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The Playwright in the World

Sudhanva Deshpande

By Anjum Katyal . Translated by A.N.D. Haksar after Malla
Sage, Delhi, 2015, pp. xxiii 266, Rs. 995.00


Along with Mohan Rakesh, Vijay Tendulkar and Girish Karnad, Badal Sircar was a preeminent playwright who shaped our modern theatre. Ebong Indrajeet (Evam Indrajeet, ‘And Indrajeet’, 1963) and Pagla Ghoda (‘Mad Horse’, 1967) are undisputed classics of the modern Indian stage, translated into several languages and performed across the country. They blazed a trail, and opened new vistas. Badal Sircar was a playwright of great power and technical sophistication. Playwrights and directors we consider masters today— Shombhu Mitra, Girish Karnad, Satyadev Dubey, B.V. Karanth, among others—acknowledged their artistic debt to Badal Sircar. Girish Karnad, for instance, says that he learnt about the fluidity of form from Pagla Ghoda, and Satyadev Dubey says that every play he did after directing Evam Indrajeet had the shadow of this masterpiece on it. And yet, when he was at the peak of his creativity, hailed as a modern master, Badal Sircar quit and went away. He didn’t quit writing, and he didn’t go away from theatre. He quit being a ‘playwright’, and abandoned the urban proscenium stage of psychological realism and the box set, a theatre that showcased the actor and pandered to his ego. As Anjum Katyal documents, a large part of Sircar’s early phase was agonizing about what the playwright was to write. She quotes the literary scholar Sibaji Bandyopadhyay: ‘[It was] obvious to Badal Sircar [that], in order to continue one has to produce original plays. What counted as an original play in Bengali was the question which at one point in his career preoccupied Badal Sircar; as a matter of fact, the question almost consumed him’ (p. 43). One could expand this further. The question which preoccupied Sircar throughout most of his career was how the theatre maker relates to the world. Sircar created what he called the ‘Third Theatre’. This was a theatre that lived and breathed among the common people, that spoke of their lives, that cried their tears and dreamed their dreams. This was theatre for social change. Later, he preferred the term ‘free theatre’ to ‘Third Theatre’. Not only was this term less confrontationist, it was also more accurate. In the early seventies, the world, especially Bengal, was in turmoil, and this is the turmoil Sircar captured with such precision in his third classic, Michhil (Juloos, ‘Procession’, 1972). He had already formed his theatre group Satabdi, in 1967. Sircar and Satabdi performed their plays anywhere— in ...

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