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  • So Near, Yet So Far: Badal Sircar's Third Theatre by Manujendra Kundu
  • Jashodhara Sen
SO NEAR, YET SO FAR: BADAL SIRCAR'S THIRD THEATRE. By Manujendra Kundu. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016. 895 rupee/ $50.00

Each of the seven chapters in So Near, Yet So Far meticulously examines postcolonial Bengali playwright and director Badal Sircar's work and his concept of Third Theatre through a critical lens. Chapter 1, "Bengali Theatre: An Edifice for the Bhadraloks," documents the history of Bengali theatre. By investigating the emergence of the proscenium stage, the author introduces the readers to the power of colonial imperialism, and its persistent impact on Bengali culture. He contrasts the traditional folk theatre jatra, with elitist entertainment in colonial Bengal. By detailing the social cynicism of upper class regarding jatra performance, Kundu, addresses the emerging progressive cultural activities in the period. With the emergence of Indian Peoples' Theatre Association (IPTA) in the 1940s, an alternative artistic-political-cultural perception surfaced.

The second chapter, "Politics to Performance: Sprouting Sircari Theatre," focuses on Badal Sircar's personal life and a disjuncture between his own political ideologies and his party politics, collecting information from Sircar's autobiography and personal interviews, Kundu writes that engineer and an aspiring town planner Sircar, once an active member of CPI (Communist Party of India), soon became disenchanted with communist ideologies. Sircar explored theatre as an actor, director, and a playwright and, while attending University College In London (1957), Sircar was exposed to different styles of dramatic [End Page 248] performances, including theatre-in-the-round, which played a significant part in his theatre career in Calcutta.

Chapter 3, "Ultimately Playing with Lights, Sound, Stage, and Action," presents a chronological account of Sircar's plays. His first plays (1956) dealt with the complexities of suppressed human emotions and were inspired by western films, and novels, but asserted his own artistic expression. Kundu emphases Sircar's major and critically acclaimed play, Ebong Indrajit (And Indrajit 1963; published, 1965) which explores the futility of human existence in the face of "nothingness," which jarred the Bengali middle-class audience, but appealed to, "self-exiled/self-seeking individuals … a few like-minded bhadroloks" (p. 115).

Chapter 4, "Theatrical Abode to Open Air: From Thesis to Antithesis," suggests that Sircar's pioneering concept of Third Theatre may have been influenced by other already established ideologies, such as Grotowski's Poor Theatre. In 1971 Sircar met with and collaborated with American theatre practitioner Richard Schechner in Calcutta and later in the United States, significantly contributing to the progression of the Third Theatre Movement. Upon return to India, Sircar began experimenting with "'environment' of space, spectators, and performers" and, conveniently, termed theatre-in-the-round, anganmancha (Bengali) as "space theatre." Sircar "shocked" the urban population with space, actor, and audience relationships. Sircar was fascinated by the idea of open-space to strengthen the communication between the audience and performer. However, when Sircar conducted workshops in villages to endorse "communal identity" amongst the masses, the ultimate impact of this work was not lasting. As Kundu quotes theatre scholar Rustom Bharucha, "One cannot cross any of the dominant social, economic, and political barriers by doing theatre in the villages on three-day journeys" (p. 133).

Chapter 5, "Voices in Utopia, in Pursuit of Dreams" explores Sircar's plays in their unstable political situation in Calcutta. Sircar's writings were provoked by his dissatisfaction with leftist (CPI) political ideologies which in many ways merely followed the Congress Party models with the, "anti-mass movement policies, pro-bourgeois mentality, and inner-party struggles, could not help consolidate all sections of the communists" (p. 163). Sircar's plays paint an allegorical/philosophical representation of the everyday ordeals faced by the masses in a repressive state rather than giving in depth political analysis. Only nine of his plays "touch upon contemporary Indian political situation superficially" (p. 186).

Chapter 6, "Theatre of Contradictions" discusses Sircar's struggle to connect with the rural audience. Although Sircar never acknowledged the structural similarities between Third Theatre and Western theatrical models, he affirmed the influence of indigenous folk theatre. However, Kundu argues that Sircar is an urban theatre [End Page...


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pp. 248-249
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