Bengali theatre groups in Bengaluru are scripting a story that transcends the confines of language bringing art to the forefront.
It is 6 pm and Bengaluru’s AD Rangamandira is abuzz with a motley group of 200 people who have gathered to watch the slice of life play Bhasan by Bodhisatta Sarkar. The screen parts to show a young girl and lady in animated discussion. “E kemon culture, e kemon ritual ja Maa ke bisarjan dite bole?” (Meaning “what kind of culture, ritual can ask for immersions of mother?”) The girl asks the woman why the idol of Maa Durga is part of the Visarjan Ceremony, especially when we consider her as mother and immersing her in water does not seem right. As the play unfolds a poignant tale of how two communities deal with loss in diagrammatically opposite ways is shown that is sure to tug at your heart strings. Bengali theatre has especially managed to carve a niche for itself in the cosmopolitan city of Bengaluru and these plays are an ode to that sentiment.
ENAD is a theatre group that started its journey in the West in 2000, by a group of theatre enthusiasts who moved to Bengaluru and continued with its passion for delivering high-quality productions. One of the most reputed and well-known theatre groups in the city they have to their credit more than 50 shows and 15 productions, Mitankar Das Sarkar, Secretary, Society for Energizing Performing Arts (SEPAI) says, “Bengali theatre is booming in Bengaluru. Regular workshops, theatre festivals, one act plays, mines, pantomimes conducted by several independent groups doing Bangla theatre has created a niche for itself.” Likewise, SmaranniK that started its journey in 2012 has been consistent in providing popular plays in Bengali that are appreciated by many theatre lovers of the city. Not only being consistent in providing different plays ranging from historic pieces like Nati Binodini to thought-provoking and message-oriented plays like Simantini, Drishtikanya, Sadichha-r Rangbadal and giving a complete different sense of theatre through Smarannik’s most recent play, Sesh Shringo, it has been consistent in hosting festivals where eminent theatre personalities with their popular plays are invited. A new entrant, Ekalavya Performing Arts (EPA) is a theatric space dedicated to a wide range of stagecraft including drama, mime, music, dance and other forms of depiction arts. Established by a bunch of art enthusiasts, EPA has already made its presence felt among the theater-loving community in city’s cultural circle. The modest journey began in 2016 and since then there’s no looking back. “Few of our noteworthy performances include the likes of “Split Mime” – a unique amalgamation of mime alongside visual illusions; pantomimes like “Sonnet of Silence”, “Puppies and the Tree”, “The Lost Childhood”, “Amaar Nazrul”; mimes such as “Pickpocket”, “Paanipuriwala”, “Stone”; and Act like “Arunoday”, “Ratanlal” and Play with mime “Bhasaan” – which have earned widespread admiration and laurels,” says Bodhisatta Sarkar, one of the Founder Members of EPA.
Likewise, mukhOsh a theatre group that was born in Bengaluru in 2005. “We were mainly responsible for creating a space for Bengali theatre in Bengaluru had organized two theatre festivals (“Moitree”) that in 2008 and 2009 that considerably catalyzed Bengali theatre in the city, which now has several active theatre groups,” reminisces Ayan Banerjee who Co-Founded the group. After several of the original members who were doing their PhDs at IISc moved out of the city for further research, the group shifted to Kolkata. The key issue however is lack of funds which makes publicity an issue. “Smarannik has definitely played an important role in changing the taste of the play for the audience of Bengaluru and has let theatre evolve to many folds. People are keen to watch the plays and we often receive requests for the knowledge of upcoming plays or festivals. The quality of the play has developed, even the backstage and different technical aspects for a play have advanced to provide an entire theatrical experience for the audience. As we do not earn from theatre, it becomes impossible for us to provide advertisements in the newspapers about our upcoming events. Social media is the important medium that hosts our events and lets us spread the word,” avers Sayandeb Bhattacharya, Director, SmaranniK.
The spectrum of the audience that comes to see these plays is vast as is the age bracket. Likewise, even language is no barrier as most plays happen in Bengali only. “The plays in whichever language maintains the decorum of the language. Seldom are plays with multilingual touch. Each play tries to preserve the authenticity of the language,” adds Sarkar. Smarannik is one of the only Bengali theatre group here to perform at the prestigious Ranga Shankara auditorium recently. “As a result, we have experienced audience of different languages too, who had shown interest to watch our plays and have been consistent in participating in Smarannik’s events. If you are doing quality work, it can attract any type of audience and of course language does not become a barrier for theatre,” opines Bhattacharya.
Most of the theatre groups are popular both nationally and even internationally. SEPAI recently staged its play “Choloman Osoriri” in Kolkata as a part of the theatre-festival of a Bengal based group Aneek. SEPAI was invited to take part in SOPA in Pune and has conducted theatre fess itself, providing platform for local as well as national theatre groups. Snarannik has travelled to 15 theatre festivals till date, including several International and National Theatre Festivals like Paschim Banga Natyamela, Sayak Theatre Festival, Prachyo International Theatre Festival, Ganga Jamuna Theatre Festival. “As we are doing something new, something unique with mime, a less ventured art form, our performances became popular. We try to convey some social, psychological, emotional messages through simple acts of mime or plays. That is why our performances became popular in very short time. We recently arranged our own theater festival which received a great response from audience,” adds Bodhisatta. Looking ahead the future is certainly in bright hands with newer theatre groups that are coming up.
This story first appeared in The New Indian Express Sunday Magazine dated Mar 1, 2020 here: