English Theatre: dead in Patna?

PATNA: A local daily in Patna asked the question. The last known public performance by an indigenous group was in 1982, though the British Library did conduct a few performances in the 1990s, with visiting troupes.

The last full-length play in English by any theatre group was staged in Patna 31 years ago – in May 1982, at the Bharatiya Nritya Kala Mandir. It was Joe Orton’s ‘Loot’, enacted by ‘The Harlequin Theatre Workshop’ which was a group of young academics and professionals, according to The Times of India.

Harlequin members included Shanker Dutt, now Sangeet Natak Academy chairman and  Professor of English in the Patna University, and his wife Prof Muniba Sami. “We would pay the expenses on the shows from our own pockets,” Dutt recalled.

Dutt ascribed the death of English theatre in Patna to the arrival of television in the city coinciding with the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982. People began to opt for entertainment inside their homes instead of spending money on theatre. The university students are now career oriented and limit themselves to the text books. There has also been decline in the number of English-speaking students in the city, he said.

Jesuit priest Father Haas formed a society in 1967 and used to organize ‘All Patna One-Act Play Festival’ every year. Later, Annie Mukhopadhyay, mother of noted orthopaedic surgeon John Mukhopadhyay, took charge of the society. “We used to participate in those festivals. Mahashweta Ghosh, current HoD of English in Patna College, and I later started an amateur group called ‘The Play Doers’ in late 1960s,”said Prof Sami.

She said Shanker and she along with their friends later started ‘The Harlequins Theatre Workshop’, which was initially named ‘The Harlequins’ as it was not into training artists then. “Patna was then abuzz with theatre activities sans hooliganism,” she said.

Saikat Bhattacharya, another member of ‘The Harlequins Theatre Workshop’, who is now a senior official at an investment company in Bengaluru, recalled “Those were the most wonderful days of my life and the crowds those days were good. It always used to be full house.” After performance, the cast used to hang out together, Saikat said.

The All India Anglo Indian Association carried on the tradition of school one-act plays for some time but now this hasn’t been held of late.

Hindi playwright Hrishikesh Sulabh too lamented that after Sami and her friends’ initiative, no theatre group took the initiative to keep alive the tradition of English plays. “Plays in English these days are confined to schools in the city. Though few college students still organize one-act plays, they do it on a small scale,” he said.

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Posted by on September 11, 2013. Filed under Bengal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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