Badal Sarcar And A Few Words on Theatre Outside Proscenium

Feb 24, 2013 (Calcutta Tube): Badal Sarcar appeared in the proscenium with his famous ‘Ebong Indrajit’ written in 1963. Now a days in many places inside our country and even in abroad Badal Sarcar`s ‘Pagla Ghora’ and ‘Sararatri’ are being staged in proscenium now and again. Recently Pagla Ghora directed by Amal Palekar has been staged in United States itself. To start with I cannot refrain myself from uttering some pungent words. Number one- Badal Sarcar may leave proscenium but it`s not expected from him to launch a crusade against the same. At the same time we in no way can support those irresponsible uttering against Badal Sarcar and his Third Theatre. In art and culture narrow minded illiberality cannot be welcomed. Mainly Utpal Dutta was the pioneer against Badal Sarcar and Third theatre. Badal Sarcar was not a man to keep himself mum. He rebuffed ruthlessly.

Androclis O Singho: Pathasena
Androclis O Singho: Pathasena

‘Theatre is also an art form. It`s not true that lots of finance is needed in theatre. For packaging and masking one needs money , but not for theatre itself. People are needed in theatre, people as audience and people as actor. There is no dearth of audience. Where there are people there are audience. They would not have come and purchase tickets, theatre itself will go to them. Once this is understood, theatre will come out of bondage and then only the process of unmasking will take its start. ….. Theatre to them is commodity. To market this commodity one needs glittering colored package. Dress- light- sound –everywhere there are shining packet to mesmerize audience. … Theatre is not conglomeration of colored bubbles of fantasy, on the contrary theatre is stark reality of naked life.’

Sambhu Mitra directed two of Badal Sarcar`s plays in proscenium. They were ‘Baki Itihas` and ‘Pagla Ghora’. I have not seen the former, but I have watched Pagla Ghora several times. Besides Bahurupi production, I have watched that of Proscenium Art Centre in Hindi directed by Shiukumar JhunJhunwala where in the solitary female role Anubha Fatepuria was simply marvelous. This role was played by ShaNoli Mitra in Bahurupi production. She too was exceptional. Once in the National Theatre Festival of Nandikar we have the opportunity to watch that of Aniket in Marathi directed by Amal Palekar. Badal Sarcar was present in the auditorium during that performance, though he was then no more with the proscenium and has taken side permanently to third theatre. Even I have the opportunity to be in the portico of Loreto House to watch and listen the vocal performance of Pagla Ghora by Badal Sarcar and his fellow members of Shatabdi. And that was the last public performance of Badal Sarcar so far as I know. But Pagla Ghora directed by Shambhu Mitra is simply unthinkable and in no way comparable to any Pagla Ghora of any kind. In Bahurupi after ‘Raja Oedipus’ of Sophocles and ‘Raja` of Rabindranath, Shambhu Mitra directed only four plays- Badal Sarcar`s ‘Baki Itihas’ (1967) &  Pagla Ghora (1971), Nitin Sen`s ‘Barbar BaNshi’ (1969) and Bijoy Tendulkar`s ‘Chop Adalat Colchchhe’(1971). Among the Bahurupi productions directed by Shambhu Mitra ‘Pagla Ghaora` is at the top scoring  with 122 shows which was  higher than  ‘Raja Oedipus’ (104 shows) and that of ‘Raktakarabi’ (62 shows).

Now let us take over to Badal Sarcar`s Third Theatre. Badal Sarcar on 23rd November 1981 wrote to internationally accepted theatre personality Richard Schechner about his journey through Third Theatre.

