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Alkazi Theatre Archives

Notes from the Archive

August 31, 2020

Dharti Ke Lal

During the last decade of the Independence struggle, with widespread panic over war conditions, famine and economic depression, mainstream theatre encountered a temporary halt. Under such conditions, the cultural wing of the Communist Party of India, the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA, 1942) sparked off a new form of theatre and initiated the first ‘people’s theatre’ movement in India. The IPTA troops travelled across the subcontinent using different modes of performances for disseminating anti-fascist, anti-communal and anti-imperialist ideals.  

 The most successful of IPTA’s productions was, Nabanna (New Harvest, 1943), which started the radical theatre movement in Bengal. The play was written by Bijan Bhattacharya, directed by Sombhu Mitra and performed by a cast of non-actors and activists. Embracing realism, Nabanna portrayed the horrors of the Great Bengal Famine (1942-43) and the plight and trauma of people migrating from the outskirts to the streets of the big city to seek for survival. 

Although the play narrates the struggles of a family of sharecroppers, the dominant characteristic of the play lies in representing a community over an individual. 

The video excerpt is from the film adaptation of the play, Dharti Ke Lal (1946), directed by KA Abbas and Bijan Bhattacharya and directly produced by the IPTA. The film heavily showcases folk idioms through performances, songs, music and everyday rituals of village life. The film is one of the first to start the socio-realist movement in Indian cinema and received widespread international recognition, especially in the USSR. 

An excerpt (translated) from the film script: “Our village, our country can never forget us. We are not the only two people who have died of hunger, got displaced, who sold their bodies, souls and humanity. There are twenty millions like us. Until our country gets freedom from slavery, from hunger, we will remain alive in our people’s memory, like burning flames. ”