Bengal has always been known for its inclination towards cultural and literary practices. It seems poetry and theater is in the DNA of Bengalis. In the early years of 19th century Bengal saw the evolution of theater and stage acts in their modern form. Though to some extent similar practices existed even before, it was only after the onset of the British Raj that Bengali theater gained popularity as a form of mass entertainment.
Though during the first half of the 19th century theater largely remained confined within the courtyards of Babus, the second half was completely different. The legend of the stage and the main brain behind today’s Star Theater Girish Chandra Ghosh revolutionized Bengali theater once and for all. He took theater to the middle of the masses and made it a tool of public education and awareness. However, during Ghosh’s time the sole essence of theater was a lot different than what it is now.
During the early part of the 20th century, Bengal’s theater stages emerged as the platform to voice dissent against the imperial rule. It gained impetus in the closing years of British rule in India when theaters and became synonymous with life. Many critics refer to the staging of Nabanna written by Bijon Bhattacharya in 1944 as the birth of the Group Theater culture in Bengal. In fact, Nabanna was an exact picture of the social upheaval that Bengal was going through at that time due to the notorious Bengal famine of 1943.
In the post independence period Bengali theater performances started taking a clear political shape with a view to propagate a certain political idea. During the entire 50’s, 60’s and 70’s figures like Sambhu Mitra, Tripti Mitra, Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay, Utpal Dutta and Kumar Roy ruled the stages producing, directing and acting in one after another groundbreaking plays that principally focused on the life of a common man. Tagore has always been a favorite of Bengali theater personalities and all of his plays have been staged more than once and from different perspectives.
Sambhu Mitra founded Bohurupee theater group soon after independence and then in 1960 Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay founded Nandikar. Both the groups are still very much relevant in Bengal’s theatre. With the passage of time the old stalwarts gave way to budding talents. Now, Bengali theater personalities include people like Rudraprasad Sengupta, Bibhas Chalraborty, Usha Ganguly, Kaushik Sen, Debshankar Halder, Gautam Halder, Debesh Roy, Chandan Sen and many other promising figures. Many say that the golden age of Bengali theater is gone, but theater is so intricately woven with Bengali culture that Bengal without theater is impossible.
The Author is a Groomer who has trained many a actors for roles in Theaters and Films