This compilation of select Bengali one-act plays includes a representative cross section of both popular and explosively experimental plays by eminent Bengali playwrights starting from Rabindranath Tagore and encompassing a period of almost seven decades. The Chariot Rope (Rabindranath Tagore), Swans of Hanskhali (Bijon Bhattacharya), The Seeds (Badal Sircar) and The Demon (Mohit Chattopadhyay) are some of the finest examples of symbolic and absurd plays dealing with the poor and downtrodden people through mythological stories. The theme of Ashwathama by Manoj Mitra has been taken from Mahabharata, where the protagonists bring out the mindset of a modern day terrorist or a mercenary soldier perpetrating mindless killing. Other plays are centred on the dilemmas and crisis of the Indian people across the country and transcend the barriers of language and region.
Ajit Kumar Ghosh (1919-2005) was the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Rabindra Bharati University. He was also a theatre researcher, stage actor and has directed several plays. He has authored Bangla Nataker Itihas, Bangla Natyabhinayer Itihas, Natyatattva O Natyamancha, Thakur Barir Abhinay etc. and edited several anthologies of plays. He was felicitated by the Paschim Banga Natya Academy in 1997 for his contribution to Bengali theatre.
Amar Mudi (b. 1955) has so far translated four novels into Bengali: Manohar Shyam Joshi’s Kyaap, Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, Ismail kadare’s The Successor and Imre Kersetz’s The Liquidation. A compilation of his poems Jiban Jatra has also been published. He has written several one-act plays and has also directed and acted in many plays.
The play Muktir Dak written by Manmotho Roy and staged in Star Theatre in 1923 is the first Bangla one-act play which made a mark in the theatre scene of Bengal. Thereafter Manmotho Roy wrote for another sixty years and enriched the Bangla one-act plays with a large number of scripts. He is the best writer of this category of plays when judged by sheer numbers of plays, the variety of subjects he touched upon and the perfection of content and structure. The one-act plays written by Banophul are also of very high standard and very popular. Bijon Bhattacharya is one of the pioneers of progressive and realistic one-act plays. The one-act plays of Tulsi Lahiri and Digin Bandyopadhyay depict social realism and protest. Bidhayak Bhattacharya, Salil Sen wrote a few but popular one-acts. Kiran Moitra, Romen Lahiri, Biru Mukhopadhyay, Jyotu Bandyopadhyay emphasised upon the crisis in middle class society in their plays. The number of humorous one-act plays is less and the most popular writer of this category is Shailesh Guha Niyogi. Social realism and loud protest is the theme of one-act plays written by Utpal Dutta, Amar Gangopadhyay, Jochan Dastidar, Rabindra Bhattacharya and others. Ratan Kumar Ghosh, Radharaman Ghosh, Shyamaltanu Dasgupta, Amol Roy wrote absurd and Brechtian plays, which are very popular these days. Three most powerful playwrights of the contemporary period are Badal Sircar, Mohit Chattopadhyay and Manoj Mitra. Badal Sircar and Mohit Chattopadhyay constantly experimented in their plays by mixing allegory, symbolism, absurd drama, psychiatry, etc. Manoj Mitra has kept the world of drama enthralled with his abundant creativity and variety. He has genuine sympathy with the elderly and neglected members of the family and depicted their characters with humour as well as deep understanding. He has also mesmerised the audience with cruel tragedy in his plays. There are many other old and young writers, who have enriched the world of Bangla one-act plays through their tireless efforts.
It is debatable as to whether Rabindranath Tagore's play Rather Rashi (The Chariot Rope, 1932) conforms to the characteristics of one-act play. The story line is well defined and flowing. The place of the happenings is the festival ground and the time-frame has also been maintained. Therefore it fulfils all the parameters of being a 'one-act play'. But there can be objection to the large number of characters in the play. In its defence it can be said that the characters are not divided into individuals; they represent respective classes. The dialogues are composed in Irregular Rhyme. Therefore it can be classified as a poetic drama. The events reach their climax through clashes between various castes culminating in the success of the Untouchables in pulling the chariot. The poet is successful in amalgamating rhythm and beauty with the movement of the chariot. He shows the path of unity among men of various castes and creeds.
In the introduction to the play Jwala (The Pyre, 1950) Ritwik Ghatak said that he had written this play on a few real life incidents of suicide in Kolkata. The characters were taken from real life. The characters are dead but their souls have been presented as the protagonists of the play. This play has got a similarity with the famous English play Bury the Dead. The visuals created for this play for the denizens of the nether world was also appropriate. The characters are from lower middle class and unskilled workers. They committed suicide because of abject poverty, depression and frustration. They could not forget their past even after their death. So, they constantly talk about it. At last, they realise that one commits suicide only if he lives in isolation, and this was their mistake. The mad man shows them the way, 'turn left'. People can survive only when they are united.
Manobikalan (Mental Disorder, 1957) comes under the category of pure comedy. The characteristics of a comedy i.e. temporary conflict and contradictions and their happy resolution have been fulfilled in this drama. The cloud of suspicion gathers around the couple by way of pre-marital love but ultimately it dissipates amicably, when the suspicion of Nishith proves baseless. But, the jealous curiosity of Binata remains unresolved. The blame game between the couple could have been resolved by removing doubts from the mind of both husband and wife. However, the satire in the psychiatrist himself becoming a victim of mental disorder has been brought out well. The reader heaves a sigh of relief when the husband and wife reunite.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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