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THEATRE IN INDIA

BENGALI THEATRE IN INDIA

The beginning of the modern Indian theatre can be traced to the building of the Calcutta theatre in 1779.  In  1795, a Russian dramatist, Horasim Lebedev along with a Bengali theatre lover Goloknath Das staged the Bangla translations of two English comedies, 'Disguise' and 'Love is the best doctor' in Calcutta. In 1831 Prasanna Kumar Thakur established 'Hindu Rangamanch' at Calcutta and staged Wilson's English translation of Bhavabhuti's Sanskrit drama 'Uttar Ramacharitam' laying the foundation for modern theatre in India. Other important efforts on the scene of Bengali theatre include Nabin Basu's Jorasanko Natyashala (1854), the private stages of Ashutosh Deb and Ramjay Basak (1857), Vidyotsahini Mancha (1857), Belgachia Natyashala (1858), Metropolitan Theatre (1859), Shobhabazar Private Theatrical Society (1865), Bahubazar Natyashala (1866) and Bagbazar Amateur Theatre (1868).


The city of Calcutta came under the British Influence being the capital of India (till 1911). By the mid-19th century, the rich, young Bengalis of Calcutta started to write plays based on British naturalistic models, interweaving them with Indian music and songs. Rabrindranth Tagore's two plays, Raktakurabi (Red Oleanders) and Raja (The King of the Dark Chamber) were part of this early effort. The works of William Shakespeare were also widely translated and adapted in the Bengali theatre. By the last quarter of the 19th century, public theatres were established, managed by Indian artists and designed to appeal to Indian urban tastes. Thus, modern Indian theatre was formed.


Dwarkanath Tagore, grandfather of Rabindranath Tagore, and Jyotirindranath Tagore were responsible for building and running a private theatre called the Jorasanko Theatre.  In the hands of playwrights like Madhusudan Dutt and Jyotirindranath Tagore, who adapted freely from Greek, English and French sources, the Bengali stage assimilated the western ideas. Belgachia Natyashala, built in 1858, became the centre of theatrical activity in Calcutta and produced great plays like Ram Narayan Tarkaratna's Ratnabali and Madhusudhan Dutt's Sarmistha.  In 1872, Girishchandra Ghosh organised a National Theatre which, along with other similar societies, staged adaptations from Indian and English classical sources as well as historical and social plays. The period between 1830-1872 can be rightly termed as the age of amateur theatricals of Bengal.


The Bengali theatre soon became a strong medium of expression on social, political and contemporary issues of relevance to the common Indian. Several plays were produced that criticized the social evils prevalent in the society.  These included Naba Natak and Kulinakulasarbasa, which opposed polygamy, and Nildarpan (1875) which criticized white planters for their exploitation of the local farmers. It was with the performance of the controversial play Nildarpan by Deenbandhu Mitra that the British government realised the full potential of theatre and perceived it as a threat to the British Empire, if left unchecked. This prompted the British government to promulgate the Dramatic Performances Control Act of 1876, which began the practice of censorship of the arts. Sisir Kumar Bhaduri(1889-1959), Ahindra Chowdhury (1895-1974), Naresh Mitra (1888-1968), Durgadas Banerjee (1893-1943) and Sushila Sundari are some of the respected names of Bengal Theatre.


With the founding of Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), theatre became even closer to the people by focussing on contemporary political and social issues of concern to them. Theatre continued to flourish in Bengal as a result of the dedicated efforts of Girish Chandra Ghosh, D.L.Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Bijon Bhattacharya, Utpal Dutt, Shambhu Mitra, Balraj Sahani, Habib Tanvir and several others. Utpal Dutt founded the 'Little Theatre Group' through which he communicated his thoughts and views to the audience. Shambhu Mitra also added depth and quality to the Bengali theatre by his superb plays like the Bahuroopi.


In the post-Independence period the Bengali theatre witnessed a marked change in style with the coming on to scene of great playwrights like Badal Sarkar, Mohit Chatterjee, Arun Mukherjee and others.  Badal Sarkar produced numerous dramas like Evam Indrajit, Baki Itihas, Pagla Ghoda, Spartacus, Baasi Khabar, Prastava and Juloos, which became trend-setters in the contemporary Bengali Theatre.



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