 1969 two plays by Romanian playwright I. L. Caragiale opened in Calcutta: A Stormy Night and A Lost Letter. Both were adapted to Bengali by translator Amita Ray and produced by the group Panchamitram. Ray, a long time correspondent of the Institute for Cultural Relations Abroad (she visited Romania for the first time in 1959) sent clippings from the Bengali papers attesting to her excellent adaptations skills and the overall success of the two productions. The choice of plays was not haphazard. Unusual as they might seem they were in fact the spear head of a cultural diplomacy program that had the XIX century writer at its epicentre. In terms of exporting Romanian socialist culture to the world, Caragiale had quite the career during the communist period. For example, by 1969 The Lost Letter was produced by 9 different companies around the world and besides opening in Calcutta in 1969, it also premiered in Haifa.
Romania’s branching out initiative to the Global South took cue from the Soviet Union. In the late 50s, information on India was filtered through soviet journals while cultural exchanges were carried out with the support of the Institute for Cultural Relations Abroad and the Friendship Societies it managed. By 1962 four such organizations were founded in India: New Delhi, Kanpur (1958), Jaipur and Ajmer (1962). Even though they dissolved in later years, a result of the political turmoil that India was going through in the early 60s, the connections that they helped establish were used to carry further bilateral cultural activities. For example, Amita Ray’s second visit to Romania in 1967 coincided with prime minister Indira Gandhi’s and the 1969 performances in Calcutta, also prompted by Ray, preceded Nicolae Ceausescu and Gheorghe Maurer’s visit to India the same year.
Establishing a viable connection with the Global South was an arduous task. Geographical and cultural distance made finding a conversation baseline quite difficult. Furthermore, the cultural plan that Romania devised for the West, at least with respect to theatre, was also proposed to India and it took the sheer dedication of internationalists such as Amita Ray to ensure its success. The paper will outline strategies employed by the Romanian state in its attempt to expand to the global south by taking theatre exchanges with India as a case study.