Sunday, June 4, 2023

The indefatigable spirit to keep theatre afloat : Ashis Chowdhury


Goutam Shankar
: He has always been a socio-cultural activist and especially, the propagation of the performing arts has remained his dour determination.

There is hardly any club or organization that has not felt Ashis Chowdhury’s rare flair to push the cause of the performing fraternity and of course their art forms. Ashisda, as he is popularly known, is the secretary of the cultural edifice – The Tagore Society – and he spoke exclusively on the status of city theatre.

“Theatre can never die. But to carry forward a chapter from this city’s golden book of cultural heritage, requires the panache, the drive and the ‘mad desire’ to perform for the au- diences’ infotainment.

Unfortunately, these traits have been mostly missing since the late ’80s. Where has the fanaticism evaporated?” Ashis Chowdhury rued that the number of theatre units had diminished or had gone into hibernation.

He said, “The reasons are not far to seek. Up to the early ’80s, theatre workers were a keener lot. They had fixed study or job hours, hou hold responsibilities were more or less evenly distributed and parents and guardians were not disinclined towards theatrical performances.

The eagerness to put in honest efforts to produce qualitative plays at regular intervals was very much in evidence. There was no dearth of interest in theatre lovers either.

” He also pointed out that community theatre during Saraswati or Durga puja periods have been consigned to the pages of nostalgic memories.

“I still fondly recollect how children and youth of times not long ago, used to make stage and curtains with sarees and colored cloths from home.

Dalda and baby food containers were used for serving the purposes of spot and flood lights. This will and determination to perform theatre grew and flowered on the bigger stage.

And indeed, there were enthusiastic crowds to egg on the performing teams.” The Tagore Society secretary attributed a few major causes leading to the comparative decline of city theatre.

He pointed out, “Today’s generation is in the throes of high competitive education and career zones. Their time, energy and, above all, concentration are shackled to these spheres leaving barely any time or intent to perform or watch theatre. I do not blame them or their parents.

But I am happy that there are some people who still eat, live, breathe and dream theatre. It is these people who are shouldering the responsibility of keeping the flames of healthy theatre alive.

” He named Theatre Artistes of Jamshedpur (TAJ), People’s Association for Theatre (PATH) and Nishan groups as propagators of this almost gasping theatre scenario.

He also pointed out that clubs like The Milanee, The Bengal Club and Sabuj Kalyan Sangha continued to do their bit for theatre. “It is the indefatigable zest for theatre that continues to drive people like Tushar Dasgupta, Md Nizam, Shila Sinha, Ashim ‘Nepu’ Dey, Debjani Mazumdar, Krishna Sinha and a few others to carry the flame of drama performances in spite of ma- jor hurdles related to finance and other infrastructure unavailability.

But unfortunately, ask them and they will tell you how difficult it is to find and form a team for production. Either people are preoccupied or most are not inclined towards this vital performing art form.

You can well gauge how tough it is to find people to pass the baton on to.” One major difficulty of most theatre teams is rehearsal space.

Ashis came out vehemently against this point while stating, “I have invited theatre teams and persons coming to me with this problem (paucity of rehearsal space) to have their practice at Rabindra Bhawan where we shall make space available to them for such purpose.

In fact, I repeat this offer when- ever and wherever I meet them. But, none have come so far,” he sighed in exasperation.

Ashisda is planning another theatre festival in 2014. “I know, many teams that are otherwise dormant, will suddenly wake up and put up a production.

For them, active times are festival times that other organizations organize. They are otherwise averse to the idea of creating their own platform whatever the reasons may be.

They join the few teams, as I said, that are less than a handful in number, in putting up their theatre presentations during such festivals.

Yet, at least, my hope for the revival of theatre through such festival forays continues to remain alive.” He agreed that there were certain teams in the recent past that prepared halfbaked plays within a week or a fortnight and such presentations (if they could be called that) reeked of pathetic production values.

Such productions depressed even the most diehard theatre lovers and eventually the headcount among audiences shrank.

“But now, though lesser in number, good and honest plays are being put up in spite of all handicaps and theatre audiences are coming back appreciably,” he observed.

Ashis Chowdhury’s lament is a reflection of the mood of all theatre workers and theater lovers. His pain is genuine for he is one of the few who want theatre to continue and throb back to life with a bang.

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