From the Culture Monks archives – a tribute to Badal Sircar in 2016, including excerpts of Badal Sircar’s letter to Richard Schechner, dated November 23, 1981, (published in The Drama Review: Vol. 26, No. 2, Intercultural Performance (Summer, 1982)

Theatre Adda – Park Street Sessions, celebrates Badal Sircar’s 91st birthday through a performance by Parnab Mukherjee and Janardan Ghosh, both eminent theatre practitioners and performers, who have worked closely with Badal Sircar

Culture Monks, Best of Kolkata Campus in collaboration with Drishya presents REMEMBERING THE THIRD ANGULARITY in a performance tribute to Badal Sircar 90 (July 15, 1925-May 13, 2011).

The performance is titled FRACTALS: which is an installation theatre performance dedicated to 50 years of Ebong Indrajit

Seed text: Badal Sircar’s Bhul Rasta (Your Path Wrong Path) and Beej (Grain of Life)
Additional text: Ajit Narayan Basu and Anup Dhar
Photo of Badalda and Chandralekha: Sadanand Menon
Video essay, curation and dramaturgy: Parnab Mukherjee
Storytelling, text and silence exploration: Janardan Ghosh
Installation: Baishampayan Saha, Gautam Bajoria and Sanhat Haldar

Other Details

Venue : Alliance Francaise du Bengale, Park Mansions, Park Street, Kolkata
Date : July 15 , 2016
Time : 6:45 pm onwards
Entry is free and open to all.
Please call 8697919308 for any assistance.

Curator’s Note:

The possibility of the annihilation of all life on earth through a nuclear war influenced his world-view. The Bomb with all its destructive capabilities became an integral part of his artistic vision. He said, “Nowadays many of my plays, one after the other, have mentioned the atom bomb. Ebong Indrajit, Baki Itihas, Porey Konodin, Pralaap. And of course that’s totally true of Hiroshima Chhariye … The more mentions about this issue the better, is how I feel.’’

Critic and author Sibaji Bandopadhyay, quoted on the same in Anjum Katyal’s book (page 221), declares, “[Badal-da’s] Baki Itihas (1965), Porey Konodin(1966), Tringsha Satabdi (1966) are three full-fledged instances of mature nuclear criticism. The memory of Hiroshima Day and the terrifying apocalypse which would “not only be the final and fullest extension of every cruelty and viciousness but also the annihilation of every possibility of justification or condemnation’ haunts many of Badal Sircar’s plays, e.g. Bagh (1965) and Pralaap (1966).”

Partha Chatterjee in Fountain Ink

Fragmented landscape, post-cold war politics of nuclear power, Jadugoda, the uranium politics, lost voices, stolen voices, a man fighting in Sunderbans to save the grass from radiation images of life and death recur play itself out…as the arms race gathers momentum What would Hamlet do in such a landscape? The play looks at the hard questions of the balance of power in a world dominated by the power tilt.

Born in 1925, Badal Sircar has been the recipient of several national awards and honours including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Padma Shree, Kalidas Samman, Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship, and Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship.

Our production which is a tribute to Badal Sircar looks at some of his key concerns. While writing on his experience in theatre, till his last breath he was quiet unsure about the fact that if the journey can be a specific ‘the order of things’. Can he take a wholesome linear approach to remember his journey through several decades? Can it be made in a disciplined memoir at the age of 85 as a memoirist does? Sircar himself said “I am not a whole man “ his being is not an all encompassing space. “I am fragmented ”– like anybody else”. He clearly says that he is composed of several elements. And these elements that “constitute the man” are essentially contradictory in nature. His world is utterly ‘incoherent’, ‘chaotic’ disordered and ‘full of contradiction’. He also finds a tremendous pressure of inner contradiction while dealing with his chosen medium.

But the tension in a way expedite the process of his playmaking as he gets himself involved in the process of underlining the problematic of the thematic of his play.

In spite of several inner contradiction and incoherence he believes firmly in basic human rights of freedom, work, food, culture etc. when a man made machine sends pictures from the very edge of the solar system that makes us proud. But for Sarkar it is a moment to raise the question outrageously that isn’t it man’s stupidity is not being able to solve the problem of one human being dying of starvation in every four seconds.

In spite of all his commitment to people’s theatre he is never a ‘realist’ in the sense of classical realism. But he prefers indulging in frequent overlapping moments in his plays those negotiate between real and unreal & through this process he wants to reach the people of our country specially the margins. Theatre according to him is a live show & hence offers scope for direct communication in a ‘here and now’ situation.

To create such environment Sircar is minimalist by choice. In case of proscenium theatre, the performers deny the very presence of the spectator. But the form he propagates totally embraces the viewers as an intregal part of the histrionics.

Perhaps no other theatre personality has had such a deep influence on theatre practice and stance in post-1971 vision of subcontinent as Badal Sircar.
I guess the interview reveals that the Badal Sircar method is all about self-discovery. His work either influences your theatre or it does not. You cannot remain neutral and play the coy/over-smart critic in saying well that could have been this and this could have been that.

