Usha Ganguli: Indian theatre’s spirited doyenne


The formidable doyenne of the Kolkata stage, and certainly Indian theatre, Usha Ganguli has handed on, aged 75, in a 12 months that marks 5 a long time of her spirited engagement with the performing arts. In 1970, she debuted because the self-possessed courtesan Vasantsena in Mitti ki Gadi, an operatic Hindi adaptation of Śūdraka’s Mrichchhakatika with Kolkata’s Sangeet Kala Mandir. Her early forays left Ganguli more and more disaffected with the state of city theatre, prompting her to launch Rangakarmee in 1976 — a gaggle that shortly rose to grew to become one in every of Kolkata’s flagship theatre firms, regardless of specialising in Hindi theatre. “The [Kolkata] audience is most inspiring. If the theatre [grammar] is correct and the message is well conveyed, the audience will come and love it, whatever be the language,” she responded when requested why she had cast forward with performs in Hindi, her mom tongue. That stated, Rangakarmee’s repertoire has included Bengali productions.

Making of a director

Ganguli’s signature model of lyrical sight-and-sound dramas with an unequivocal social conscience, infused with choreographed dance and a definite musicality, seemingly owes a lot to her coaching in classical Bharatanatyam. Her grasp’s diploma in Hindi literature outfitted her for a lifelong profession as a lecturer on the Bhawanipur Education Society College. Rangakarmee’s early productions have been helmed by ‘outside’ administrators like Rudra Prasad Sengupta and Tripti Mitra. The latter directed Ganguli in Gudiya Ghar, a Hindi adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and the efficiency fetched her a state award.

Working with the stalwarts of her time allowed Ganguli to transition pretty easily into directing by the 1980s, with performs like Mahabhoj (1984), based mostly on Mannu Bhandari’s novel on an abnormal man’s descent into bureaucratic lying, and Ratnakar Matkari’s Lok Katha (1987), a searing account of Dalit oppression in rural India. Directing was to show her true calling, as she acknowledged throughout a tête-à-tête at Prithvi Theatre, “I love to design my own plays. Whenever I do a play [it gets] written in the making. Colours, images, blockings, simple sets, minimum use of property, use of sounds, sounds of routine life, are [what] appeal to me. I get involved.” Ganguli was awarded the coveted Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Direction in 1998.

Iron woman

One of a small canon of twentieth-century ladies theatremakers, Ganguli was understandably uncomfortable being tagged as a ‘woman’ director, “There is a place beyond masculinity or femininity where our artistic selves are. That is one place in the artistic world where we rise above gender.” Even so, a lot of her works replicate a dedication to powerfully delineate the struggles of ladies on the stage, dispassionately and objectively. These embrace Antaryatra (2003), a monologue penned by Ganguli herself, and the stage adaptation of Mahasweta Devi’s Rudali (1992), most well-known in its movie model by Kalpana Lajmi. In Theatres of Independence – Drama, Theory, and Urban Performance in India, scholar Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker writes, “Ganguli has earned the titles of ‘angry woman’ and ‘iron lady’ as well as a reputation for fashionable slogan mongering, but her engagement with feminist causes . . . presents a major alternative to the literary contract.”

In her essay, The Metamorphosis of Rudali, author Anjum Katyal speaks of how Ganguli re-purposes a textual content (Rudali) that’s a part of the discourse of sophistication as a ‘woman’s story’, dehistoricising its authentic context to swimsuit the city demographic she caters to. This license of sensibility will also be seen in her later works like Hum Mukhtara (2014), an adaptation of Mukhtar Mai’s autobiography, during which a refrain of masked ladies carry out balletic interludes set to the rating of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Ganguli’s performing triumphs embrace Rustom Bharucha’s 1986 adaptation of Franz Xaver Kroetz’s Request Concert. She performs Jaya Sen, a usually middle-class Bengali lady who works as a clerk in a authorities workplace, and commits suicide at dwelling on the finish of a reasonably routine day — this served as a metaphor for the “explosive energy” of the oppressed. The play was concurrently carried out by Sulabha Deshpande in Mumbai, and Chandralekha in Chennai.

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