Aug 22, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Badal Sircar’s sad demise on 13th May 2011 saw the loss of an influential dramatist of the country whose innovative approaches to theatrical productions distinctly stands out in its uniqueness. One of the foremost proponents of Third Theatre, Badal Sircar introduced several new concepts in the theatre arena of Bengal.
A civil engineering graduate from Bengal Engineering College (now Bengal Engineering and Science University), Shibpur in 1947, Badal Sircar’s undergraduate years was a blend of study and politics. Attracted to Leftist ideals, he worked for the AISF. Later, his involvement in the trade union movement made him witness the conditions of the working class of the society. Besides working in Calcutta, he also worked in London and it was there that he came closer to the works of Richard Schechner whose influence was chiefly felt in Sircar’s very own Third Theatre. He studied town planning in France and then moved to Nigeria. It was there that he wrote several of his plays like ‘Baki Itihas’ and ‘Pagla Ghoda’. Prior to this, his ‘Evang Indrajit’ had already catapulted him to fame and suggested his career as a playwright. He founded the theatre group Satabdi in 1967 but it was not before the 70’s that he could devote his entire life to theatre. Meanwhile, conflict of opinions caused him to move away from politics and his urge for a reformed society was being felt in his literary works. His restlessness in deciding on the proper and appropriate social transformations was reflected in his play’s protagonists whose final decisions had always been to choose the path rather than the destination. With these concerns about society, Sircar was gradually feeling the limitations of the naturalistic theatre and its dissociation with the audience. He wished the theatres to reach to the masses without waiting for the audience to come to the theatres. This prompted him to move from proscenium to the open “found” spaces or Anganmancha. Famed dramatist Satya Bhaduri notes these as he shares his own views.
[ReviewAZON asin=”0878301550″ display=”inlinepost”]Satya Bhaduri: To me, Badal da is the greatest playwright of modern times after Rabindranath Tagore in terms of completeness. His serious plays, humours, third theatre – all these bear testimony to the fact. He was a rebel, he changed his name from Sudhindra to Badal. He was attracted towards Marxism. Later he lost attraction towards political party, though he believed in Marxism till his last day, as far I know. His plays ‘Ram Shyam Jadu’, ‘Ballavpurer Rupkatha’ are unparallel. I don’t think we have many humorous plays of that stature. Later he wrote on the middle class Bengalis – their dreams and frustrations – this was again unparallel.
I believe ‘Ebong Indrajit’ represents just not modern Bengali theatre, but modern Indian theatre in every sense. Dreams of the Bengali middle class, their journey, movements of Indrajit, how it distinguishes from Amal, Bimal, Kamal and how he again gets back in them – everything is a myth. The dialogues, poems, presentation are all mesmerizing. It is one of the very best plays in Indian theatre.
Then there are ‘Pagla Ghora’, ‘Sara Rattir’. ‘Baki Itihaas’. The mathematics of married couple in a middle class setting, their aspirations, hopes and frustrations are all refelected wonderfully. The dialogues here are again exceptionally effective.
Badalbabu always changed patterns. In his personal life he was very strict and well disciplined. He came from a very educated family, his father was a scholar. He was won ‘Sangeet Natak Academy’, ‘Padmashree’. With all that popularity he achieved, he did not think twice to leave everything and start something totally new. He always believed that even if people did not come to theatre, theatre should go to them. Today you will see Badal Sarkar’s plays being acted in many different parts of India. His political concern has been reflected in his plays and he never tried to please any particular political party though he believed in Marxism.
If you look at his career, you will see that he ventured into so many fields. He completed his degree in civil engineering, started his working in Kolkata. He stayed in London, Nigeria during his engineering career. Then again he earned his degree from Jadavpur University when he was quite old. He was always trying different things. This side of his character also appeals to me.
For me Badal Sarkar is an extremely fine theatre personality of our country akin to Mohan Rakesh, Girish Karnad, Vijay Tendulkar.
[ReviewAZON asin=”0198065493″ display=”inlinepost”]Sircar realized that the commercialized proscenium theatre always requires a paying audience and thus inhibits the street people from viewing. This automatically excludes the theme to be conveyed to a larger mass of the society. So those plays that relates to the socio-economic vulnerability would become incomplete as all classes of people in the hierarchy cannot participate. Contrastingly, open-air theatre broadens the scope to include a better representative of the public. Thus democracy is established in the line of the audience too. Initially drawn towards Leftist politics his outlook for democracy seems to continue in his Third Theatre productions as well. Coming out of the confines of the traditional stage, Sircar made his production flexible than anything before. The plays could be performed both indoors and outdoors. Also by omitting the traditional theatrical equipments including costumes and make-ups he achieved dual purpose – one, to take the theatre to the masses where the audience can’t distinguish between themselves and the actors and thus will feel more close to the theme and two, making productions more and more portable. Cost was also reduced to a greater extent and the concept had the chance to attract more and more theatre lovers – both performers as well as those who viewed them. The same thoughts were reflected by theatre director Arun Mukhopadhyay.
[ReviewAZON asin=”1557831785″ display=”inlinepost”]Arun Mukhopadhyay: Badal da was deeply inside theatre – a perfect theatre lover. He was a great writer, actor, director and organizer. He was also a great student, had a great job, but sacrificed his career for theatre, all of which attracts me. There are so many obstacles in doing full time theatre in our socio-economic conditions. Badalda wrote some great plays but after some time realized that it is not possible to continue with meaningful theatre in this manner. This is because after you incur expenses in theatre halls, publicity, etc most people won’t be able to afford it. And then if you are doing some ‘meaningful’ theatre or trying something new, you may not be successful and may get unfavourable responses. In case of commercial theatre, you need to have expertise, which people often lack. Most of the time theatre is secondary for us, even though it is our first love and we want to give it our best. The fact still remains that we do theatre after taking care of other things, in practice. Badalda came out of this proscenium thing. Though, he was misunderstood at a time, what I like about him is his ability to reach to people and his thoughts. Badalda did what he strongly believed in. I am inspired by him. In Chetana we have done one play by Badal Sarkar, ‘Bhul Rasta’ directed by my son Neel. I was recently thinking of doing another of his plays. Anyway, he is one of the most important theatre personalities of our time.
One of the foremost places where Badal Sircar started on his career of Third Theatre was the Curzon Park (now Surendranath Park) in Calcutta where Bir Sen used to perform with his group Silhouette. Sircar came to know about the programme and started performing at the same place at around 1971. Initially started on an experimental basis very quickly it got a full scale professional stand. The groups acted on a regular basis and the plays, that also included political dramas, very often stood against the ideologies that the state promoted. Sensing a revolt from the cultural ranks of the state, the government reacted very soon. Police atrocities was felt on 20th July, 1974 when they lathicharged on the performers and the audience at Curzon Park. Prabir Dutta succumbed to his injuries and died as several others were injured. Many persons were also arrested. Unsubdued, the troupes very soon returned with newer productions and during this time an overwhelming support was felt from the spectators who used to wait regularly for them. This encouragement convinced Sircar of one thing – the audience to the street theatres, who seemed casual at first sight was not so casual after all. This greatly boosted his belief on the continuance of this alternative form of theatrical presentations.
Sircar’s categorization of Third theatre can be clearly followed from Subhendu Sarkar’s introduction in the book on “Two Plays: Indian History Made Easy/Life of Bagala”. There it is mentioned that Third Theatre is always a theatre of synthesis which was markedly different from the indigenous folk (‘first’) theatres and the proscenium theatre (‘second’ to folk as it is imported much later from the West). Actor director Dwijen Banerjee offers the same explanation when his comments were requested.