Calcutta, July 6, 1979. An old building in the congested College Square area occupied by the Theosophical Society of India for more than ninety years. The lecture hall on the second story, 58 feet long and 24 feet wide, with its old dusty cupboards full of books on Theosophy and faded oil paintings of potentates of Theosophy—given to Satabdi on hire every Friday after much persuasion.  First performance of Basi Khabar. Culmination of a year long process. The first experience of Satabdi of creating a play collectively. Year long but what is a year? None of the Satabdi members are paid anything. They work in banks, schools, offices, factories; they assemble in evenings exhausted by loveless work and sardine packed public transport; they have to disperse early for long journeys, many by scandalously irregulars suburban trains. On Sundays we can work for five hours, provided we are not invited to perform somewhere a village, a “bustee” (slum), a suburban town, a college lawn, an office canteen. Shows on Friday evenings; Thursday evenings spent on the rehearsal of the play to be performed the next day.

How much time can we get for working on a new project? Eight hours in a week is an optimistic average. Still, a year means that we all grow with the play for one full year, and the play gets into our bloodstream. One year back. July, 1978. First performance of Gondi—an adaptation I made of The Caucasian Chalk Circle. We felt good. We enjoyed preparing it—only fifteen performers taking care of forty roles; hut, stream, door, trees, bridge made of human bodies. We all felt that the play is Indian and contemporary and can be understood equally by the educated of the city and the illiterate of the village, and our later experience proved this belief to be correct.

It was the third year of our regular weekly performances at the Theosophical Society hall. Before that we have had two years of such weekly shows in another room (1972-1974), and a spell of nearly two years of only open air shows. Performances in public parks were stopped by the police during the “Emergency” (1975) and our search for an indoor space ultimately brought us to this hall in early 1976. Admission was free; a donation of one Rupee (eleven cents, a cup of coffee in a shabby cafe costs more in Calcutta) was expected and was willingly paid by most, but that was not the condition for entrance. Leaflets containing the program for the next five or six Fridays were distributed to the spectators, otherwise we depended entirely on word of mouth publicity. (I am using the past tense because we now perform in another hall the system has remained the same.) The relation between acting and sitting areas varied according to the demand of the play. For Gondi we could provide about 125 seats, all seats were booked much in advance, and we felt good. That was the beginning of the year long process of creating Basi Khabar.’

I have seen ‘Gandi` by ‘Shatabdi’, the Third Theatre Group in two venues- one in Theosophical Society Hall, College Square and other at Sindhri Hall, Lindsay Street. Though most of the then players are no more with Shatabdi –the group founded by Badal Sarcar himself, but there are still some who are within this protracted struggle and has dedicated themselves for Third Theatre Movement. At that time watching Gandi, having 40 characters enacted by only 15, was an enormous experience.

Specially during those days Brecht`s Caucasian Chalk Circle was adopted and directed by RudraPrasad Sengupta, produced by Nandikar as ‘Kharir Gandi’, where Swatilekha made her debut in the lead role. At the same time Subrata Nandi another theatre personality of those days, adopted the same and directed as ‘Khari Matir Gandi’ under the banner of Theatre Front. Under these circumstances Gandi was a different type of challenge. But with only fifteen performers taking care of forty roles; hut, stream, door, trees, bridge made of human bodies’ Badal Sarcar`s Gandi was superb and the best among the three then productions of Calcutta. This paved the Golden Gateway of Third Theatre movement proposed by Badal Sarcar.

But never ever the track of this movement was smooth. Since it is anti establishment in nature, and since proscenium is by and large an establishment and since Third Theatre basically speaks for the oppressed and raises voice against power, so it is prone to be the many fold target of the establishment and the ruler as well. These are all theoretical problems. But it has to face two major practical problems as well. Number one is the space problem. At the moment

Kolkata has very little space for this alternative theatre. The open space inside Rabindra Sadan campus and that in front of Academy Of Fine Arts are fixed for this alternative theatre on Saturdays only and at Natya Academy there is Tripti Mitra Sabha Ghar for this purpose. These three places are abided by certain indispensible Government rules and regulations. At Ripon Street there is Proscenium Art Centre where there is a big room for the alternative theatre and at Padatik they have a build well for Third Theatre or Alternative theatre as you call it. And direct followers of Badal Sarcar are doing very recently at Niranjan Sadan Jadavpur. But once upon a time there were good numbers of spaces in Kolkata. But still like past (‘For Gondi we could provide about 125 seats, all seats were booked much in advance’) direct followers of Badal Sarcar are making their house full of audience till date.