The salient characteristics that emerge from the philosophy of this ‘other’ theatre are:

1. This theatre is portable, flexible and free. Portable would also mean can be performed anywhere without any compromise. The village folk would not see a ideologically and technologically dumbed-down version compared to a city-bred audience. The performance would be designed in such a way, it should be same both for the rural and the urban audience. Flexible would also mean the performance could have the elasticity of both expanding and squeezing itself and fitting into every time frame, every space and under any condition. Free would also mean un-sponsored and non ticketed purely surviving on personal donations and resource-sharing.

2. No bulky sets, no grand lighting scheme, no heavy properties.

3. Body becomes a central mode of communication and sometimes the only mode of communication to concurrently both the text and the concept

4. Spectator-performer axis will at the same eye level. Both physically and metaphorically

5. Words, sound, movement, non-verbal improvisation must all combine to open up a critical debate on prevailing dogmas. But it should be done as directly as possible (without making it agit-prop) and not hide behind manufactured metaphors.

We need to draw up a comprehensive list of Badalda’s works. Badalda as a original playwright, Badalda as a dramaturg and transcreator (who adapted works of Girish Chandra Ghosh, Rabindranath Tagore, Bertolt Brecht, George Bernard Shaw, Vaclav Havel, Graham Greene, James Saunders, Maria Irene Fornes, William Shakespeare, Howard Fast, Gaurkishore Ghosh, Tarashankar Banerjee, Fernando Arrabal, George Bernard Shaw, Stephen Zweig, Peter Shaffer, Birendra Chattopadhyay, Monibhushan Bhattacharya, Navendu Sen, Mohit Chattopadhyay, oral rendering of an anecdote told to him by Rangabelia-based activist Tushar Kanjilal, Mahasveta Devi amongst others), Badalada the creator of Stale News, We are also people( Amra Manush Boti) and vastly underrated but a brilliant adaptation of Arrabal’s Picnic in the Battlefield)..Badalda the activist-his incisive essays on hazard of nuclear weapons(that merits another discussion and another collection)..Badalda the little magazine writer…his interesting take on Greek mythology was published in a the magazine Karukatha as a cycle of work-in-progress)..Badalda-the solo performer with his searing rendition of Tara Shankar Banerjee’s Nagini Kanyar Kahini where folklore segues into myth which in turn merges into a lived present and again that present knocks at the door of the past, Badalda-the essayist..look at this lovely introduction to Barin Saha’s screenplay of Tero Nodir Pare..Badalda-the collage artist, Badalda-travelogue writer, Badalda-the workshop designer who went beyond the conventional academic pedagogy of learn-recall-remember and standardized theatre exercises into a realm of lived-unrehearsed pain. Badalda has always walked on a path to physicalise that subtext of pain.

He, was, probably the last of the South Asian quartet (three other names that come to my mind are Kuo Pao Kun, Krishenjit and Salim Al-Deen) who was trying to integrate the performative space, the ritual space, the here-and-now orality of the folk space, the movement space and an active political space into a third space which was both site-specific and dissent-specific. And his kind of dissent constantly strived to be independent without being co-opted by government or corporate patronage.

This is a play with multiple layers within and it is a performer’s search to understand what the search is. The performer climbs the text mountain. He does not want to climb the peak but all that he wants to tell the world through the stories is that the peak exists. Somewhere.

FROM BADALDA ARCHIVES:

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SHORT NOTE: LONG VOYAGE

Below are excerpts of Badal Sircar’s letter to Richard Schechner, dated November 23, 1981, (published in The Drama Review: Vol. 26, No. 2, Intercultural Performance (Summer, 1982)

Calcutta. The city I was born in and raised in. An artificial city created in the colonial interests of a foreign nation. A monster city that grew by sucking the blood of a vast rural hinterland which perhaps is the true India. A city of alien culture based on English education, repressing, distorting, buying, promoting for sale the real culture of the country. A city I hate intensely. A city I love intensely.

…None of the Satabdi members are paid anything. They work in banks, schools, offices, factories; they assemble in evenings exhausted by loveless work and sardine-packed public transport; they have to disperse early for long journeys, many by scandalously irregulars suburban trains. On Sundays we can work for five hours, provided we are not invited to perform somewhere – a village, a “bustee” (slum), a suburban town, a college lawn, an office canteen. …

July, 1978. First performance of Gondi—an adaptation I made of The Caucasian Chalk Circle. … We all felt that the play is Indian and contemporary and can be understood equally by the educated of the city and the illiterate of the village, and our later experience proved this belief to be correct.

After Gondi, …we were having workshops, relating sometimes to the cruel absurdities we live in. Enormous wealth and immeasurable poverty. A devastating flood ruining hundreds of thousands in the villages and a huge crowd of fans gathering to see the film stars raising donations in Calcutta for flood-relief. Construction of the underground railway in Calcutta and 90 percent of the underground water remaining untapped, rendering most of the arable land mono-crop. Satellites in space and 70 percent of the population under the poverty line. Democracy and police brutality. The stupidity of man, the cruelty of man, the achievements of man, the callousness of man-not just in this country, but in the whole world.

