He drew theatre out form the confines of the folk
and the urban styles and into the Third Theatre exposing us
to an unconventional theatrical dimension of free theatre, courtyard
productions and village theatre.
Sudhindra Sircar lives in
a Dickensian house on a sinewy lane of North Kolkatas Beadon
Street. Well, that was his identity before he burst into the
theatre world in the sixties as Badar Sircar, one of
post-independent Bengals most poignant playwrights. Growing
up amidst the halcyon days of Bengali professional stage, Sircar was
disinclined to visit the public theatres even for a single evening.
Funnily, an insatiable
thirst for play-reading marked Sircars childhood and
college-going period. People normally read novels and short
stories and watch plays. I relished reading dramas. Studying in the
Bengali medium Scottish Church Collegiate school, it was naturally
Bengali compositions to begin with. But, as the familys stock
of Bengali plays ran out, I thought of teaching myself a bit of
English. I was delighted to be introduced by my mother (Sarala Mona
Sircar) to grandmothers (Virgina Mary Nandy) collection of
western literature. Grandma, incidentally, was amongst Indias
first lady physicians and very well read, he relates. Few may
be aware of Sircars Christian lineage. I dont
profess any religion, of course, he avers.
Together with background
details like his father (Mahendra Lal Sircar) holding a history
professors chair at the Scottish Church College, one gains
insight into Sircars theatrical sensibilities and his introvert
nature as he dwells on his youth. I shied away from stage
shows, but, was addicted to the weekly radio plays. We had crystal
radio sets in those years. And only two could listen to the
broadcasts through headphones by turns, he says with a laught.
suddenly lights up as he recounts the first drama he had directed
and acted in. The venue was this very from where we sit and
chat. During the holidays, in 1941, I had adapted Cinderella
from my sisters textbook and enacted it, with cousins and
friends, before a family gathering. Casting myself in the plum male
role. Rarely, can a theatre personality claim the distinction of
beginning as playwright, director and principal actor, he
observes in jest.
His exploration of
western drama began with Bernard Shaw. Shaw was an instant
favourite. I ran through most of his plays by the time I was in
college Shibpurs Bengal Engineering College. I scraped
through to quality as a civil engineer but was terribly frustrated in
the process. In deference to conventions, the family dreamt of me as
a doctor or engineer, he says.
However, BE College may
have subconsciously honed the playwright in Sircar. He voraciously
lapped up Moliere, Sheridan and Eugene O Neill. Couldnt
put my teeth into Shakespeare till then. I was irresistibly drawn to
the humour of Shaw and Moliere and ONeills grimness,
says Sircar introspectively.
Even since he took up his
first civil engineers employment in 1947 with a private
construction company in a desolate village near Nagpur, Badal Sircar
was restless. Between 1947-53, he had thrown up the construction job
in desperation. Wrapped up two civil engineering
lectureships in Kolkata. A protracted one at Jadavpur University.
Become devoutly involved in Left politics. In turn,
severed ties with his political commitments, partly in
disillusionment. Finished a two-year town planning course from
BE College. And, at long last, fallen in love with an
Reminisces Sircar, Time,
still, wasnt ripe for active theatre. Not counting on
occasional show with para (local) friends. It was tough going,
financially. I had rented a small flat in central Kolkatas
Entally area with my wife and two children. There were no avenues for
town planners at that time. And a teachers salary from Jadavpur
University was paltry. Nevertheless, his inner churnings were
silently drawing Sircar into a sphere he had not wittingly aimed for.
By 1956, he had adapted
his first short play, Solution X. And a year later, set out
alone for London. I left my family at the ancestral house on
Beadon Street, promising a Rs.150/- monthly remittance. My boats at
home were burnt and there was every likelihood of getting stranded in
London. Luckily, an admission into London Universitys town
planning faculty helped me cross the preliminary hurdle of foreign
exchange restrictions, says Sircar.
England was not the rough
seas he had feared. A year with a civil engineering firm was followed
by a town planning assignment which I always longed for.
Soon, Sircar was sucked into Londons bubbling cultural
cauldron. Parallel to viewing a spate of movies at a film club
(including Buster Keaton and the silent era), Badal
Sircars mind feverishly sponged the richness of British stage.
on shoe-string budgets could still buy the cheapest seats, he
says with a smile. It was quite a feeling coming face to face
with theatre greats- Vivian Leigh and Charles Laughton, amongst
others, live on stage. Londons where I cam across a Theatre
in the round. An arena version of Racines (19th
century French playwright) Phaedre, with the unforgettable
Margaret Rawlins in the lead, he adds. Retrospectively, London
could have finally awakened the dormant dramatist in him. Before
leaving the shores of the British Isles in 1959, Badal Sircar had
penned a full-fledged original play. The comic, Baropishima.
Four years in Kolkata. A
nine-months Paris interlude on a French government town-planning
scholarship. Then, proceeding for a three-year stint, as town-planner
to Enugu (East Nigeria). My happiest period, professionally,
he says. Badal Sircar, the playwright, had far outstripped he
engineer, Sudhindra Sircar.
