Playwrights in Bengali Theatre From 1930-1944
The plays of Dwijendra Lal Roy, K.P. Vidyabinode, Aparesh Mukherjee and Jogesh Chowdhuri had also begun to wear out. Reliance had to be placed on dramatised versions of novels and stories. The directorial inspiration of Sisir Bhadurihad also begun to flag and the theatre regressed back to a place for actors to show their paces.
The cinema which had by then started talking and singing made matters worse. The silent bioscope had already made inroads into theatre's market. The theatre survived and rode the prolonged crisis, because of two reasons. Firstly, "seeing theatre" had become a habit with the Bengali audiences. Secondly, a number of excellent actors had come to the fore.
Dwijendra Lal Royand K.P. Vidyabinode were contemporaries. By the time the latter died in 1926 only a few of their plays had retained their popularity. Foremost among the playwrights of this period is Manmatha Ray, typical representative of a transitional period. Old ways and conventions co-exist with a new social awareness. For many of his full-length plays he chose episodes from the epics and Indian puranas which would make them mythological plays. But they cannot strictly be so described since he used the stories for contemporary purposes. Manmatha Ray did not belong or attach himself to any theatrical group which partly accounts for his plays not being chosen by the regular theatres. Sachindranath Senguptaand Bidhayak Bhattacharya were more fortunate that way. But then, they also had a better understanding of stage worthiness of plays and a better appreciation of audience reaction.
These were three among many who tried their hands at writing Bengali plays. In fact the thirties and early forties were fairly fertile years if one judged only by numbers. Many plays were written as literary exercises by established poets and novelists. These may not have had any immediate effect on the theatre, but they helped in acquainting the literati with new dramatic forms. The thirties were also the period when some mechanical innovations were made in stagecraft or scenography. One was a stage that revolved and thus allowed quick change of scenes. The so-called wagon stage and new lighting equipment and techniques were also introduced. A new band of popular actors and actresses also came to the fore during this period. But despite these the theatre steadily went downhill.
Dead End of Bengali Theatre From 1930-1944
By mid-forties, Bengali theatre had come to a dead end. The playhouses presented a shabby sight of penury and staleness. It carried on extracting whatever mileage it could out of its capital of mechanical resources, a larger number of plays to choose from and a few popular actors and actresses. But this turned out to be a short run affair. Unable to sense the growing dissatisfaction of the audience, unequal to contend with adverse external factors, uncomprehending about the reality around, un-enterprising and inbred, the theatre eked out a miserable existence drawing on its dwindling capital. It did not even have the imagination to exploit the possibilities of improved stage techniques and the potentialities of actors like Durgadas Bannerjee and Ahindra Chowdhury or an actress like Sm. Prova.
Extraordinarily handsome and with a bewitching voice, Durgadas Bannerjee was an actor to the manner born. As a romantic hero and lover, a type new to Bengali theatre, he was without a rival. He brought to his portrayals a cultivated urbanity and had the capacity to bring off his scenes by measured restraint and the sonorous quality of his voice. He was the first prototype of what later came to be known as a matinee idol.
There were others, Sm. Prova, for instance. She made her mark in the very first production of Sita at Natyamandir. Sisir Bhadurisaid of her that there had not been an actress of her calibre before. Then there were Nirmalendu Lahiri, Jogesh Chowdhuri, Naresh Mitra, Molina Devi, Ranibala and others.
Effect of Hard Times in Bengali Theatre From 1930-1944
The hard times did have one good effect. They forced the theatres to affect some overdue, if marginal, reforms. Performing time was shortened. This enabled the new playwrights to write more compact plays and editing of older plays. The practice of putting different plays on different days was given up. The cost of producing a play had risen and new productions were planned only when a play had run its full course. Another change was the introduction of the matinee show, the immediate cause being the imposition of blackout in the city. In the forties the theatre reverted to the practice of having one mid-week performance on Thursdays. Since then Kolkata has had three theatre days with four performances. These changes, however, were insufficient to cope with the malaise of age and anaemia. The remedy had to be something drastic. Only it came from outside the professional theatre.
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