But what about the courage of man? Somebody asked. What about Spartacus, on whose struggles we made a play in 1972? What about all those who dream of and die for the emergence of a new and better society?

We decided that we would try to make a play collectively on these issues built around the theme of a revolt. …the Santhal revolt of 1855-56 that shook the British imperial hold on Eastern India for nine long months. The aboriginals. Always subjected to the worst kind of exploitation and injustice. Pushed beyond limits, they have often burst out in spontaneous revolts. But the accounts of such revolts do not find any place in the history textbooks. We had to depend on the work of some rare researchers and some obscure accounts.

… Through our research we became more and more confirmed in the belief we already had – that conditions have not changed fundamentally even today. To us the subject was contemporary…

We decided to show it from the point of view of a contemporary young man just like any of us. The man is born, is educated, is constantly bombarded by lots of information from text books, newspapers, radio, literature – false, half-true, irrelevant – and sometimes he comes across a report of mass killing or gang rape in an aboriginal village by paid hoodlums of the local (high caste) landlord. Or maybe a survey report giving figures and facts regarding “bonded labour”…

All that happened to us, is happening to us. Each of us was that young man, trying our best to deny the existence of the “killed man” in our midst, and yet not wholly succeeding. The “killed man” in our play wandered silently from time to time amongst the chorus of performers, sometimes breaking through, holding his bandaged right palm in front of the eyes of a performer to make him read something about the Santhals of the last century, another time using his left palm for something happening today.

That was Basi Khabar (stale news)—a theatre created by the whole group in pain and love. It is not a theatre one can perform by “enacting.” It can only be performed by “state of being.” The performer acts out his own feelings, his own concerns and questions and contradictions and guilt. Through the play, our protagonist changed a little, we changed a little, and we hoped that our spectators, some of them, would change a little. …
Yes, our theatre has become a theatre of change. A long voyage – Spartacus, Michhil, Bhoma, Bhanga Manush, many other plays. We came out of the proscenium stage in 1972, five years after the inception of Satabdi, twenty years after the beginning of my involvement in theatre.

The immediate reason was that of communication – we wanted to break down the barriers and come closer to the spectators, to take full advantage of direct communication that theatre as a live-show offers. We wanted to share with our audience the experience of joint human action. But in taking that course we also found our theatre outside the clutches of money.

We could establish a free theatre, performing in public parks, slums, factories, villages, wherever the people are, depending on voluntary donations from the people for the little expenses we needed. We stopped using sets, spotlights, costly costumes, make-up – not as a matter of principle, but because we realized that they are not essentials, even if sometimes necessary. We concentrated on the essentials – the human body and the human mind. Our theatre became a flexible, portable and inexpensive-almost free-theatre.

The indigenous folk theatre of India, strong, live, immensely loved by the working people of the country, propagates themes that are at best irrelevant to the life of the toiling masses, and at worst back-dated and downright reactionary. The proscenium theatre that the city-bred intelligentsia imported from the West constitutes the second theatre of our country, as it runs parallel to the folk theatre – the first theatre – practically without meeting.

This theatre can be and has been used by a section of educated and socially conscious people for propagating socially relevant subjects and progressive values, but it gets money-bound and city-bound, more and more so as costs go on rising, unable to reach the real people. Historically there appears to be a need for a third theatre in our country – a flexible, portable, free theatre as a theatre of change, and that is what we are trying to build. …

Obviously, such a theatre takes the character of a movement, and cannot be taken as a profession. … Only those who feel the urge to change, and want to use theatre to contribute to the forces of change, can be in this theatre. … The only way is to have many such groups to join the movement at different places. This is beginning to happen, not so much in Calcutta proper, but in suburbs and provincial towns….not only in this State, but in other parts of India as well, sometimes independently, sometimes as a follow-up of workshops I (and now others too) conduct from time to time at different places.
The ultimate answer however is not for a city group to prepare plays for and about the working people. The working people – the factory workers, the peasants, the landless labourers—will have to make and perform their own plays. We have deprived them not only of food, clothing, shelter, and education, but also of self-confidence.

Here we can also help by demystification, by assuring them that theatre is not the monopoly of the educated. One of my greatest experiences of self-fulfilment occurred when a group of illiterate and semi-literate peasants and landless agricultural workers of a remote village bordering the jungles of Sundarbans began making and performing plays about their own life and problems, following Satabdi performances in that village and the workshops I did with them. …

This process, of course, can become widespread only when the socio-economic movement for the emancipation of the working class has also spread widely. When that happens, the third theatre (in the context I have used) will no longer have a separate function, but will merge with a transformed first theatre.

The above curatorial note is by Parnab Mukherjee.

Theatre Adda : The Park Street Sessions is a monthly session of performances and other creative presentations. It is hosted by Alliance Francaise du Bengale and Culture Monks.

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