The second half of the nineteenth century experienced the advent of quite a few outstanding talents on the Bengali theatre stage. If Girish Ghosh was the most renowned one, Ardhendu Sekhar Mustafi was not far behind. This stalwart of Bengali theatre, related to the Tagore family of Pathuriaghata, was born on January 25, 1850 at Bagbazar, Kolkata. From an early childhood, Ardhendu Sekhar had a penchant for drama. At that time, he was still a student in Hare School. His first play “Kichu Kichu Bujhi” (I Understand a Little), a caricature of Sourindro Mohan Tagore, was performed on November 2, 1867, at the Pathuriaghata Rajbari. It attracted the wrath of some of his patrons at the Rajbari and even his family shunned him out. However, this did not decrease his love for theatre. A meeting a Girish Chandra Ghosh a few days later changed the course of his life.
Introduction to Theatre
In his earlier days, Mustafi had joined the Baghbazar Theatre, which was established by his friends. However, after being introduced to Girish Chandra Ghosh, Mustafi joined hands with him to establish the National Theatre. The playhouse was inaugurated on December 7, 1872. On that inaugural night, the play ‘Nildarpan’ by Dinabandhu Mitra was stage, in which Ardhendu Sekhar played as many as four roles – those of a cultivator, zamindar Golak Babu, his wife and Mr.Wood. On the course of his theatre career, he developed various pantomimes, such as ‘Mustafi Sahib ka Pukka Tamasha’ (Mr.Mustafi’s Pure Entertainment) in 1873, ‘Sharadiya Pancharang’ (Autumnal Entertainment) in 1889, ‘Bhagaban Bhoot’(God Bedevilled) in 1905 and so on. Though initially meant to be mere fillers, these pantomimes became the thing of major attraction among the audience.
Throughout his career, Ardhendu Sekhar Mustafi shifted from one theatre house of Kolkata to another. He acted in various stages including Indian National Theatre (1872-73), Great National Theatre (1874-80), Emerald Theatre (1887-88, 1889-92 and 1894-96), Arya Natya Samaj (1888), Minerva (1893-94, 1896-1902, 1904-08), Aurora (1902), Star Theatre (1903-04) and Kohinoor Theatre (1908).
Ardhendu Sekhar Mustafi was a great artist who championed the art of comedy acting. He is remembered for excellent portrayal of some of the major as well as minor characters of Bengali theatre. Some of the characters made immortal by Mustafi include Jaladhar in Dinabandhu Mitra’s ‘Nabin Tapaswini’, Rober Clive in Nabin Sen’s ‘Palashir Juddhyo’, Bhaktaprasad in Michael Madhusudan Dutta’s ‘Buro Shaliker Ghare Ro’, Ravan in ‘Meghnadbadh’, Jogesh in ‘Prafulla’ and so on. He is probably most popular to have given a performance at par with Girish Chandra Ghosh in Dinabandhu Mitra’s ‘Sadhabar Ekadoshi’ as Nimchand.
Apart from being a great actor, Ardhendu Sekhar Mustafi is remembered more as an outstanding teacher. He was Guru to some of the well known actors and actresses of the later era, including Noti Binodini.
Ardhendu Sekhar Mustafi’s death on September 5, 1909, marked the end of a vibrant era in the Bengali theatre scenario.