The legendary playwright and director, who revolutionalised Indian theatre with his lucid scripts with sharp direct political analysis and with a newer and simple form that made theatre close to the reality of the audience, passes away at his Kolkota home yesterday night. My salutations to the great inspiration, who vigorously propounded the alternative theatre, political in its form content and aesthetics, a direct and transparent theatre, that link the audience with the performance.
His plays including Evam indrajith, Michil, Pagla Ghoda Stale news, Saaari raat etc was questioning the integrity and honesty of the establishment and revealed the very base of hypocrisy on which the existing social structure is built upon. He related the incidents and characters to the day to day experiences of an average Indian and at the same time was analysing them in a universal perspective, as a continuation of history everywhere, the history of class conflicts and struggles. He was searching the human being as a continuum along ages, and surveyed the colonial history of India to discuss the current problems of the Kolkota youth. Thus he was specific at one level and at the same time was reading the political history of mankind as a continuum that made plays relevant and meaningful.
Badal Sarkar was born in Calcutta, studied civil engineering and a Master in comparative literature, started his career as a town planner in India, England and Nigeria. But his love was theatre and he started as an actor, moved to direction, but soon started writing plays, starting with comedies. His two year stay in London, acquainted him with the theatre of London especially the left theatre of people like Joan Littlewood, Anthony Serchio, and also the experiments in form by Richard Schechner and Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski. We can see that the works of Badal Sircar was derived from the special utility of space and loose placid style of Schechner, the physical theatre of Growtovsky who focused theatre on the body of the actor in concept and practices of ‘poor theatre’. Thus with the focus on physical theatre, a space out of proscenium, a loosely knitted structure, clear political understanding and analysis, a theatre which is closer to the lower middle class, linking history to the contemporary reality, he formulated his ‘Third theatre’ . These characteristics were very new in Indian theatre and differentiate the works of Badal from his contemporaries like Sombhu Mitra, Utpal Dutt, Mohan Rakesh, Girish Karnad, and Vijay Tendulkar. His angst-ridden Evam Indrajit (And Indrajit), written in 1963, first published and performed in 1965, a play on the "the loneliness of post-Independence urban youth with dismaying accuracy" became a landmark play in Indian theatre.
He started his acting career in 1951, when he acted in his own play, Bara Trishna, performed by Chakra, a theatre group. In 1967, he formed "Shatabdi" theatre group, and the first production he directed was Ebang Indrajit in 1967, a play about three people - Amal, Bimal, Kamal and a loner Indrajit.
Taking theatre out of the proscenium into public arena, he evolved the angan manch (courtyard stage) inspired by the direct communication techniques of Jatra rural theatre form. "Third Theatre", in form and principle, was a protest against prevalent commercial theatre establishment. Often performed in "found" spaces rather than rented theatre halls, without elaborate lighting, costumes or make-up, where audience was no longer passive but participatory, added a new realism to contemporary dramaturgy. At the same time retaining thematic sophistication of social committed theatre, he started a new wave of experimental theatre in Indian theatre. Starting with Sagina Mahato, which marked his advent into arena stage, the subsequent plays, Michhil (Juloos), Bhoma, Basi Khobor, Spartacus, etc. were performed in parks, street corners and remote villages with the audience sitting all around.
In 1976, "Satabdi", started performing at Surendranath Park (then Curzon Park) Kolkata on weekends; these open-air and free performances lead to his troupe travelling to nearby villages on other weekends, where it employed minimal props and improvised dialogues to involve audience further into the performance.
He broke the barriers between performers and spectators. According to him theatre must be a collective exercise to awaken and enhance the social consciousness of participants, including the viewers.
The plays like Baaki Itihaash (Remaining History) (1965), Pralap (Delirium) (1966), Tringsha Shatabdi (Thirtieth Century) (1966), Pagla Ghoda (Mad Horse) (1967), Shesh Naai (There's No End) (1969), all were performed by Sombhu Mitra's Bohurupee group.
He is one director and playwright who had a great impact in contemporary Indian theatre, almost a fanfare among theatre enthusiasts all over India, people travelling to Kolkota to meet Badalda, and do workshops with him, study his theatre, techniques that made the politics of the play crystal clear, and travelled back with increased energy and conviction about what India theatre should be. Many theatre activists like Probir Guha (Bengal), Balwant Thakur (jammu) etc, inspired by his work in form, content and political ideology expound their theatre and take his legacy beyond and forward.
I remember that it is the play “Theruvujadha” performed by Gramavedi Vallarpadam Kochi (1987) an adaptation of his Michil, launched me as a director of theatre. It is this play which was performed more than 300 times all over Kerala from cities to rural interiors placed me strongly in the theatre scenario of Kerala.
I remember the late eighties in Kerala were almost teeming with Badal Sircar and his theatre. Productions including Bhoma (Jose Chiramel), Evam Indrajith (Babu Aluva), Stale news (Paulson Thannikkal ) Beyond Hattamala (Surjith) etc was performed many times successfully.
Sircar directed his last play in 2003, and after that his movements were restricted after a road accident, but even many years in 2011, he continued performing at play readings and writing new works like adapting, William Shakespeare's Macbeth, two stories by Graham Greene and a novel, History of Love. According to him, reading plays is another way of reaching out to the audience, especially younger ones.
He was diagnosed with colon cancer in April 2011. He died on 13th May at Kolkata at the age of 85.
He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1972, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1968 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship- Ratna Sadsya, the highest honour in the performing arts by Govt. of India, in 1997.
The playwright was honoured with the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award for lifetime achievement for 40 years of creative contribution to the country's contemporary theatre movement.
The first Ammannur Puraskaram, instituted by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi to honour leading theatre personalities at the national level for their lifetime achievement, in the memory of the late maestro of Kutiyattam, Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, was given to Badal Sircar on the inaugural day of Itfok 2010, the International theatre Festival of Kerala at Trchur on December 22nd 2010, and that was his last visit to Kerala.
When theatre goes more frenzied about the art craft and technique, gets more apolitical, and becoming ornamental and out of substance, the writings of Badal Sircar remains to re-educate the Indian theatre aspirant.