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Plays by Bengal Theatre

Ajit Kumar Datta

By Kironmoy Raha
National Book Trust, New Delhi, 1978, Rs. 10.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 3 November/December 1978

The theatre in Bengal in its early days came to be labelled by some newspapers as the Bilati Jatra, i.e., indigenous folk play presented in a western pattern. Curi­ous as it may sound, the expression rightly stressed the kind of interrelationship, or rather the admixture that the outcome proved to be. Historically, the people in this country came to know about the theatre as it is, only with the advent of the western ideas and manners. At the same time, India already had a long and well-established dramatic tradition, as evi­dent in Bharata's Natyasastra and subs­equent Sanskrit plays. If the classical forms fell into disuse, folk varieties and regional entertainment sources like the Jatra in Bengal, continued unabated. Rapid urbanization and growth of a cen­tre like Calcutta with neo-rich and ever­ growing demands for entertainment led to the fruition of the Bengali stage. In brief, it is the outcome of a socio-economic process which evolved in a given historical situation. Whether Jatra became modi­fied or an outlandish concept underwent a change, the result is an amalgam with its own characteristics. Bengali theatre is indeed a story of the native skill adopting and in course of time amply expressing its genius through the medium so adopted. At the beginning, not only proscenium, the stage for drama­tic presentation of plays followed by the western model, but even plays by Shakes­peare or other European dramatists had to be depended upon for inspiration. Sanskrit plays and adaptations were yet another kind of production. Strangely enough, the credit for staging the first play in Bengali goes not to any local talent, but to a traveller of Russian origin, Herasim Lebeuff (1795). His departure from India soon after put an end to such effects. In fact, the real boost came with the rich and enlightened families like the Tagores of Jorasanko, Debs of Sobha­bazar and the Sinhas of Paikpara encour­aged private performances. Dearth of plays in Bengali and the requests from patrons resulted in efforts on the part of a poet like Michael Madhusudan Dutt, already well-known for his poems in blank verse. He wrote plays like Sarunistha and Krishnakumari. Some like Ram­narain Tarkaratna preferred contemporary themes like polygamy. But it was Dina­bandhu Mitra, a Government official, who made his mark with his social plays like Sadhabar Ekadasi, specially with Nil Durpan delineating the atrocities ...

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