The second half of the nineteenth century was probably the golden age of the early phase of Bengali theatre. The period witnessed the advent of several stalwarts in the field of theatre. Apart from names, such as Girish Chandra Ghosh and Ardhendu Sekhar Mustafi, another major theatre personality of the age was Amritalal Basu. Born in 1853 in Kolkata, he was closely associated with Ghosh and another popular actress of the time, Binodini Dasi.
Shift in Career
Amritalal started his career as a physician. He studied at the Medical College for two years and then left it to study homeopathy. He even practiced homeopathy for a short while, before shifting to acting and writing plays. Amritalal’s intentional transfer from a steady profession to one of uncertainty to answer the call of passion reminds one of the actions of famous French painter Paul Gauguin, who had travelled to the unknown Tahiti islands just to paint.
Amritalal Basu co-ventured with Ardhendu Sekhar Mustafi in 1873 to stage Nil Darpan, the first play at the Great National Theatre, where he acted in the female role of Sairindhri. The first play, which can be termed as his own work, is Model School. It was stages at the Opera House, Kolkata, in 1873. Amritalal had many of his plays based on historical stories as well as on the social conditions of contemporary India. ‘Hirakchurna’ (Dust of Diamond) was based on the incident of the abdication of Baroda’s Malhar Rao Gaikwad, who was accused of murdering the British Resident. His play, ‘Sati ki Kalankini’ (Woman – Chaste or Fallen?) earned initial criticism for being obscene. ‘Gajadananda O Yuvaraj’ was a satire made to attack the flatterers during the visit of the Prince of Wales to Kolkata. This earned the wrath of the British administrators and he, along with Upendranath Das, was arrested on March 4, 1876, but were were released on March 20.
The Great National Theatre collapsed in 1888, marking the end of an era. Amritalal Basu moved on to join Star Theatre. He was associated with Star Theatre for more than a quarter of a century and is regarded as one of the best actor and director to have ever been linked with this playhouse. He is well known for excellent performance in a wide array of characters, including Mr.Wood in Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nildarpan. Some of the characters of different plays, immortalized by him, include Foster and Chandrasekhar, Purnaram Bhat of Chanda, Nasiram, Karunamay, Behari Khuro and so on.
Plays Written by Amritalal Basu
Throughout his long career, Amritalal wrote, directed and acted in numerous plays. He was a comedian par excellence and was known as ‘Roshoraj’ or the King of Wit. Some of his best known plays include Tiltarpan (1881), Bibaho Bibhrat (1884), Chattujye BNaarujye (1884), Taru-Bala (1891), Kalapani (1892), Bimata (1893), Adarsha Bandhu (1900), Kripaner Dhan (1900), Avatar (1902), Babu (1893), Khasdakhal (1912), Chorer Upor Batpari, and so on. Byapika Bidaay, written in 1926, is equally popular even in these days.
Amritalal Basu was also well known as a poet, novelist and the writer of short stories. Besides, he dramatized some of the popular contemporary Bengali literary pieces, such as Bishabriksha, Chandrasekhar, Rajsingha by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Sarala based on Taraknath Gangopadhyay’s Swarnalata and so on. He also translated Harsha’s Ratnabali. He is also known for an outstanding review of Rabindranath Tagore’s play, ‘Bisharjan’. Amritalal Basu compiled his lifelong experience in ‘Smriti O Atmasmriti’ (Memoirs and Autobiography).
This stalwart of Bengali theatre passed away in 1929, creating a void in the field of Bengali theatre.