Theatre in Kolkata has been struggling of late. The golden age of theatre is indeed no more. But efforts in the last few years have provided a lot of hope for everybody involved with theatre – actors, directors, stage technicians, theatre-goers, everybody. A slow but sure revival is on the way.
The Star Theatre was taken over by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) a few years back. Under the supervision of Higher Education Minister Bratya Basu, one of the prominent theatre personalities of Kolkata, KMC formed a special committee to look after the more-than-a-century-old theatre hall in Kolkata. The committee consists of prominent personalities like film-maker Haranath Chakraborty, theatre artist Arpita Ghose and others. Apart from Star, the panel is also looking after the resurgence of eight other theatres including Sarat Sadan, Birendra Mancha, Uttam Mancha, Ahindra Mancha, Surya Sen Mancha, Mohit Moitra Mancha, etc. Built in 1883 on Beadon Street in the northern part of the city, it later moved to Bidhan Sarani, where it stands today. Star Theatre still enjoys the supremacy of being one of the first institutions of commercial Bengali theatre.
Another commendable effort was the re-composition of the Minerva Repertory Theatre. A new set of actors have been appointed, after the contracts of the earlier actors lapsed. Twenty proficient actors were selected on the basis of a series of workshops. Their pay has been increased as well. Bratya Basu has played a leading part in this too. He is the chairman of the repertory trust. Since its inception in 2010, the Minerva Repertory Theatre has produced three popular plays – Raja Lear (Soumitra Chatterjee played the king), Debi Sarpamosta and Chandragupta. All played to full houses. The new batch of actors is the repertory's second. The first batch, recruited in 2010, had a one-year tenure, which was extended by two years in 2011.
Soumitra Chatterjee as King Lear in Raja Lear
The latest repertory theatre to be set up is the one at Mohit Moitra Mancha on Raja Manindra Road. It is being set up under the aegis of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC). According to mayoral council member, Debasish Kumar, whose department is responsible for setting up the repertory, KMC owns eight theatres (including Mohit Moitra Mancha) and so it is natural that KMC should do something for the betterment of theatre. The initiative would benefit all theatres in the state as any group could stage plays here. Applications were invited from groups which wanted to run the repertory, to which eight groups responded. Noted playwright Manoj Mitra shortlisted three applicants. For the first year, a Kolkata-based group would be given the responsibility of running the theatre repertory. Mohit Moitra Mancha has two auditoria. Plays can be staged at the bigger one, whereas the smaller one can be used for rehearsals. Kumar said that 52 shows can be staged at the bigger auditorium every year. On days when plays are not staged, the hall would be rented out for other purposes. There is also space for parking. Rs 15-20 lakh would be spent per year to run the place.
Bibhas Chakraborty at the rehearsal of Chhoto Chhoto Bari in Mohit Moitra Mancha
To revive the interest in theatre and to engage more people in the watching of theatre, a website was launched recently, named www.bengalitheatre.com. The website was inaugurated by veteran actors Chinmoy Roy and Kheyali Dastidar. The website is an initiative of Golven Signature. Theatre in Bengal had been popular at least for the last two hundred years and this effort of Golven Signature plans to bring back the charm associated with theatre. Abhishek Chowdhury, the promoter of Golven Signature said, “With the advent of serials and cinema, theatre-viewing has taken a back seat. With the help of this website, we will be able to keep the Bengali audience updated about the theatre happenings. From details of actors, actresses, directors to reviews of theatres to places where the shows are staged, everything will be made available in this website. This will be an all-in-one portal for the theatre loving audience.”
Chinmoy Roy and Kheyali Dastidar launching www.bengalitheatre.com
A recent happy event has been the completion of 40 years by the noted theatre group, Sayak. The Kolkata-based group, founded by Meghnad Bhattacharya, celebrated its 40th birthday last November with a retrospective festival of some its famous plays. The brainchild of 11 dedicated theatre workers that saw the light of day on December 2, 1973, its survival in the minds of an audience in a world flush with cinema, television and the Internet, has been no simple task. But survived it has, and how!
Meghnad Bhattacharya, founder of Sayak
Better days to come
These and other initiatives efforts are trying to revive theatre and bring back audiences. After all, nothing can engage audiences better as a live show like theatre can. Audience for theatre has definitely decreased but honest efforts are being made to reverse the trend. And according to people connected with theatre, things are beginning to look up. Many more initiatives and efforts by various individuals and groups, as well as the state government, are in the pipeline. This might very well be the beginning of another successful era.