In this context another important feature is to be mentioned where the directors perform in both the spaces – proscenium and outside proscenium as well.  There are also certain productions which are played in both the places. In Sarala Memotial Hall adjacent to Gokhel Memorial College, where the film clubs used to arrange their projections, and in the open space inside the auditorium Total Theatre once did their marvelous ‘Byas` written by Shajada Firdaus and directed by Shantanu Banerjee. Here I have seen Bibhash Chakraborty to direct Shakespeare`s As You Like It in an intimate form. Suman Mukherjee did his outstanding ‘Kangal Malshat’ (Tritio Sutra) written by Nabarun Bhattachariya at Padatik build well in an intimate form and at Academy Of Fine Arts proscenium as well. The same experiment was done by his father Arun Mukherjee with his ‘Manush Kingba Kolbalish’(Chetana) at Tripti Mitra Sabhaghar in an intimate form and at Academy Of Fine Arts proscenium. The Unity Malancha of Halishahar did their Hanua Ka Beta in open air and at the same time in proscenium both directed by Debashish Sarcar. Belghoria ETHIC under the leadership of Debashish Sengupta once had confined it in intimate form, but now they feel comfortable in proscenium. In Kolkata there are good numbers of groups who strictly perform intimate theatre and never run for proscenium. Bhibhaban is such a group who has ventured several spaces in Kolkata. Once I have watched their performances in a room of YMCA at Vivekananda Road. Later they did it at Proscenium Art Centre at Ripon Street and now they are performing at Tripti  Mitra Sabhaghar. Another strictly non proscenium performer is Anarjya who used to perform at portico of Taltala High School and now at Tripti Mitra. But Shatabdi, Pathasena and Ayna who are direct followers of Badal Sarcar never ever done their performances in an air conditioned space like Tripti Mitra Sabhaghar or Padatik build well. Ayna once performed at air conditioned Proscenium Art Centre. Once there were very active non- proscenium groups who used to perform earlier. But for various reasons the days of third theatre or intimate theatre or open air theatre are not going well now.

To conclude we will deal with a theoretical aspect and a practical aspect as well. For proscenium there in Kolkata we have 15 auditoriums altogether of which some belong to private ownership and excepting one all are air conditioned. But for theatres outside proscenium there are very few little rooms left out. If we try to brand Kolkata as the cultural capital of West Bengal, then this small arrangement for other theatres makes this nomenclature derogative. In United States, as we all know, there is Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway. Moreover very recently in the Lincoln Complex a very good space has been allotted for alternative theatres. The third theatre workers do not desire so much. But it is the responsibility of the authority to arrange some respectable space for these theatre workers.

The theoretical aspect demands unity between the proscenium and the alternative theatre workers. Nowadays it appears that as per production cost is concerned sky has become the limit for proscenium productions. The expenditure for the same for Raja Lear was one million rupees.  Cost per show is not less than sixty thousand rupees. This huge expenditure reminds us of Badal Sarcar- Theatre to them is commodity. To market this commodity one needs glittering colored package. Dress- light- sound –everywhere there are shining packets to mesmerize audience. This huge magnitude of production cost does in no way keep pace with the statistics stating that, 77% of our population is in a way to afford rupees 20 or less per day for their livelihood. To keep pace with this situation we have only one way to combat. The theatre lovers who really love theatre and at the same time love poor people of our country and strongly believe that their theatre should be seen by the people of India by and large, then they will have to unite together whether they are with proscenium or outside. And with this thought process we conclude by quoting Badal Sarcar once again.

“This process, of course, can become widespread only when the socio economic movement for the emancipation of the working class has also spread widely. When that happens, the third theatre (in the context I have used) will no longer have a separate function, but will merge with a transformed first theatre.”


More Photos


– Pachu Ray

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *