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From courtyards to factory gates, parks and slums, Third Theatre's last act in Bengal. Kanchrapara, a small town about 50km from Kolkata, is the base of the nearly four-decade-old theatre group. The actors are sprawled on the ground of the railway property they use for rehearsals; a couple of theatrical props and glowing light bulbs hanging from trees are all that there is to assist them. Knowing their names seemed like a natural first step to knowing Pathasena.
Ego, self-interest and personality cults are the bane of theatre groups and Pathasena has shied away from these since it was formed in the mids. Anonymity has kept its flock together for decades; it also went well with their chosen form of non-proscenium theatre.
Their style of theatre can be traced back to Badal Sircar—the late Bengali playwright and theatre director who pioneered the Third Theatre movement in India, and whom the members of Pathasena befriended back in He would later call Third Theatre free theatre and it set theatre free in every sense of the term," adds Bandyopadhyay.
Sacrificing theatrical props, Sircar and Satabdi reached out to new audiences. Initially, Satabdi, founded in , started performing in what Sircar called the angan mancha—spaces likes rooms, halls and courtyards.
It soon moved on to mukta mancha—open-air, unbounded spaces like parks, streets, slums, fields, at factory gates and in villages. This move away from the city stage was participatory in more ways than one. Satabdi members would charge no fee, moving around with a chador sheet collecting voluntary contributions from villagers and city audiences. That is their participation. Which is why even when we performed at poverty-stricken places we would go around with the chador.
Why should we deny them the chance to participate? A radical, political theatre had to function and proscenium, which was dependent on money and capital, lacked an independent political voice. Sircar started this theatre which was not dependent on economics," says Bandyopadhyay. This was very different from the eulogies that flowed generously from doyens of the theatre world in other parts.
Through his writings and public statements, Sircar was often critical of proscenium theatre. They were not prepared to take any criticism.
They would contend that the exposure that Badal babu got to American playwrights like Richard Schechner and Judith Malina made Third Theatre a derivative form and one that was importing a culture considered as obscene and reactionary in Bengal," says Bandyopadhyay. During his days as a student of civil engineering, Sircar had been a member of the undivided Communist Party of India.
He soon became disenchanted with the party and its politics, however, and when he wrote a letter to senior party members questioning some of their policies, he was immediately suspended. In it, spectators are allowed into the venue, a Kolkata house, only to be asked provocative and insulting questions by Satabdi members on their income and marital life. They are frisked and ordered around before being let into a terrace room where the play portrays different situations, from abject greed to ear-splitting screams from the tortured.
Our idea was to put the spectators in a situation which would remind them of those indignities through a direct theatrical experience," Sircar explained. Unable to sell their haul of gold, they retired to rest in a garden, underneath a canopy of trees formed by the other actors. His father was associated with the group and Mukherjee joined Satabdi knowing it would not bring him any glamour, fame or money. Click here to read the Mint ePaper Livemint. Join Livemint channel in your Telegram and stay updated.
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B adal Sircar was one of the leading and most influential playwrights and directors in modern Indian theatre movement. With the advent of industrialisation leading to modernity, the working class became an essential element of metropolis populace. With rising popularity of Marxist aesthetics, artistes soon started to see themselves as labourers and their work as labour. The conventional notions were broken, including rejection of institutions set up by status quo. New social, economic and cultural relations were approached which moved beyond boundaries set by the State; not only in terms of ideas but also in relation to form. Badal Sircar emerged as a theatre director and writer who tried to emancipate himself and his work by crossing boundaries. Odin Teatret was the epitome model; constructed by people dedicated towards theatre.
Badal Sarkar's Third Theatre
Badal Sircar 15 July — 13 May , also known as Badal Sarkar , was an influential Indian dramatist and theatre director, most known for his anti-establishment plays during the Naxalite movement in the s and taking theatre out of the proscenium and into public arena, when he transformed his own theatre company, Shatabdi established in for proscenium theatre as a third theatre group. A pioneering figure in street theatre as well as in experimental and contemporary Bengali theatre with his egalitarian "Third Theatre", he prolifically wrote scripts for his Aanganmanch courtyard stage performances, and remains one of the most translated Indian playwrights. He was initially schooled at the Scottish Church Collegiate School. While working as a town planner in India, England and Nigeria, he entered theatre as an actor, moved to direction, but soon started writing plays, starting with comedies. Badal Sirkar did experiments with theatrical environments such as stage, costumes and presentation and established a new genre of theatre called "Third Theatre". He started his acting career in , when he acted in his own play, Bara Trishna , performed by Chakra , a theatre group. Eventually still employed in Nigeria, he wrote his landmark play Ebong Indrajit And Indrajit in , which was first published and performed in and catapulted him into instant fame, as it captured "the loneliness of post-Independence urban youth with dismaying accuracy".
The legacy of Badal Sircar