For me Calcutta has always been Badal Sircar. And my visits to that city were never complete without my attempting to contact Badalda…a feat I achieved only once and that too at an art gallery.
As I begin to cast my mind back to Badalda, it is 1973 or so. I had recently arrived in Mumbai and got immersed in all theatre activity. I was at an age when theatre workshops were a rarity and a must. We were all Marxists at heart.
In South Bombay, at that time, the USIS, Max Mueller Bhavan, and the NCPA were the only venues for theatre workshops – before the advent of the Experimental or Tata theatre.And within a space of one year we were attending workshops by Richard Schechner and Badal Sircar.
But it was Badal Sircar’s workshop that was the most unconventional. And it gave us such a high. I now began to understand the meaning of ‘third theatre’. No more was the stress on speaking the Queen’s English and enunciating and stage sets and props and costumes. It was all about confidence building and trust among fellow actors.
My fellow participants were Rohini and Jaydev Hatangandy, Bhakti Barve, Chitra and Amol Palekar amongst others. And within half an hour, spurred on by a very unassuming but enthusiastic Badalda, we were shedding all inhibitions with our bodies and movement and phobias of touching and heights. The energy was so high it could have propelled an airplane! Each of us became a propeller, a chugging wheel or a pulley or a grounding piston. And it was an airplane or an engine or a motor car or an industrial machine we were building with our bodies and hand, leg, head movements and voice. It was the first time that I had participated in such a physical workshop….and this was theatre!!!! It enthralled us all.
At the end of the weekend session, I distinctly remember Chitra Palekar enthusing in her inimical style about all of us working on a play together, since each of us exuded so much physical energy and stamina….but it never came to pass.
The very mention of Badalda or a play of his being staged had us converging on the venue. A strong bond of Badalda supporters was established.
He wrote more than fifty plays -- of which Ebong Indrajit, Basi Khabar, Saari Raat, Pagla Ghoda, and Juloos are the few that I have seen performed by many professional and non professional groups… being popular at almost every youth theatre festival. And his technique is adapted by all Street theatre practitioners – the NGOs being its staunch supporters.
A fact I read recently was that Badal Sircar refused to accept the Padma Bhushan twice – once as recently as 2010. When asked why he had accepted the Padma Shri in 1972, he responded: he had accepted the honour in the hope that it would help him further the Third Theatre movement. But that did not happen.
Badal Sircar wrote his first serious play, Evam Indrajit, in 1963. But it was not till April 1985 that I got the opportunity to participate in a play written by him.
Theatre Group was celebrating its 40th anniversary by giving an opportunity to first time directors from among its members. And one of its stalwarts Protap Roy chose to direct EVAM INDRAJIT -- translated by Girish Karnad -- with Vijay Crishna as the protagonist and many others at the beginning of their acting careers. The cast included Anmol Vellani (now of IFA) as the writer; Vikram Kapadia as Amol; Uday Chandra – Kamol; Ranjit Chowdhury – Vimol; Kavita Choudhury as Manasi; and I played Mausi (renamed Didi in this version). I may have had only fifteen lines, but one’s commitment to the problems the play tackled was overwhelming, and what I remember the most was my white cotton saree with a red Bengali border and worn in the most comfortable style with a bunch of keys tied at the end of the seedha-pallav saree..
I resurrected the 1985 Censor copy of Evam Indrajit from my personal collection and discovered how detailed and committed we were – replete with immaculate planning of rehearsal dates, costumes, et al. Needless to say we performed in a proscenium theatre!
And today the words of Badal Sircar delivered by Evam Indrajit ring true: “Age is afraid of joy, of happiness, It only wants comfort.”
Badalda lit a spark in every theatre practitioner’s heart and mind. And he will always be remembered -- like Shakespeare – for wanting theatre to reach the masses.