An operatic drama, Nautanki is mainly performed in Uttar Pradesh
. Earlier it was known as 'sangeets' (musicals) and one such musical, Shehzadi Nautanki, became very popular in the 19th century that the people started calling the form 'Nautanki.'
Nautanki chiefly evolved out of ballads and recitals of bards. The ballad singers, as they unfolded their stories, gesticulated and dramatized the emotions of the various characters. Gradually other singers were introduced to play different roles.
The stories performed in Nautanki are almost secular in nature. Kings, lovers, saints, robbers and knights popular in the folklore are the chief characters.
Nautanki is performed on a waist-high platform surrounded by the audience. The performance begins with introductory songs in praise of guru, the stage, and the Gods. The stage manager or director gives and introduction about the story to be performed and ushers in the characters. It usually starts brightly with fun, songs and music and changes course in the middle.
Musical instruments used are harmonium, sarangi, clarinet, and nagara. Chaubola and behar-e-tweel are the favorite song forms used in Nautanki.
Nautanki is a beautiful blend of the Hindu-Muslim folk cultures. The language, music, costumes, themes and characters reflect this.