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People’s Theatre in The Time of Corona

People’s Theatre in The Time of Corona

The audience

A street theatre festival by three troupes, and a harmonica playing “We Shall Overcome” by a 11-year-old child, brought out the vivacity of a form that the genius of Badal Sarkar had ignited

By Amit Kumar Das

COVID-19. Stuck up at home, or you can call it a medical ‘house arrest’. As it is for al of us anywhere.

COVID-19. House arrest!

So to avoid insanity, I got to pedal my bicycle down the road, with nowhere to go that afternoon. Nowhere in particular. Just like that. Pedalling just to get out of the dulling effects of COVID-19 lockdown.

But as I came about Bibek Sangha in Jadavpur, South Kolkata, I came upon a ‘host of golden daffodils’, as Lord Alfred Tennyson penned the poem… a change from a morose and culturally frozen ‘winter’ to the bright and merry yellow flowers of the arts.

I stopped, because in the compound of the Bibek Sangha club was going on a play.

It was strange. In this COVID lockdown, a group of people were there, enacting a play, sans a proscenium, sans make-up and lights, to entertain common people! Under the open sky, with some tarpaulin sheets to sit on, and some bamboo poles which held a white background sheet.

the scene of a play

That was theatre, right in the middle of a crowd of people!

“A host of golden daffodils”, a spring of culture at the end of a season of morbidity.

It struck me, as I stood the bicycle on its stand, that this is the growing human intimacy in an age when you are asked to maintain ‘social distancing’.

It struck me, as I stood the bicycle on its stand that afternoon in the precincts of Bibek Sangha Club, that this is the theatre that brings us closer to each other. The ‘people’s theatre’, or what is usually termed the Third Theatre.

The theatre that makes smoother human interaction. The theatre that creates a robust ambience of direct dialogue, not soliloquy.

It struck me, as I stood the bicycle on its stand, that to ‘steal’ from Gabriel García Márquez., this is “Love in The Time of Corona”.

The leading light of this theatre form in the country was Badal Sarkar. Early on in the late 1970s, he had moved away from the proscenium to bring theatre to the people, at their own doorstep, on the grass fields, theatre that creates a robust ambience of direct dialogue, not soliloquy

No sets, no props, no extras, nothing. Just theatre. Of the people. For the people. And by the people.

The leading light of this theatre in the country was Badal Sarkar. Early on in the late 1970s, he had moved away from the proscenium to bring theatre to the people, at their own doorstep, on the grass fields, theatre that creates a robust ambience of direct dialogue, not soliloquy.

It was proved during the anti-fascist Resistance Movement of the Second World War that of all the arts, it is theatre that creates a bridge between human hearts.

Its role in engineering social metamorphosis is unparalleled. Whether it be fuelling mass movements, or shaping the highest levels of intellectual pursuits, theatre has played a pivotal role.

And the breakaway from the lofted barriers of the proscenium to bring down theatre to the grass field has endeared it more intimately to the masses, who have returned that dearness in equal measure.

The audience

This is not about theatre as a career, as a livelihood, but about touching people where it pulsates. That is why Angan Manch (literally, Courtyard Theatre) is a philosophy that has reached millions, which the proscenium could not achieve.

And it was Badal Sarkar who scripted this new theatre philosophy.

First, there was his own troupe, “Shatabdi”, but later came “Badal Sarkar Natya Charcha Kendra”, “Pathasena”, “Aayna” “Anya Kantha”, “Brihee”, “Bisarga”, in and around Kolkata, and even “Chorus – Silchar” in Assam.

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They seek to rekindle humanism in the daily lives of people through the medium of theatre.

At a time when time itself has hit a road blockade, and people are petrified about life and livelihood, it is Third Theatre of Badal Sarkar that is rekindling this humanism across the country.

Apart from just posting entertainment to small groups of audiences, this theatre aims to cross the COVID-19 barricade marked by an inhuman concept of ‘social distancing’ to reduce the emotional distancing between people.

The programme at Bibek Sangha on September 27 saw “Swabhav”, “Anya Kantha” “Bisarga” and “Ayna” troupes.

The programme took off with a song by “Swabhav”, followed by Bhool Rastaa by “Anya Kantha”; Koutoby “Bisarga” and Araber Arindara by “Ayana”. But what brought to life the programme was “We shall overcome” the fabled Pete Seegar ‘gospel song’ which became a protest song and a key anthem of the civil rights movement, played on harmonica by the 11-year-old Adway Das.

There is a curious picture of three rickshaw pullers engrossed in the plays, which just proves that the philosophy of Badal Sarkar’s Third Theatre lives on in the hearts and minds of the masses.

 

Amit Kumar Das

Amit Kumar DasAmit hails from the industrial town of Kulti in Barddhaman district and has settled in Kolkata for the past 25 years, He works as an Assistant Director in Tollywood and has for the past decade or so assisting famous Bengali filmmaker Kaushik Ganguly, especially in films like “Apur Panchali” and “Bisharjan”. His passion is acting and writing

 

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