The Bengali theatre was indeed a public outfit that could potentially sway a larger body politic. But under the caveat of the government, most plays thereafter, produced by the commercial theatre companies started to look towards making money. Ostentatious advertisements to attract bigger audiences became commonplace. But this was not really something that happened only after the Act; it was already visible in the way even political plays were advertised before the Dramatic Performances Control Act.
The one word that needs to be noted in the advertisement again, is the word 'national' as a qualifying epithet. The idea of a national character seems to have occurred to Ghosh from the 25 parables about the ancient Hindu king Vikramaditya's symbolic journeys into the supernatural world with an ethereal character (the Vetalpanchavingsati) of the same name.
Ghosh's Betal, as in the tales, is also an a historical character (who is, however, part of a play claimed to be "truly historic"); he weaves in and out of the plot, interacts with all characters with godlike ease, demonstrates all the virtues that the other characters lack and remains unaffected till the end, living out to the hilt the moral message of the play.
This kind of omniscient characterization is not uncommon in Shakespeare or in the Bengali folk theatre form of Jatra, where it is better known as Vivek in Jatra, or conscience. Girish Ghosh could have received the idea from either source, but that is not the point. Many plays from this period, thus, ended with facile invocations of the glory of Mother India, her proud heritage and civilization of which the nineteenth-century Indians (Hindus, to be more specific, since Islam does not recognize idol worship) were worthy heirs.
Addition of the performative element in the staged nationalism of Bengali theatre creates further problem. The physical realization in the theatre of the ideas of nationhood, through bodies performing in public display, reinforced the imagined national self fashioning, giving it the look of palpable reality, of verifiable physical truth, a suggested near-empiricist proof of the discourse. A parallel can be drawn here with the constructed truth that the vastly attended Orientalist "expos", panoramas, museum exhibits, operas and fairs in the West suggested about the Orient, even as they 'produced' it.
(Last Updated on : 30-05-2012)
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