17 Indian Plays You Must Read Right Now to Understand Indian Diversity

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Indian literature has a rich tradition of dramas and plays through the centuries. With strong oral traditions, stories were seen and heard, and not read. We’ve had various iconic Indian plays through the years, and this article aims to compile them in one place. We’ve focused on cultural importance and richness in our list, and you’ll find stories from across the Indian states. These Indian plays have often shifted the collective consciousness by raising important questions and critiquing social norms.

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These stories range from social critiques to mythological retellings to philosophical dilemmas. If we missed a title that should be included in our list, comment below! Let’s begin our list of recommended Indian plays!

Indian Plays You Must Read

One Day in the Season of Rain

Title: One Day in the Season of Rain

Author: Mohan Rakesh, translated by Aparna Dharwadker and Vinay Dharwadker

Publisher: Rajpal & Sons

Price: 502

Pages: 288


First up in our list of the best Indian plays is a story by Mohan Rakesh. One Day in the Season of Rain is a story of the complexities of love and life, and how traditions clash with modernity. The title has been taken from Meghadutam, which is fitting, as the play revolves around Kalidasa. At its core is the relationship between Kalidasa and Mallika, and how the former’s decisions affect each other’s lives.

Rakesh captures the emptiness of modern life, the meaninglessness of material success, and the loneliness that can persist despite your external achievements. The metaphors and imagery are incredible, and the writing stays with you long after the story ends. We’ll discuss Kalidasa himself later in our selection of Indian plays.

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Andha Yug

Title: Andha Yug

Author: Dharamvir Bharati, translated by Alok Bhalla

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Price: 274

Pages: 162


Next in our list of Indian plays is a classic by Dharamvir Bharati. One of the most influential writers in Hindi literature, Dharamvir Bharti wrote just one play in his career, and it remains a prominent work decades later. Exploring the dark side of human nature, the play takes you to the aftermath of Mahabharata’s 18-day war. No one’s sure who’s really won the battle and who’s lost, in the real sense of winning or losing.

The verse format does wonders for the story, increasing its depth and lament. It’s a warning against the futility of war and violence, the need for compassion and forgiveness, and why we need to think of our world from a new perspective. Translated into multiple languages, it remains one of the classic and enduring Indian plays.

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Title: Tughlaq

Author: Girish Karnad

Publisher: OUP India

Price: 260

Pages: 144


It’s hard to not mention Karnad in an article on Indian plays, no?

A writer, playwright, actor, director, and more, Girish Karnad has left a major mark on Indian performance arts. Arguably his magnum opus, Tughlaq, was written in Kannada in 1964 and later translated into English by Karnad himself. As is common for various historical figures, the name of Muhammad bin Tughlaq is attached to simplistic notions in the general consciousness.

He’s remembered for his stupidity and arrogance, for his decision to move his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, and for declaring copper coins to be the same as silver ones. Karnad challenges all of that. He tries to understand Tughlaq’s motivations, his relationship with his subjects (across religions), and the challenges that accompany the ruler of a kingdom. If you’re interested in reading Indian plays with historical fiction themes, particularly postcolonial interpretations of Indian history, this is for you.

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Sakharam Binder

Title: Sakharam Binder

Author: Vijay Tendulkar, translated by Priya Tendulkar, Kumud Mehta, Shanta Gokhale

Publisher: Popular Prakashan

Price: 135

Pages: 104


Another writer who’s left a major impact on Indian plays and theatre!

Sakharam Binder is as relevant and provoking today as it was in 1972. You can’t miss Vijay Tendulkar when talking of Indian theatre, as his unconventional themes and vision have largely shaped the art form. This play is a reflection of Tendulkar’s subaltern consciousness, as the story shows the struggles of the lower castes while also talking about power dynamics and the objectification of women.

The titular character is a bookbinder who picks up women abandoned by their husbands. He offers them food, shelter, and clothes in exchange for housework, sex, and unquestioning obedience. It’s a complex character, opposing the hypocrisy of marriage on one hand while abusing and exploiting women on the other. One of the major contemporary Indian plays, Tendulkar’s prismatic writing makes the story even more hard-hitting.

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Evam Indrajit

Title: Evam Indrajit

Author: Badal Sircar, translated by Girish Karnad

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Price: 473

Pages: 299


There are few Indian plays as introspective and experimental as Evam Indrajit, and only by reading it will you know why.

Indrajit is a disillusioned young man questioning the meaning of life and struggling against societal conventions. The title itself, Evam Indrajit (or Ebong Indrajit), meaning “and Indrajit” symbolizes the lack of identity this character has. Badal Sircar’s magnum opus, the play is about society and being a part solely a part of it (instead of having an identity of your own).

