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You are here: Index > Culture > Bengali Theatre & Performing Arts


      Apart from cinema, Bengal being a creative center for artistic and intellectual endeavor, has always taken keen interest in the theatrical elements that were found in many localized entertainments in the various districts of West Bengal. Bengali folk-dramas have their roots in the folk drama forms like Kabigan (a dramatic mode of recitation), Kirtan and Baul songs (devotional music), Chhau (a tribal dance-drama), Gajan and Gambhira (ritualistic dances), Jhumur (performing duets), Yatra and Paalaagaan, which were mostly performed in the open grounds of Bengal. These different performing art styles paved the way for professional theatres.

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      Professional Theatres started growing since 1795 and were taken into adulthood by distinguished conductors like D.L.Roy, Girish Ghosh, Sisir Bhaduri, Ardhendu Mushtafi and others. The noble laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore himself acted in the role of Alikbabu, in a theatre of that time.

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      Most plays in this early period were based on the writings of outstanding playwrights. Dramas and plays of distinguished writers like Madhusudan Dutta, Dinabandhu Mitra and Rabindranath Tagore were staged when Girish Ghosh, Sisir Bhaduri, Ardhendu Mushtafi and other stalwarts were carrying Bengali theatre efficiently on their shoulders.

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      Sisir Bhaduri had dominated Bengali theatre since the 1920’s. He gave Bengali theatre a refinement and distinction, splendour and impressiveness, depth and sublimity. A great excitement was created when Dinabandhu Mitra staged Neel Darpan - a drama based on the unjust exploitation of indigo farmers by the British.

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      The major breakthrough in Bengali theatre occurred, however, with Nabanna (the new harvest) written by a communist playwright and actor Bijan Bhattacharya. Bijan Bhattacharya was associated with Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). This association, after coming into being in 1942, was more insistent in bringing a cultural awakening among the people of India.

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      In 1947, after the IPTA stopped functioning, its members dispersed to provide a greater stimulus for a non professional theatre movement called Bahurupee. Ahindra Chowdhuri, Shambhu Mitra and Tripti Mitra were some of the rare talents who belonged to this group. Raktakarabi, Tahar Nam-Ti Ranjana, Char Adhyay (written by Tagore), were some of the earlier productions of Bahurupee.

Tripti Mitra

Tripti Mitra

Shambhu Mitra

Shambhu Mitra

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      Another offshoot of the IPTA was the group led by Utpal Datta and his talented team which put up many famous plays like Tiner Talowar. A career spanning several decades, Utpal Datta had made an indelible mark on contemporary Indian theatre, as an actor, director and playwright. He had written over 60 plays and had also translated plays of Bertolt Brecht and Friedrich Wolf into Bengali. He also made his mark as a film actor in both Bangla and Hindi films.

Utpal Datta

Utpal Datta

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      After Bahurupee there was a meteoric rise of another theatre group called Nandikar, a legendary theatre group based in Calcutta.

      This theatre group started in 1960 under the leadership of Ajitesh Bandopadhyay and it grew under the leadership of Rudraprasad Sengupta, a promoter of Group Theatre Movement in Bengal. Meghnadbadh Kabya, Tin poysar pala, Bhalomanusher meye, are some of their finest productions.

Ajitesh Bandopadhyay

Ajitesh Bandopadhyay

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      Badal Sarkar, another notable theatre personality, had always tried his best to live up to the theatre tradition, which at one point of time was on its death bed. He gave a new direction to the Bengali drama with some of his innovative plays like Evang Indrajit, Baki Itihaas and Sheshnai.

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      Among the countless popular theatre personalities, mention should also be made of illustrious Shaonli Mitra. Shaonli Mitra stands extra ordinary for her outstanding performance in Nathbati Anathbat.

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      Some theatre groups like Swapna Sandhani, Chetana, Sundaram etc. which came to be established very recently, seek to revive the lost heritage of theatre, by re-interpreting and integrating with it, the most significant facts of people's lives in the present epoch. TistaParer Brittanto, a novel by Debesh Roy was staged into a drama by Suman Mukhopadhyay of Chetana group. This drama, being a significant representation of the realities of the present era gained immense popularity.

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      Mime: Mime or mukabhinay, as it is more popularly known in Bengal, is one of the most ancient art forms in theatre.

      This wordless art form conveys a wide variety of expressions. The art of modern pantomime i.e. mukhabhinay was introduced in India in 1956 by a self trained artist, Jogesh Dutta. He established a training institution Jogesh Mime Academy in Kolkata in 1971 for imparting training in mime. One of his students, Niranjan Goswami, also established a training institute in Kolkata known as the Indian Mime Academy.

Mime

Mime

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