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The Bengal of the year 1880, which was no less than a bejeweled crown of the British colonial rulers, saw the rise of the very first public Theatres of India. It is said that the very rise of the Theatres culture of Bengal in the 19th century raised its head up from the from the British Empire’s occupational offshoot. Nawab Murshid Kuli Khan was the last ruler of Bengal, after which this fertile land of the green and the Ganges came under the tyrant rule of the British settlers. Today, what the people know as Calcutta, was in fact an amalgamation of three villages, known as the Sootanati, Gobindapur and Kalikata. The British brought in these lands of the villages together and began to expand their dominions over the entire Bengal, by uprooting the rule of Nawab Murshid Kuli Khan. Calcutta, at that time, under the sophisticated rule of the British people saw the emergence of many new independent societies which gave birth to many intellectual heads.

These new societies became the centers for learning about the erstwhile society of Bengal. Some of the major or popularly known societies were the Royal Asiatic Society, Asiatic Society of India etc. In between 1795 till the very last quarter of 19th century, the entire Bengal went through an intellectual renaissance that was majorly welcomed by the upper class people. In the case of the middle class people, the sympathetic colonialism that they had in the matter of learning English and other intellectual pursuits gave the Bengali people a clear as well as the open access to the cultural modes of the British. Therefore, the theaters of Calcutta, gradually became the medium of heating up or infuriating the British officials. At the time of the 19th century, the uprising of the theater culture had only one thing in mind and that was to educate the people to be more liberal in their individual thoughts and turning the mass against the tyranny of the British Empire.

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Photo by D-Stanley

How the British Theatres developed in Kolkata

The English young men who resided in Kolkata, many a times, used to perform a bundle of well famous dramas written by esteemed writers like William Shakespeare, for their share of entertainment.  In the year 1662, the English Theatres actor David Garrick formed the group Drury Lane Theatres at the heart of Calcutta. The group was open to all those who loved the concept of Theatre acting. Thus it is evident that the early culture of the Theatres was brought on in Bengal by the British people, later, which, specifically in the last half of the 19th century, the very first theater was formed for the Bengali speaking native people of the state. The Playhouse remains in the History of Bengal’s Theatres culture which was formed in the year 1753 b y David Garrick. When Siraj-ud-Daullah attacked the theatre, it was destroyed by the latter.

A new version of Playhouse was created by David Garrick, and he sent a good number of scenes from the United Kingdom under the sleeves of his direction. The very founder of the Playhouse, George Williamson spent an average amount of $2000 for the reconstruction of the theatre. This newly created theatre witnessed the footfall of many British Officials like Richard Barwell, Warren Hastings etc.  Since the theatre was extremely well-equipped, the admission fees to this group were a whopping one mohur of Gold in the box and for the pit, it was eight rupees. The actors, on the first phase were all amateurs, and men. Women and children were barred from entering into the premises. But, this ban was soon lifted up.

The works of many well-known dramatists including Shakespeare, Nicholas Rowe, Congreve, Otway, Massinger and Sheridan were portrayed by the actors on stage. Due to the lack of funds, the Calcutta Theatre, earlier known as the Playhouse was shut in the year 1808. In the following years, there were several other theatre groups that came into being. At the Chowringhee Street of Calcutta, Mrs. Emma Bristow set her residence and opened a theatre production by the name of The Poor Soldier, on the very 1st day of May, of the year 1789. She was the part of many prestigious scenes like The Sultan, Julius Caesar and the Padlock. The ladies of the theatre did play the part of many male roles. When Mrs. Bristow left for England, in the year 1790, the theatre had to shut down.

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The Wheler Place Theatre was another short living theatre of Bengal in which the esteemed faces like Warren Hastings, Edward Wheler were part. The group was opened on the 21st day of February, in the year 1797 with the scene The Dramatists. Many plays like Three Weeks after Marriage, St Patrick’s Day, The Liar, The Minor and the Mogul Tale were dramatized on the stage. In spite of its immense popularity, the stage was closed permanently in the year 1798. The year 1812, saw the rise of the Atheneum Theatre that was founded on the 30th day of March. The groyu0p performed Earl of Essex and moved on to another one by the name Raising the Wind. Since the performance was not up to the mark, Atheneum’s name was washed away from the Theatrical facet of Bengal, in just the matter of two operational years.


Photo by Shaer Ahmed

The rise of the Private theatres of Bengal

Thanks to the emergence of many intellectual faces of Bengal like Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and many more, the need of separate and independent Theatres groups was felt by the people of Bengal to a great extent. This craving gave rise to many independent drama groups of the Bengal, who mostly belonged to the middle class families. Not even theatre on the stage, there were many other independent forms of drama that soon spread across the vast expanse of Bengal in the forms of Jatra, Tarja, Panchali, Pawt and Kobir Lorai.

Featured Photo by Neon Tommy

The Prolonged Culture Of Bengali Theatre

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