Dwijen Banerjee: Badal Sarkar was dexterous equally as director, actor, playwright. He introduced a totally different kind of theatre, which he termed ‘poor’s theatre’ or ‘third theatre’. Our traditional theatre was ‘first theatre’, the newer kind of theatre was ‘second theatre’ and he, to seek an alternative form, chose to categorize his innovation as ‘third theatre’. He realized that the relation between theatre workers and audience should not be dependent on money or any business. In our socio-economic conditions, he thought this was the kind of theatre that is more likely to survive. His plays became famous without any publicity, advertisements. He attracted the young generations and it gave rise to different groups all over West Bengal who adapted to this form.
However, Badalda’s productions were unique. He is one of the prominent playwrights of this time. His art of writing, plots, humor are unparallel and no one else could reach his quality. His theatre form was very popular for a long time and it still survives. Though, I have never worked with him, but I find his work very effective at one point of time. But unfortunately, people lost interest in this form gradually – this is a reality.
Another very important aspect of Third Theatre was the workshops that preceded the productions. Badal Sircar was even invited from cultural groups outside the state and the country as well to carry out his original methods in these workshops. Inspired by Richard Schechner, but modifying the process according to his ideas, he imbibed in them the concepts of the Third Theatre. Learning through games, the actors were never really taught but their inner self slowly adapts to the process and acting evolved automatically. In this he used to emphasize the fact that actors must reject any kind of artificiality that the society requires them to embrace regularly. This will cause them to dance, frolic, speak and act more naturally and freely. Thus expressions, movements of the participants contributed more than mere dialogues. Actors were encouraged to improvise during the playmaking sessions where each acted on a plot of his own. These collective novelties, the urge to collaborate, the intimacy of its production, discarding traditional set-ups, economizing on cost and most importantly reflecting socio-economic and socio-political views, Third Theatre had all the constituents to attract serious actors. Offering a podium for thinkers the Third Theatre collapses the barrier between the artist and his critic, the theme and its ambience, entertainment and culture. But curiously enough, with time the vision of Sircar seemed to have ebbed out. The concern could easily be felt on actress Chitra Sen’s views.
Chitra Sen: In my earlier days, Badal Sarkar was working fully. Though my husband, late Shyamal Sen, was more close to Badalda, I was also attracted towards his totally new pattern of work. In North Calcutta’s ‘Basudeb Manch’ which was a commercial theatre, we performed Badalda’s ‘Ram Shyam Jadu’. Noted actor Anup Kumar was in the cast. It was a play with plain and simple humor without any political agenda whatsoever and it became very popular. Badalda used to visit and we would all take part in various discussions.
Koushik Sen worked with the new form in theatre that Badalda introduced for quite some time. Inspired by Badalda, we worked in the small proscenium of ‘Sujata Sadan’ for some time though we do not have much space for theatre. Even though he is not with us today, Badalda still lives in his works. If we can try to do theatre in his way, it would benefit us because we will be able to do theatre more regularly. That won’t be like performing once in several months!
Shanoli Mitra too has done this kind of theatre. It is important to keep Badalda’s concept of theatre alive. With his theatre Badalda was able to reach out to more and more people, since the distance was not that great. His theatre could touch people and their reactions were so much spontaneous and alive. It was a totally different experience as an actor. If upcoming generations take his theatre seriously, then we will be able to keep this form going. We will do proscenium theatre, but in addition we can still do third theatre. Badalda is a source of inspiration for me. His theatre was so intimate!
Badal Sircar was awarded the Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1968, the Padma Shree in 1972 and the Sangeet Natak Academy Fellowship – Ratna Sadsya in 1997, the highest honour bestowed by the Government of India for performing arts.
But the best honour that we can decorate him with is to keep alive the vision that he held, the intimate Third Theatre – a theatre for the poor that some used to call it or more correctly a free theatre for a free country!
Anjum Katyal, “How the Stage Got Upstaged”, http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/arts/how-the-stage-got-upstaged.
Shoma Chatterjee, “Theatre, for the people”, http://www.indiatogether.org/2011/may/soc-sircar.htm
Kamal Saha, “Bangla Theatre Abhidhan”
– Anirban De / Shrabanti Basu