Cultural Club in Kolkata, intermittently pieced together theatre
productions while plays flowed from his pen as though they were long
bottled up. Comedies, punctuated by the shattering Ebong Indrajit
written in Kolkata. Melting into a spate of intensely gripping plays
through the French and Nigerian sojourns. Shaw, Moliere and ONeill
were now inseparable facets of Badal Sircars creative being.
In France, my mind
was made up. I would devote my energies totally to theatre when I
returned to Kolkata. Although, a strong attachment with town planning
lingered. Conscious of my five jobless months after the London trip,
I decided to stretch my work plans abroad and save money. Sadly my
ambitions were somewhat thwarted. East Nigerias (present day
Biafra) secession cut loose a warlike climate, compelling me to put
my family on the flight back. In fact, when I fled across the Niger
Bridge in a cab carrying a suitcase and a list-minute bag containing
my plays, I had escaped the Nigerian war by a whisker, exclaims
Ebong Indrajit had
hit Kolkatas stage circuit. With devastating effect. Launching
his theatre group, Satabdi, in 1967, Badal Sircar plunged into drama
production. Meanwhile, he had rejoined the Kolkata Corporation.
Working intensively within the proscenium form up to the early 70s,
Sircar ceaselessly turned out a string of original plays. Farce,
nonsense, existentialist, comedies.
He comments, My
plays are never naturalistic. Invariably too, they deal with a human
situation or problem. I realized long ago that I wasnt cut out
to be a novelist. Writers can analyze individual human beings from a
point of detachment. I havent looked at life that way.
A transformation overcame
Sircar in 1971. I felt we theatre practitioners were
irrationally locked in a race with cinema. Besides, I was
disenchanted with proscenium structures. But, the living art of
theater egged me on to hunt for distinctness, he says. Even
after two decades, Racines Phaedre and Frances
permanent theatre in the round seemed to haunt Badal
Sircar. Thus emanated the lecture-hall performances and
weekend angan (courtyard) mancha productions in a 30
feet by 28 feet room within the Academy of Fine Arts. Using
normal room lights. Devoid of props and costumes. Performing not just
in front of our viewers. But, all round them. Aptly sharing space
with them, describes Sircar.
On a Saturday afternoon
in 1973 at Curzon Park, opposite the Governors House, Badal
Sircar and Satabdi exposed Kolkatans to an unconventional
theatrical dimension. Free theatre. No tickets, government
grants, industrial sponsors and wealthy patrons, he
underscores. Around 1974-75, Sircars treatise Third Theatre,
appeared in bookstalls. His publishers may not have gauged the
runaway success of an off the beaten track publication. Three
editions were sold out. Third Theatre had come to stay. Explains
Sircar, I had not intended labeling our activity. Theatre
broadly branches into folk and urban styles. I was merely, therefore,
identifying an untested form. However, the phrase has stuck on.
In 1977, approaching
fifty-two, Badal Sircar shed the last vestige of a town-planners
preoccupations snapping links with the West Bengal
comprehensive Area Development Corporation. My needs had
narrowed, he says. Subtly summing up a crucial decision.
March 1985- Sircar and
seventy of his Third Theatre compatriots crossed into an unvisited
zone. Village theatre. Parikarma (The Walk) has traveled for
seven years. Embracing numerous impoverished pockets dotting Nadia,
24 Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah belts. The credit for this
concept goes to a colleagues in the Angan Theater Group,
acknowledges Sircar. Having discovered the strength of our
medium, there was little reason to box ourselves in. Often, we
act for free. Subsidizing train fare, when they cant reimburse
even such meager expenses. Voluntary donations come in with local
bodies taking the initiative.
response, according to Sircar, was overwhelming. Yes, some
dramas could be complex for a countryside milieu. Sometimes, their
unconditioned minds reveal interpretations which are extremely valid.
Villagers may be illiterate and undernourished but they posses the
intelligence to comprehend art.
What sets Third Theatre
apart visually and conceptually? The intimacy of sharing an
experience with the audience. Free play of imagination.
Manifestations through symbolic costumes. Freedom to perform within
the arena format. And the element of body language. Immense
possibilities surface when the body relates to ones
consciousness, emotions and knowledge, illuminates Sircar. The
Third Theatre innovations have kept expanding.
Close to fifty original
plays and adaptations have found expression in the countrys
major languages, and in England and German. A tributary anthology
which places Sircar and three other dramatists Mohan Rakesh,
Vijay Tendulkar and Girish Karnad at the frontiers of modern
Indian play writing.
Yet, the man has veered
away from the glitz realm of performing arts. Trading the rights of
just that odd play or two with television producers. You cant
believe in something and turn a blind eye to it in the same breath,
expresses Sircar. He continues, Writing plays is not a paying
occupation in our country. In the West, a playwright turns a
millionaire if one of his dramas is a hit on West End or Broadway.