Tara Arts was founded in 1976 by five Asian students in response to the racist murder of an Asian teenager in Southall. Starting as a community theatre group only touring out of London at the weekends. In 1982 it became the first professional Asian theatre company to be revenue-funded by the Arts Council of England (at the time Arts Council of Great Britain). The political edge of the first productions represented a non-violent stance against the racism of some sectors of white British society, still obsessed with the myth of imperial grandeur. At the same time the plays produced in this early phase mostly dealt with the experiences of the migrant communities and their negotiation between original social customs and new cultural codes.
A ‘double sensitivity’ inherent to all members of the company, being caught between two or more cultures, was articulated in a specific formula of ‘theatre for all’, aiming at communicating to all sectors of British society.
Questions of identity, cultural hybridisation and race-relations were at the heart of plays such as ‘Sacrifice’ by Rabindranath Tagore, staged in 1977 at the Battersea Arts Centre, ‘Relationships’, a poetry recital produced in 1977 and ‘Fuse’, the first original production presented in 1978 at the London Drama and Tape Centre in Holborn.
Over the years Tara’s political perspective shifted towards a theatrical language which reflected the company’s interest in stylistic experimentation. Under the direction of Jatinder Verma between 1983 and 1989, the company’s aesthetic research focused on the study of Indian and other non-European theatre techniques, along with Sanskrit drama and anti-realist genres in theatre and cinema, for which Bombay movies provided a source of inspiration. This phase culminated in the production of ‘The Government Inspector’ in 1989 with the collaboration of visiting theatre director Anuradha Kapoor, from the National School of Drama in New Delhi.