The Bengali theatrereflected this very mood. Content with sale proceeds and old ways, it entered an easygoing phase leading to a period of decline. The decline was not immediately evident. Sales rose and playhouses changed hands for higher sums. But before long they became losing ventures and there were frequent changes in ownership. The old stages of Bengal Theatre had a succession of new owners and names. They began suffering losses from about the time Girish Ghosh died and together with plays, cinema shows were being arranged. This was the situation for all the playhouses in West Bengal.
Shift of Ownerships for Kolkata Playhouses in Bengali Theatre From 1912-1921
After Classic wound up in 1906 the new owner ran it for six years after which the theatre was purchased by one Manmohan Pande. Manmohan Theatre, as the owner named the playhouse, opened in August, 1915. Its biggest asset was Girish Ghosh's son, Surendranath Ghosh (Dani Babu), who was then without a rival as a popular actor. He was the last of the old guards except Amritalal Basu.
Minerva Theatre had changed hands in 1905 and then again in 1915. It was here that Girish Ghosh spent his last years appearing for the last time as Karunamoy in his play Balidan on 11th July, 1911. The new owner Upendra Mitra engaged a young playwright actor, Aparesh Mukherjee as the manager besides being the author of the book Rangalave Tris Batsar, which gives by far the best account of Bengali theatre in the first two decades of this century; he was an able manager and coach. He knew the old theatre and worked for it. But he was sensible enough to feel the need for change and when it came, he not only welcomed it but was one of the architects of its success. Aparesh Mukherjee left Minerva in 1918. So did Tara Sundari, his common law wife, then at the height of her fame as an actress. Minerva's fortunes thereafter slumped with brief spells of recovery. A fire destroyed this old playhouse on the night of 18th October, 1922.
Star Theatre had somehow managed, through good times and bad, to retain its reputation of stolid respectability. It owed the reputation in no small measure to Amritalal Mitra whose long association with it is a rare instance of constancy in those days of shifting loyalties. By virtue of his temperate character and demeanour he was able to enforce a measure of discipline and decorum absent elsewhere. Star's fortunes declined after Amritalal Mitra's death in 1908 but they revived when Amarendra Nath Dutta joined it in 1911, this time as lessee with full powers of management.
Decline of Bengali Theatre From 1912-1921
For the Bengali theatre the decade after Girish Ghosh's death was bleak and barren. In fact, the decline had started earlier. Playing safe and reluctant to try out new ideas or experiment, the theatre slowly used up the store of passion that had informed and sustained it for so long. And when it did try to rejuvenate itself, it was by application of further doses of the old medicine, which now aggravated rather than alleviated the ailment.
Change in Mindset Among Audience of Bengali Theatre From 1912-1921
The theatre had not really changed whereas the theatregoer had. Education had spread and a new generation had come up. Even as they flocked to the theatre for momentary sensations the people were becoming tired of old faces and familiar plays. They had lasted too long. As soon as the personalities, around whom the theatre had grown, disappeared from the scene or ran out of ideas and inspiration, the staleness became evident even to the average member of a largely uncritical audience. The money earned had been frittered away. There was no improvement in either the chaotic management or the unsavoury backstage atmosphere. No new playwright worth the name appeared. Aparesh Mukherjee did write a number of Bengali plays but they, like Dwijendra Lal Roy's plays, became popular only later.
In contrast to Bengali literature, drama and acting clung to a past age without a sign of progress in tune with the times. Theatrical acting and the stage leaned on romantic sentimentality and imaginary unreality of the nineteenth century. One saw the gaudy, ornate dresses of kings and princes, the unrestrained exhibition of patriotism and cheap idealism, the ceaseless ranting passing for heroic emotions, the excesses of ululating expressions of grief and desperation in cracked voices amidst a flood of tears shed by the audience and noisy, waves of tasteless ribaldry; all this and the conventional, set pattern of characterisation. The whole thing spread a feeling of inappropriateness, unease and unfamiliarity. It was a regurgitation of dreams of a past unconnected with the present, a pathetic illusion of an unreal world in the garb of everyday happenings. The unreality of the characters was further emphasised by the flamboyant excesses of acting. The barrier- virtually impassable-between the actors on the stage and the spectators in the auditorium was more than a matter of physical distance. There were similar barriers among the actors as well. The heroes and the heroines, captive in their lonely pride of self-importance neither sought nor received any co-operation or reaction from other actors and actresses. The entire approach of the dancers and those doing bit parts was an invitation to lecherous intents of the grossest kind. It was painful for any decent person. To cap it all, the crude remarks, the loud sniggers and the vulgar uproar in the auditorium created a revolting atmosphere of low taste and crudity. It is not without reason therefore that the educated and the refined came to have hatred and feelings of opposition to the theatre.
The Bengali intelligentsia had become contemptuous, the average theatregoer more and more unenthusiastic. The theatre was dying on its feet and it was obvious that unless someone of tremendous vitality and vision appeared, Bengali theatre was heading for a whimpering exit. The odds were heavy against any one person rescuing it from that fate. But rescued it was and by one person.
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