Sunday, 15 May 2011
The Passing Away of a Theatre Legend
“I want to change society and theatre is my tool”:
The Passing Away of a Theatre Legend
Historically there appears to be a need for a third theatre in our country-a flexible, portable, free theatre as a theatre of change, and that is what we are trying to build. This theatre is not an experimentation in form; we have no concern for taking theatre as an such exploration new forms often emerge. The indigenous folk theatre of India, strong, live, immensely loved by the working people of the country, propagates themes that are at best irrelevant to the life of the toiling masses, and at worst back-dated and downright reactionary. The proscenium theatre that the city-bred intelligentsia imported from the West constitutes the second theatre of our country, as it runs parallel to the folk theatre-the first theatre-practically without meeting. This theatre can be and has been used by a section of educated and socially conscious people for propagating socially relevant subjects and progressive values, but it gets money-bound and city-bound, more and more so as costs go on rising, unable to reach the real people. Historically there appears to be a need for a third theatre in our country-a flexible, portable, free theatre as a theatre of change, and that is what we are trying to build. -- Badal Sircar
Badal Sircar (1925-2011) is one of these greatest progenitors of modern Indian drama, but he stands apart from the others by virtue of his own philosophy and practice as a theatre-person. While the plays of his contemporaneous writers offer a veritable mélange of different human emotions and complex relations, his plays are mainly a dispassionate study of the various social forces or social processes that design human predicament at a particular period of time. It is an awe-inspiring image of society and its malign influence on the life of man, that loom large in most of his mature plays.
Sircar’s plays suggest metaphorically the problem of the individual trapped in an ‘unalterable’ and ‘chaotic’ social condition. The drab and moribund canvas of Calcutta city hangs over the characters as a blind and cynical spectator of human drama. The gripping naturalism with which the playwright tears away the Bengali middle class psyche failing to align itself with the main stream of society and wrenches out the protagonists’ solitude, confusion and moral dilemma in a dehumanizing environment, makes his plays at once revolutionary.
During the late 60s and early 70s Sircar made several trips to some European countries and the U.S.A. and Canada and came in contact with some of the theatre-personalities of the West, like Grotowski, Richard Schechner, Julian Beck and so on. As a result, some significant changes were observed in his theatrical output. From now onwards, his plays, instead of conveying the existential crisis of the individual began to deal with the elemental issues like death, starvation, imprisonment, torture – the various social, political, economic or historical factors that conspire against the healthy and normal living of man. Strongly pitted in the current socio-political realism, theatre to him, turned as a potent dramatic device to bring desirable changes in the society. As he proclaims “I want to change the society and the theatre is my tool”. It is a machinery that cannot work in alienation from the mass.
Often reminiscent of Beckett’s Theatre of the Absurd, the plays upholding the concept of Third theatre become a sort of visual montage in an informal set-up. They explore the global facts of economic exploitation, misuse of religion, consumerism, inequality, political surveillance. They often hinge upon the episodes taken from the flux of human life, unattenuated by the tint of glamour or romance, with a constant deliberate attention to the contemporary situation. The characters are no more suffering individuals but symbolic representation of particular classes at a particular period. The relative insignificance or the weakness of women characters and sometimes, the total absence of any character (in the true sense of the term) confirm the plays as more and more issue centric. Each play has a strong social context and highlights the playwright’s disillusioned view of a world that is not conducive to the survival of humanity.
The plays of Badal Sircar are the plays of conscience and conscious sensibilities making poignant statements on human condition at a critical time. They are placed at the frontiers of modern Indian dramatic writing. The father of the Theatre of Involvement or the People’s Theatre in India, Sircar’s plays awaken us to the happenings that afflict mankind everyday but are usually condoned. They also signify a bold departure from commercialism to commitment. In other words, he treats theatre as a live and powerful art capable of transforming the existing system, not merely a medium of entertainment. Not just a playwright, he is a complete theatre person in whom resides a humanist and an indefatigable social activist.
Armed with his ‘weapon’ called ‘theatre’, Badal Sircar continued crusading against the negative forces of the society until his very end.
© Nibir K. Ghosh