Indian independence was the result of a long-fought battle. There were people who were at the war front with guns, some fought the war of ideals. Others were there who decided to spread the idea of fighting for independence through their plays on stage. Sri Bijan Bhattacharya (also spelled as Bijon Bhattacharya) was one of the stalwarts in the group mentioned last.
Sri Bijan Bhattacharya was born on the 17th of July, 1915 in a Hindu Brahmin family in Faridpur. He spent a major part of his childhood and youth in the outskirts of the town of Faridpur. He knew the lives of the villagers, their joy and sorrow, their hope and despair, inside out. And all these were reflected later in the plays he wrote. Sri Bhattacharya married renowned writer Mahashweta Devi, a comrade in his early days. However, they got divorced later. Their only son, Sri Nabarun Bhattacharya, is a famous writer.
Theatre of Bijan Bhattacharya
Sri Bijan Bhattacharya migrated from Faridpur to Calcutta in 1930 and joined the undivided Communist Party of India. Being a driving force of the party’s cultural activities, he was one of the founder-members of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), the cultural arm of the Communist Party of India. However, after working with the IPTA for a few years, Bijan Bhattacharya moved out in 1948. He formed his own group, Calcutta Theatre, a couple of years later and continued to perform his task of speaking about the sufferings of the people of villages, the refugees and the urban poor. Throughout his life, Sri Bhattacharya used his art of theatre as a weapon against the oppression on the poor and the destitute.
Nabanna by Bijan Bhattacharya
For the IPTA, Bijan Bhattacharya wrote one of the most memorable plays of his life – Nabanna or New Harvest (1944). This play, the first full-length endeavour of his life, was based on the Bengal Famine of 1943, in which over a million people died of starvation, malnutrition and the resultant diseases. This play was directed by Bhattacharya, along with Sri Shambhu Mitra, another stalwart of the Bengali stage. For the first time in the history of Bengali theatre, the stage was decorated with unimpressive curtains made from jute sacks, in line with the play’s subject and the condition of its protagonists.
Nabanna – a New Era
Nabanna marked a complete shift from the types of plays that people were used to see earlier in Bengali theatre. The play portrays in detail the conditions of the people of rural Bengal and the refugees, which was almost impossible in the earlier days. However, a similar trend is observed in most of Bhattacharya’s later plays as well, where the protagonists mainly hail from the lower strata of the society, the rural and the tribal people. All the plays reflect his deep knowledge of the lives of these people whom he loved and with whom he spent a major part of his life.
Some of the other renowned plays by Bijan Bhattacharya include Mora Chand (The Dead Moon), Debi Gorjon (Shout of the Goddess), Jabanbandi (Confession), Aj Basanta (Today is the Spring), Garbhabati Janani (Pregnant Mother), Gotrantar (Change of Lineage) and others.
Sri Bijan Bhattacharya was also involved with the world of celluloid. With Khwaja Ahmed Abbas he co-wrote the script for the film Dharti Ke Laal, which was inspired by his own play Nabanna. Besides, he also acted in several films. He was a part of different films by renowned filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak. Some of these include Komol Gandhar, Meghe Dhaka Tara, Jukti Tokko Aar Goppo, Subarnarekha and so on. He also worked in Padatik (The Guerilla Fighter), a film by director Mrinal Sen.
Sri Bijan Bhattacharya spent a major part of his life in utter poverty. He was a communist from the core of his heart and remained so till the last day of his life. Hence, most of his plays have an undertone of the Communist ideology. This extremely talented theatre personality of Bengal passed away on the 19th of January, 1978, leaving behind him a legacy of plays that speak of the people of whom no one before him had even mentioned with respect on stage.