(GIST OF YOJANA) Bengali Theatre: Defying Colonial Ban

(GIST OF YOJANA) Bengali Theatre: Defying Colonial Ban


Bengali Theatre: Defying Colonial Ban


  • In no time, the Dramatic Performances Act, 1876 was imposed to check the revolutionary impulses of Bengali theatre. Playwrights who wished to attack the colonial rule soon turned to mythological plays to shield their nationalist messages to evade censor’s actions. With the heightening of the ‘Swadeshi’ movement at the turn of the 19th century, Bengali theatre tended to venerate the past more than any time before. It is in this context of fervent patriotic expression in the different art forms from the early days of the twentieth century that we need to review the role of Bengali cinema in reflecting the country’s freedom struggle.


  • In 1795, a Russian linguist and indologist. Gerasim Stepanovich Lebedev started proscenium drama in Calcutta, the then capital of British rule in India. These productions, translations of European plays in Bengali with native actors is arguably considered the pioneer of modem Indian theatre different from our traditional one, derived from Bharata Muni’s Natyashastra.
  • With the heightening of the ‘Swadeshi’ movement at the turn of the 19th century. Bengali theatre tended to venerate the past than any time before. It was Lord more Curzon’s implementation of the partition of Bengal in 1905 which served as fodder to strong nationalist sentiments amongst Bengalis. However, Curzon’s ‘divide and rule’ policy actually angered the Bengalis prior to 1905.
  • In ‘Jatra’, the indigenous folk version of proscenium theatre without walls, the winds of patriotic vigour started flowing freely during that time. The most famous exponent of ‘Jatra’ was Charan Kabi Mukunda Das (original name Yajneshwar De). ‘Jatra’ had always drawn heavily from mythology.
  • After implementing the Dramatic Performance Act in 1876, the British were quick to understand that cinema had a bigger potential to influence public opinion. Expectedly, India’ Cinematograph Act was passed in 1918 during the dying months of World War 1. with effect from 1 August 1920.
  • It is to be remembered that the celebratory ‘Freedom at Midnight’ might have bolstered filmmakers of Bombay and Madras but it meant less for those in Calcutta. There was a general belief that independence is traded in lieu of partition, that the earlier nationalist idealism was some what being vitiated. Incidentally and unfortunately, some of these films faced the wrath of the censor board of an independent nation fearing mass agitation against a nascent government, still trying to tread difficult waters.
  • The tragedy of partition resurfaced in Nemai Ghosh’s Chhinnamul (1950) and later in the films of Ritwik Ghatak. Critically accepted much later, these films were generally not very successful commercially, probably because the audience’s wish was otherwise. The city of Calcutta was teeming with migrants, first from the villages during 1942-43 and then in thousands post-partition from East Bengal. They carried the wounds of separation and the tragedies of trying to be part of a new and somewhat ruthless milieu. The mass psyche wanted a fresh look at identity and so was born the rural-urban couple in Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen. In parallel, a host of comedy films started becoming popular.



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Courtesy: Yojana