Political theatre in West Bengal still relevant in age of social media

Last Updated: Friday, March 28, 2014 - 12:55

Kolkata: The importance of political theatre has not lost its relevance in the age of Twitter and Facebook in shaping public opinion in West Bengal though the number of plays staged during poll time have rapidly declined over the years.

Though social media has gained much ground in creating political awareness, they are mainly restricted to mainly urban India, dramatists feel.

Left veteran and former West Bengal chief minister Budhhadeb Bhattacharjee, a connoisseur of art and culture, said the importance of political theatre had not diminished with time.

"Yes, political theatre, especially the street theatre variety, has always played an important role and is still playing an important role in rural Bengal in creating political opinion of the masses," he told a news agency.

He said that still in rural Bengal people after a political meeting sit to watch street theatre organised by Left Parties. "This time too, there will be no variation."
His view is shared by the state`s education minister, Bratya Basu of the Trinamool Congress, who is also a noted actor and theatre personality.

"Without doubt, political theatre has played an important role and will continue to do so. We too are relying on political theatre and street theatre as a mode of election campaign," Basu told a news agency.

Stage actor Kaushik Sen whose "Karkat Krantir Desh", which deals with religious fundamentalism during the time of Auranzeb, featured in a theatre festival recently, agreed to the importance of street theatre.

"Theatre has always been a mirror to society. It sends out a message - be it political or social. My play also tends to tell about communalism," Sen said.

Jatra, or folk theatre, is a powerful tool in communicating with the people in rural areas and very often they deal with political topics.

Political parties over the ages have utilised this medium to put across their points of view.In the 2011 Assembly Election, the Trinamool Congress rewrote the script of "Maa, Maati, Manush", a play with Leftist ideas which had played a significant role in moulding rural opinion in voting the Left Front to power in 1977.
Not only did the TMC rewrite the script to suit its ends, it also made the "Maa, Maati, Manush" (Mother, Land, People) its slogan which struck a chord with the people.

Under the tutelage of legendary theatre personalities like Utpal Dutta, Badal Sircar and Sambhu Mitra, theatre became an important tool of protest during the tumultuous 60s and 70s in Bengal like the food movement and student movement.

The trio and Bibhas Chakraborty had played stellar roles in creating public opinion prior to the formation of the United Front governments in 1967 and 1969.

However, a section of theatre activists feel that the role of political theatre is on the decline caused by the advancement of technology and social media.

"The role is diminishing steadily with the advancement of technology. Whereas in the 70s and 80s, 200 to 300 plays used to be staged during election time, now the number has come down to 60-70," theatre activist Chandan Sen said.

Noted theatre personality Manoj Mitra said financial crunches and advancement of electronic media have played the devil.

Bibhas Chakraborty, who had famously sided with the Singur and Nandigram protest-movements, said that a section of theatre activists have now become appendages of political parties, losing credibility.

"Political theatre has now lost its significance as most of the theatre organizations and activists have now become political appendages and cronies of one or the other political party," Chakraborty charged.

First Published: Friday, March 28, 2014 - 12:55
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