Through the titular character, Sircar captures the frustrations of a generation caught in a cycle of conformity and alienation. From the anti-, or rather non-, heroic tone to the existentialist philosophical questions, the book is a major part of contemporary Indian drama. All the characters in the story capture either one or more aspects of the society we live in. Oh, and the English translation is by Girish Karnad!

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Charandas Chor

Title: Charandas Chor

Author: Habib Tanvir, translated by Anjum Katyal

Publisher: Seagull Books

Price: 454

Pages: 376


Next in our selection of the best Indian plays is a classic story by Habib Tanvir.

Charandas Chor is an honest thief akin to Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. But when he meets a guru who makes him take a vow of honesty, his life changes forever. Also adapted as a children’s film by Shyam Benegal, the play is Habib Tanvir’s most beloved creation.
The play powerfully critiques the hypocrisy and deceit of our society through Charandas’ humanitarianism. Combining traditional folk elements, like the Chhattisgarhi folklore, with modern theatrical methods add to its fame. The play has been translated into multiple languages and remains a major stepping stone in Indian theatre.

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Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya O Jamyai Nai

Title: Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya O Jamyai Nai

Author: Asghar Wajahat

Publisher: Vani Prakashan Publisher

Price: 220

Pages: 82


Indian plays on partition are rare, a trait it shares with Indian literature at large, why stories like these are important.

Set in 1947, Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya O Jamyal Nai depicts the story of a Muslim family that migrates from Lucknow to Lahore during the partition. When they settle in a haveli previously occupied by a Hindu family, they find an elderly Hindu woman still living there.
The rest of the story is about how they interact with the woman amidst rising fundamentalism around them. Staged across various cities globally, the play is an important part of partition literature, and an appeal to our shared humanity and compassion even when the world is cruel.

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The Great Feast

Title: The Great Feast

Author: Mannu Bhandari

Publisher: Orient BlackSwan

Price: 570

Pages: 144


The next piece on our list of recommended Indian plays is an adaptation of a beloved novel that critiques the caste hierarchies of our nation.

One of the most landmark writers in Hindi (and Indian) literature, Bhandari’s works often spoke against gender and caste discrimination. This work is no different. It speaks of gender inequality, the emerging new class of working and educated women, and how people’s despair is politically exploited.

The story revolves around Bisu, a young Dalit man traumatized by the attacks on his community over the years. But his investigation and search for accountability will result in not just his death, but many more. Based on the massacre of 11 Dalits in 1977 by upper-caste landlords, the novel has inspired many theatrical adaptations.

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Raino Parvat

Title: Raino Parvat

Author: Ramanbhai Mahipatram Nilkanth

Publisher: Createspace Independent Pub

Price: 200

Pages: 214


One of the best parts about Indian plays is their diversity. Let’s travel to Gujarat for this selection!

A blend of Sanskrit drama with Shakespearean techniques, Raino Paravat is the story of a gardener who becomes a king. Written in 1914 in Gujarati by Ramanbhai Neelkanth, it’s an important part of Gujarati literature. Nilkanth’s social reformist background is apparent through Rai’s marriage to Vinavati, a widow. Over the decades, the play has also inspired plays like Raino Darpanrai and Jalaka, displaying its impact on the general consciousness.

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Gagan Damama Bajyo

Title: Gagan Damama Bajyo

Author: Piyush Mishra

Publisher: Rajkamal Prakashan

Price: 150

Pages: 128


A modern addition to Indian plays, this acclaimed work by Piyush Mishra charts the life of a revolutionary.

There won’t be many Indians unfamiliar with the name of Bhagat Singh. Whether in politics or school walls, the revolutionary’s presence is powerful in Indian society. Piyush Mishra, an acclaimed actor, playwright, and poet, wrote this musical drama with passionate and heart-wrenching songs and presents a nuanced portrayal of the man. It follows his life, from his induction into revolutionary ideology as a child to his death by hanging at a young age. More than a revolutionary, the play shows him as a friend, son, lover, and intellectual unable to sit back in an oppressed nation. The story raises questions on the meaning of freedom and patriotism and charts the Indian freedom struggle from one man’s perspective.

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The Post Office

Title: The Post Office

Author: Rabindranath Tagore

Publisher: Rupa & Co

Price: 95

Pages: 60


Indian plays are incomplete without Tagore, and arguably his most important play is The Post Office.

There’s no questioning the importance of Tagore in Indian literature and the overarching culture. Written in just four days, the play is still popular globally. Revolving around a young boy named Amal, it’s a story about the fundamental need for connection to the world around us.

Translated into English by WB Yeats, the play has been performed across the world since its publication. Amal is confined to his uncle’s house because of an incurable disease and the imaginative boy talks to passersby and asks them about their destinations. When a new post office is built, he starts fantasizing about receiving a letter from the King. Life, death, and freedom make several allegorical appearances throughout the story, maintaining its relevance even today.

