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Bengal Theatre During 19th Century

Calcutta’s popular culture emerged in the nineteenth century as a stylistic amalgamation of folk culture and urban patronage. Dramatic performance through the means of jatra pala, theatres, and folk plays was one of the primary expressions of popular culture that flourished in Calcutta. The form of jatra evolved from a song and dance ritual that was once a feature of rural religious celebrations.


A strong supporter of jatra pala Gopal Uday lived in Calcutta in the mid-nineteenth century (1817-1857). He introduced a new style of jatra pala. He started his own company and rewrote “Vidya-Sundar.” A number of bhadraloks established jatra troupes during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, influenced by Jatra in its traditional form. There is proof that women artists who used to act in jatra existed. Swadeshi Jatra became quite important in the early half of the twentieth century. Jatras were played not just to entertain the public, but also to raise awareness of the British domination over Indians.

During the anti-partition movement in Bengal, Swadeshi Jatra Pala grew up and wrote a new chapter. Calcutta also saw a lot of stage-theatre performances, in addition to the Jatra. The socio-economic conditions of Bengal, as well as the core of nationalism, were expressed in plays, popular and non-formal education, beginning in the second part of the nineteenth century.Calcutta also saw a lot of stage-theatre performances, in addition to the Jatra. The plays began to reflect the socio-economic conditions of Bengal and the essence of nationalism in the second half of the nineteenth century. Folk theatres also played a crucial role in raising public awareness of suppression, oppression, and social divisions.
 
Folk theatres provided a venue for popular and non-formal education in addition to providing delight and entertainment to the public.

In India, modern theatrical performance is generally associated with the British establishment of colonial power. Bengali theatre performances in Calcutta have a lengthy, if shattered, history. After two failed attempts in 1795 and 1835, the history of continuous performances in Bengali plays began in the 1850s and reached a pinnacle in 1872, when public theatre was established in Calcutta and two years later, women were admitted to the Bengali public stage.

Though much has been written about the history and development of play in Calcutta, less has been written about the actress. One is vaguely aware of their significance, of the value of their existence. They have remained shadowy figures in the history of Bengali play, with the exception of a handful who have been named,who have documented their lives and interests in writing a history of performance in India is always hampered by a lack of written material, so one must piece together the little pearls that remain hidden in contemporary writings in journals and memoirs of the time’s actors to create a proper understanding of the actress on the Bengali stage and construct a lasting memory using literary evidence.

When the Bengali theatre’s exclusivity dissolved with the opening of public theatres, societal control over the profession waned, and women were brought in to act to improve ticket sales.

There was no way to get actresses from well-known families, therefore they had to come from the families of prostitutes. It’s not that this was unprecedented; they’ve always been the most accomplished in the field of performance art. However, during the nineteenth century, their social standing had deteriorated. Women had always appeared in female roles in Urdu theatre since the 1850s, but it was a revolutionary step for Bengali theatre at the time, when men always acted in female characters.

Despite all of the reform initiatives in the country aimed at improving women’s conditions, these actors who earned enormous popularity, admiration, and artistic accomplishment could never establish themselvesSocially, they are on level with other middle-class women. They were accused of bringing destruction and humiliation to the acting profession as well as the theatre industry. There is no doubt that legends such as Binodini, Tarasundari, Sukumari, Tinkadi in the early period, and Probha, Charushila, Konkabati in the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century established acting as a lucrative profession, but the question remains whether they achieved pure artistic satisfaction or emancipation from society’s efforts to drag them down.

In comparison to the large number of female performers in the Theatre of Calcutta, the leading colonial city in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the leading cultural hub in the latter half, very few of them left testimonies of their experiences in the form of memoirs, essays, creative works such as poetry or songs, and biographies were written or published very rarely.
As a result, the few that have survived have become ground-breaking works because they offer a rare glimpse into the psyche of the nati, as the actress was known in Bengali, who were admired from afar but never accepted as full members of society.


By-
Sriparna Mukherjee
Amity University, Kolkata
 

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