Bengali theatre was initially developed and rather originated as a revolt against the constant autocracy of the administration of British Empire. Regional theatricality in the eastern region manifested with the unfurling of Bengali drama. However as art takes on its course, it later became a major form of art among the people of Bengal. Theatre in Indian under British rule, sowed the seed of contemporaneousness which, gained a rather articulate contour in the hands of the famous theatre personalities if West Bengal like; Girish Ghosh, Bonodini Dasi, Badal Sircar and so on The aim was then to make the mass aware of the then socio political scenario. Quite ideally therefore the playwrights, director and even the actors in Bengali theatre with their unparallel contribution illustrated the colonial fragrance in perhaps the right way. That was the beginning of the journey. It was much later the overall concept of Bengali Theatre as a representation of the age-old British colonialism gradually faded away and theatre became lot more naturalistic. The concept of mirroring the unedited realities of life became so popular within a short span of time that a whole new conception of Realistic theatre in Bengali took place.
Bengali plays have a direct connection with Jatras as in the initial days Bengali plays were influenced by the folk plays acted on the open stage. Religion, myths, tradition and customs then were the core theme of the Bengali plays. Bengali plays witnessed a massive change during and after the independence of India. Bahurupi culture in West Bengal also helped in promoting this performing art in a major way. Blessed with its rich heritage, the history of Bengali theatre is the saga of the journey of theatre in Bengal. Started as a naive effort in 1779, Bengali theatre, gradually gained a remarkable dimension whilst sowing the seed of contemporaneousness in Indian drama or theatre. The year was 1795 and it was for the very first time the then intelligentsias of Kolkata witnessed Bengali theatre as the Russian dramatist Horasim Lebedev along with a Bengali theatre connoisseur Goloknath Das staged the Bengali translations of two English comedies, "Disguise" and "Love Is the Best Doctor" in Kolkata. That was the time since when Bengali theatre started its journey. With few unstable steps and later with long strides it was with time, Bengali theatre gained a redefined dimension. By the year 1831 Bengali theatre became a whole new art form to mirror the then Bengal amidst its artistry.
The start of modern Indian theatre can be sketched to constructing of Calcutta Theatre in 1779. In the year 1795, Horasim Lebedev, a Russian dramatist, along with Goloknath Das, a Bengali theatre lover, staged the Bangle translation of two English comedies "Disguise" and "Love is the best doctor" in Kolkata. In 1831, Prasanna Kumar Thankur, set up "Hindu Rangamanch" at Kolkata and also staged Wilson's English translation of Bhavabhuti's Sanskrit Theatre "Uttar Ramachiritan" laying the groundwork for modern theatre in India. Other essential efforts on Bengali theatre scene include Jorasanko Natyashala (1854), private theatre stage by Ramsay Basak and Ashutosh Deb (1857), Vidyotshini Mancha (1857), Metropolitan Theatre (1859), Shobhabazar Private Theatrical Society (1865), Bagbazar Amateur Theatre (1868) and Bahubazar Natyashala (1866).
Another rich theatre in the eastern zone is the Assamese Theatre. Assamese theatre boasts of rich and valuable history. There are various types of Assamese theatre which has been composed by reformers of Vaishnava like Madhavadeva and Sankaradeva that have been successfully staged in community halls known as "nam-ghar". There are many modes of performance like Bhaoriya, Dhuliya, and Oja-Pali. Assamese theatre, which first appeared in Guwahati, drew all its initial ingredients from the theatre of western mould with proscenium stage and Anglo-European dramatic structure. This was the forty nine years after the annexation of the state of Assam. The education and exposure to Bengali theatre at Kolkata, during higher studies, inspired many students from new generation into Assamese. This wave occurred in the 19th century and also motivated the youth to make theatre in Assamese language, which became famous instantly and moved entire state of Assam.
The initial years witnessed the growth of Assamese theatre in a grand way, performances in Assamese theatre were held on a temporarily erected stage. Permanent structures came up in the 1890s and with the onset of second decade of 20th century, all sub divisional towns and districts, including semi urban places, had at least one theatre. However, it was neither daily, nor weekly, nor even monthly fare.
Generally plays are performed during important occasions or festivals or just for pleasure of putting up a show. Till this day, apart from the recent touring repertory companies known as Bhramyaman Mancha i.e. "mobile theatre", no group performs daily or weekly on a regular basis. This occurred in spite of the fact that, previously, people made unsuccessful attempts. Yet, there are shows that take place daily, in cultural capital, Guwahati, by one group or the other.
Era of modern social theatre in Assam dawned upon from the year1950. Plays related to social issues were written before 1947, but the number was low. Mostly, playwrights concentrated on, issues related to national awakening and reform against the British rule in India. After India gained independence, playwrights extended their creative horizon into political problems, class struggle, the caste system, conflict between generations, erosion of values, communal tensions, enmity between tribal and non-tribal, unemployment, disintegration of the joint family, hopes and frustrations of the middle class, and individual psychological conflicts. All of the subjects were very modern and contemporary.
One-act play or drama holds a special position in Assamese theatre, and post mid-1950s, actors, writers and playwrights felt attracted to it. It gained immense popularity, during the 1960s, and even overshadowed full-length plays. The modern Assamese theatre also saw the induction of females for plays and acting. They started performing alongside men. The expression for the first phase in theatre after the independence of India mainly dealt with naturalism. Slowly, as the contact established and popularized with the neo-modern playwrights from the rest of India as well as classics by Gogol, Gorky, Ibsen, Chekhov, Sartre, Beckett, Camus, Brecht and Ionesco, novelty in form and content became distinctly visible in the work of Arun Sarma and some more. The current act, in keeping with rest of nation, is to use local folk and traditional forms. The interface of theatre with cinema has also created some star performers, notably Phani Sarma, and creative directors like Dulal Roy etc.
(Last Updated on : 31-07-2013)
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