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Ningalenne Communistakki

Title: Ningalenne Communistakki

Author: Thoppil Bhasi

Publisher: Prabhatham Printing And Publishing Co Pvt

Price: 160

Pages: 126


Indian plays have often served the role of a provocateur, urging people to act, to change their thinking, etc. This pick is undoubtedly one of the most impactful Indian plays of all time.

Written in 1952, Thoppil Bhasi’s Ningalenne Communistakki changed Kerala’s cultural landscape. Breaking away from the norm of adoring the royals, it was the first play to feature ordinary people as characters. Even the language and the themes specifically catered to the common folk and it remains a powerful communist story to date.

Its impact on the Malayali subconscious can be seen by the fact that the Thiru-Kochi legislative assembly spent an entire day debating whether its staging should be approved. The play centers around Paramu Pillai and his son Gopalan. The son of a struggling farmer, Gopalan becomes a leader of the agricultural workers’ union, exposing the oppressive attitudes and plans of the local landlord. Using the vernacular of the common people, the play was critical to the sociopolitical climate of the state at that point and remains a classic of Malayalam literature.

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Shakuntala Recognized

Title: Shakuntala Recognized

Author: Kalidasa, translated by G N Reddy

Publisher: iUniverse

Price: 499

Pages: 144


You mention Indian theatre and don’t mention Shakuntala? Impossible.

Few poems in world history have captured the collective imagination the way Kalidasa’s Shakuntala has. Its popularity and importance can be seen through the number of translations and adaptations it has. The story’s about Shakuntala, the daughter of Menaka and Vishvamitra, who falls in love with King Dushyanta.

But the king has to return to his kingdom and Shakuntala, now pregnant, is cursed by a sage. Because of the curse, Dushyanta forgets Shakuntala, and their love is tested henceforth. Reddy’s translation makes the text more accessible to the English reader while retaining the poetic sensibilities of the original.

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Yahudi Ki Ladki

Title: Yahudi Ki Ladki

Author: Agha Hashar Kashmiri

Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

Price: 802

Pages: 162


Next up in our list of recommended Indian plays is an Urdu-Parsi classic.

Inspired by the 19th-century play by W. T. Moncrieff, The Jewess, Yahudi Ki Ladki is a delightful conglomeration of Urdu with Khari Boli and Braj. The 1913 play is a classic Parsi-Urdu theatre today, exploring the persecution of Jews by the Romans.

The story comments on religious fundamentalism, the blind quest for power, and the critical importance of humanitarianism. It’s been staged and adapted several times through the years, demonstrating its popularity and cultural importance.

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Girls for Sale: Kanyasulkam

Title: Girls for Sale: Kanyasulkam

Author: Gurajada Apparao

Publisher: Emmesco Books

Price: 3018

Pages: 248


Sometimes, the best way to capture tragedy is through comedy, and the next title in our list of Indian plays does the same.

One of the earliest modern Indian works, Kanyasulkam is a scathing critique of social practices in colonial India. He particularly talks of the Kanya-sulkam, meaning the price of a bride, a practice common among the priest community.

Set in the princely state of Vizianagaram, the play revolves around upper-caste Brahmins in the region. Through disguises, mimicry, and other comedic elements, Gurajada Venkata Appa Rao uses humor through satire to show societal disgraces. It’s an important work to understand the late 19th-century Indian society and culture.

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The Fire and the Rain

Title: The Fire and the Rain

Author: Girish Karnad

Publisher: Oxford India Paperbacks

Price: 260

Pages: 85


Next in our list of Indian plays is a Girish Karnad classic. Based on the myth of Yavakri from the Mahabharata, the play blends elements of traditional theatre with contemporary elements. This is a tale of murder, revenge, jealousy and fratricide among the “wise” families of Raibhya and Bharadwaja, showing there are no quick hacks to knowledge.

The play shows Karnad’s deep knowledge of Indian mythology, with its scope reflecting the decades that went into its making.

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Ghashiram Kotwal

Title: Ghashiram Kotwal

Author: Vijay Tendulkar

Publisher: Seagull Books

Price: 345.8

Pages: 95


Vijay Tendulkar’s role in modern Indian plays can’t be overstated, and this text is another example of that. Masquerading as a historical drama, this political satire revolves around the life of Nana Phadnavis and Ghashiram Kotwal. The former was an important minister in the court of Pune’s Peshwa while the latter was the police chief. It’s a story of how powerful men use ideologies to their ends and discard them at the first signs of inconvenience.

While the play has been staged numerous times, the 1973 Jabbar Patel production is considered a classic in modern Indian theatre. As was often the case with Tendulkar’s writings, Ghasiram Kotwal created many controversies, offending the Chitpavan Brahmin community.

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Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh doesn't know what to do with his life, so he writes. He also doesn't know what to write, so he reads. Gift him a book if you chance upon him and he'll love you forever.

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